In the rearview mirror, Van watched to be sure the garage door closed completely before he pulled into the street. Danay was monitoring from the window, but, she said, there was a blind spot where she couldn’t see whatever might be waiting outside to slither into the house before the garage door closed completely. Even though he was late for his eight o’clock at the Plainfield State University Research Standards Office, he waited patiently for the door to close completely so he wouldn’t have to inspect the garage in the evening because of the noises Danay would hear out there during the day.
On the drive to work, especially Van felt his 61 years. He longed for retirement. Plainfield State University had changed over time, but Van was too tired to keep up with the changes. He knew he had let things pass him by in recent years, although he was still proud of his earlier accomplishments. He’d learned to accommodate himself to the changes, much in the way that, to disguise his failing hearing, he faked understanding what people were saying to him.
Inside the Administration Building, Van tried to open the door to the office of Plainfield State University research standards office; at first he first thought it was locked. He pushed harder, and the handle clicked open. The secretary was on the phone. She covered the phone with her hand and said, “Professor Lawrence?” Van nodded.
“He’s here,” she said, removing her hand. Turning back to Van, “Dr. Davis is just finishing up with the General Counsel. He’ll be right here. Please have a seat.”
Van shuffled through the latest newsletter from the federal Office of Research Integrity. The ‘Director’s Corner’ spoke about the need to recognize the service of faculty members who participated in research misconduct investigations. Van decided to send a copy this article to his dean. Barbara Pontini had requested his service for a high profile research misconduct investigation, and certainly the Reardon v. Arnet dispute over the multimillion dollar MMM Foundation remedial education project qualified as high profile. She intimated this assignment could substantially improve his chances for early retirement with emeritus status. Van slipped the copy of the newsletter into his briefcase.
For Van, retirement would not mean travel or moving to a warmer, sunnier clime. The grocery store, the pharmacy and Danay’s psychiatrist were all within a few miles of home. Mostly, he and Danay shopped for clothes in catalogues that arrived in sanitary looking plastic bags that Danay would microwave to kill any potential bedbugs. He and Danay never went anywhere; they never would go anywhere, not anymore.
Van could barely manage in the classroom. The Valium he put in Danay’s tea after dinner only gave him four hours of sleep before she was up cleaning again. Another cup of tea would put her back to sleep in an hour or so, but he found it hard to get back to sleep himself.
Van gave the same lectures that he had given for the last 10 years. The students complained that his material was out of date, but he didn’t have the energy to make more than cosmetic changes. He kept his teaching ratings up in the mediocre-to-acceptable range by being an easy grader. Football and basketball scholarship students loved his elementary economics course, even though he could not leave Danay long enough at night or on the weekend to attend any of their games.
Van’s failing hearing was making even these delaying actions untenable. He needed to retire, to get out of the classroom and out of the endless committee assignments to which he was shunted because he was “only teaching,” not submitting articles for publication, not bringing in external grant funds. But he also needed to escape from the house, to get away from Danay, every day, to his office, to listen to classical music, read a book, to relax away from her. He needed his office but without the need to teach to keep it. He needed an emeritus appointment, even though he hadn’t done anything particularly meritorious for nearly a decade.
Van heard the office door click open again; warped, he suspected. Research Standards Officer William Davis came through in a rush. He transferred the file folder into his left hand and stuck out his right. “Professor Lawrence, thanks for coming; sorry to be late.”
Davis seated himself at a small table, piled high with folders; he lifted the top folder and placed the folder in his left hand under it. He pointed to the one chair not filled with paperwork. “Your dean proposed you as a possible member of an Inquiry Panel in what could be a very delicate case.”
“Yes, the whole college is talking about it,” Van said.
“Once you’re on the panel, you won’t talk about it,” Davis said. “Confidentiality is our foremost concern. Understood?”
“I understand you’ve served on a number of grievance hearing panels over the years, but this would be your first time with a misconduct investigation.”
“That’s correct,” Van said, giving a weak smile. “I thought I should try one before I retire.”
“Well, you’ll find this to be quite a different experience,” Davis said. “This isn’t a petty dispute about a bad performance review or not being appointed to some committee. The integrity of the University is at stake. Once that’s compromised, so is the University’s ability to receive federal research grants. Tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars. Is that clear?”
“Now, on the phone you said that you don’t have any conflicts of interest as regards the complainant, Hillary Reardon, or the respondent, Harris Arnet. Have you remembered anything in the interim that might disqualify you as a member of the Inquiry Panel in this matter?”
“Of course, I know them both; they’re in the same college but a different department. We don’t work together on courses or research, or have any social ties,” Van said. Of course Van could have said this about almost any faculty member, even members of his own department. Van had taught the same two introductory economics courses for the last twenty years; he had no active research collaborations, he had no social ties.
“Good,” Davis said. “Now as an Inquiry Panel member you are required to have the necessary expertise to understand the science underlying the MMMF project from which the allegation arose.”
“Assuming you’re referring to the community-based remedial education project funded by the Mofford-Millright-Mulenkan Foundation, sure, I understand the basic hypothesis of the demonstration and the methods to evaluate it.”
The phone on Davis’ desk buzzed. “Hold on. I might need to step out for a minute.” Davis picked up the phone, listened and set it down. “The President needs to talk with me about this case. Can you wait?”
“Of course,” Van said. He had nothing better to do.
While he waited, Van scanned the folders piled on Davis’ table. The office door was open, and the secretary was seated just outside with a clear view of the table where he was sitting. The door clicked again and the head of a tall, smiling woman snaked about the doorjamb.
“Lucy, are you ready for break? I picked up some muffins at the Laughing Goat.”
“Oh,” Lucy said. “I guess it’ll be all right to leave Professor Lawrence here by himself.” Turning to Van, “Do you need anything right now, Professor?”
Van looked forward to the quiet. “No, I’ll be fine.”
Across the table, a stack of folders rested precariously on the right hand side of the chair where Davis had been sitting. Van stood and looked at the tab of the top folder, Reardon v. Arnet. The folder contained the material for Van’s case. There was nothing wrong with his looking at this; he would get copies of all of it eventually. On top was a memorandum from Hillary Reardon to William Davis, titled ‘Allegation of Misconduct.’ Underneath were a series of emails, including one from Davis to Van informing him he was a candidate for an Inquiry Panel, asking whether he had any major commitments that would make it impossible for him to participate. Below this were some emails between Hillary Reardon and William Davis, scheduling meetings or telephone conversations.
Van was getting bored, so he closed the first folder and looked at the next; the tab read ‘legal counsel.’ There was a single document, a legal opinion signed by Roger Norris, the General Counsel of Plainfield State University, titled ‘Conflict of Interest Determination’ and stamped ‘Privileged’ in red.
Upon receiving a formal allegation of research misconduct from Professor Hillary Reardon against Professor Harris Arnet, you consulted this Office regarding your relationship with Professor Phillip Reardon of the Small Animal Department, husband of the complainant. It is this Office’s determination that your tennis doubles partnership with Professor Phillip Reardon does not disqualify you from administering the misconduct investigation pursuant to Hillary Reardon’s allegation, although you should refrain from discussing the case with Professor Phillip Reardon. You can still be objective administering this investigation. As the complainant, Professor Hillary Reardon is protected by her whistleblower status. It is Professor Arnet who is at risk, and you have no pre-existing relationship with him.
Your concern was not primarily that you would be able to make an objective assessment of your own possible conflict of interest, but that there might be an appearance of a conflict of interest in an investigation involving an acquaintance’s wife. You are correct that an academic with a reputation for tendentiousness such as Professor Arnet has earned, even coming to the attention of this Office, would likely lead to a conflict of interest challenge against you. However, there is no need for you to publicly disclose your relationship with Phillip Reardon. You have the imprimatur of the Office of the General Counsel that you can be impartial. You do not need anyone else’s approval. The fact that you came to us and asked our advice will be adequate protection.
Your concerns about a repeat of the Jenkins case are understandable but unfounded under the new Administration. The prior Administration foolishly hired Lorraine Eggleston of Harcourt, Bakely and Dodge as the external research standards officer, thinking she would run the kind of investigation that her client, the University, wanted. The University was blind-sided when she brought in a bunch of wild-assed experts and let them run amok. That will never happen again. That is why you were hired as research standards officer. There is no practical circumstance under which the University would accept a substitute for you.
Fatigue was overcoming Van; Danay had kept him up half the night. As he had driven up the driveway, Van saw Danay peeking through the closed curtains in their living room. Closing the garage door, he knew she would be looking through the peephole she’d insisted he install in the door connecting the garage to the kitchen.
“Why do we need a peep-hole in the door leading to the garage?”
“I want to know who is coming into the house,” Danay said.
“I am the only one who ever comes in through the garage door. You need a door opener to get into the garage.”
“You might bring someone with you.”
“When have I ever done that?”
“Who knows when you might start?”
You didn’t talk an obsessive-compulsive out of some hare-brained idea once it was deeply rooted in her mind. So there was a peephole in the door to the garage.
Danay was hiding behind the refrigerator as Van came into the kitchen, just in case he had snuck someone into the garage in the trunk of his car and had them stay out of sight until he opened the door, ready to rush in and spread germs all around the house.
“Did you bring anyone home with you?”
“No. I would have told you if I were bringing someone home. No one has been in this house but us for the last five years.”
“What about the furnace repairman?”
“Except for the furnace repairman, and you called him when you thought the furnace was making strange noises and might explode.”
The washing machine was running. Danay was cleaning the three changes of clothes she used while she was vacuuming, dusting, mopping and disinfecting the house this morning, as she did every morning. Danay would need to immediately clean the coffee maker once Van poured himself a cup of coffee, to assure that the coffee pot did not become a haven for bacteria.
“The coffee pot is too hot for bacteria to breed in it. I might like a second cup.”
“Haven’t you been watching the Discovery Channel. They found bacteria breeding two miles down in the ocean next to volcanic sulfur vents. If bacteria can breed there, why don’t you think they can breed in a coffee pot?”
Before going to bed Danay made her daily inspection of the windows and discovered that a bug with a long proboscis had somehow penetrated the window screen before dying in the window well. “We’ll be invaded by scorpions, they can get through any crack. I saw it on Animal Planet.”
“There are no scorpions in Plainfield, in the whole state,” Van said, but Danay was convinced that global warming was laying down a scorpion superhighway directly from Amarillo right to their door. Around 3 a.m. he convinced her that the bedroom would be safe if she jammed a towel under the door. Tomorrow he would buy her motion sensors with black light to detect any migrating scorpions, just as he’d installed the plastic sheet cut into six-inch strips hanging in front of the sliding door to the patio to make sure that bats couldn’t fly into the house during the day.
“Rabid bats could fly into the house while I’m going out to check the termite traps,” Danay said.
“Bats don’t fly during the day, only at night. You don’t check the termite traps at night.”
“They get rabies. It makes them crazy and they start flying around everywhere, all the time.”
Danay had the house inspected monthly for termites. Otherwise, the termites could eat the attic joists and the roof would collapse on Van and Danay in their sleep.
Van’s only way of dealing with the constant obsessive cleaning was to leave home early and stay all day at the office, except one afternoon a week when he took Danay to the psychiatrist.
When they married, Danay had been a classics scholar, fastidious but not obsessive. They came to Plainfield State after he finished his Ph.D. at Brown; she had her master’s from Brandeis. They were going to start a family, and maybe Danay would finish her doctorate at Plainfield State.
Sex was strained, sporadic, but after five years they conceived Oeme. By age ten, Oeme was a gaunt and weakly child, with delicate, yet unattractive features. She had few friends and fewer social interests. Mostly she read, and what she read most were Danay’s classics. She even learned some elementary ancient Greek and Latin from Danay, who gradually abandoned the pursuit for her doctorate and became Oeme’s personal tutor and mentor — or perhaps Danay was the one being mentored? Danay too became gradually more withdrawn and anti-social. Oeme was becoming her best friend, her only friend, a better friend to her than was Van.
Then it happened. They were gardening. Oeme was doing the raking while Danay did the planting. Oeme developed a blister; it broke the next day. Two days later she was at the doctor’s office with a fever. Probably just the flu, but when her temperature spiked at 103.2 the next day, she was back in the doctor’s office. The doctor took blood to culture and started Oeme on broad spectrum antibiotics, but she got worse and her temperature spiked again at 104.6. Now she was in the hospital on IV antibiotics. The culture came back showing Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. The infectious disease expert had never known of a case contracted outside of the hospital. A new drug regimen was started, but it was too late. Large pockets of infection had developed beneath the spinal column and were attacking Oeme’s spine and nervous system. It was a slow and painful death, and Danay was never the same.
“Danaus had fifty daughters, and he couldn’t give them all away. I couldn’t even keep one safe.”
“I know. You tell me that every day, but it’s time to get ready to go to the psychiatrist. Take your medicine to protect you from germs on the ride.”
It took a hefty dose of Valium just to get Danay to her psychiatrist’s office for the weekly visit. Van felt like one of the daughters of Danaus, who were cursed in the underworld to fill jars with water that were riddled with holes as a punishment for murdering their husbands on their father’s orders. The Valium made Danay manageable enough to get to the psychiatrist’s office, but this left her sedated while she was being treated for her obsessive-compulsive disorder. Once she returned home and the drug wore off, she was no different than before.
Van wasn’t sure how long he had been asleep. He awoke to Davis apologizing about being delayed by the President. “He received an overseas call from the embassy in Malawi. One of his former associates is now Ambassador, and they spent a lot of time catching up. I am sorry for the wait. I hope this hasn’t disrupted your schedule. I would have understood if you had left.”
Van wanted to say—not at all, I enjoyed the nap, I had nothing on my schedule—but he thought better of it. “Perfectly understandable in the circumstances. I used the time to catch up on some reading I brought with me.”
Davis gave Van a brief overview of the process of investigating a misconduct allegation. “Your role in this process, that is the role of the panel on which you will serve, is like that of a grand jury, to determine if there is sufficient credible evidence to proceed to a full investigation.”
“But I won’t have any role in the investigation per se?” Van said.
“No, that job will be completed by an investigation committee; it’s a much longer and more difficult process.”
“Am I likely to get sued for this?” Van said. “I remember in the Jenkins case, there was a lawsuit that involved some of the participants.”
“Well, the University’s learned a lot since then how to conduct these investigations,” Davis said. “In any event, that was the exception to the rule, and even then, it was the administrators who were sued, not the faculty members on the Inquiry Panel or Investigation Committee.”
“But I’ll get legal assistance from the University if anything goes wrong?”
“Of course,” Davis said. “Only if you were to somehow violate the University procedures or act in bad faith would there be any question about indemnification.”
“How can I be sure I am not violating the procedures?”
“That’s my job,” Davis said, “and we will have someone from the Office of the General Counsel with us all the time. As long as you follow directions, there won’t be a problem.”
“And we will be meeting during regular business hours?” Van said. “I have a wife with some special needs, and it’s difficult for her if I’m not home in the evenings.”
“We will accommodate to your schedule.”
“I guess that’s all the questions I have for now,” Van said. They shook hands, and Van went off to the elevators. Just before he reached outside doors, he heard someone calling; it was Davis’ secretary Lucy.
“Professor Lawrence, would you, please, come back upstairs for a moment. Something has gone missing in the office.”
Upstairs Van found Davis going through the stacks of files on his table. “Professor Lawrence, did you happen to see a file on my table while you were sitting here. It would have been labeled ‘legal counsel’?”
Van remembered about being indemnified only if he followed all the investigation procedures. “No, I don’t remember seeing anything like that.”
“Lucy mentioned she was out of the office for a few moments on her break while I was delayed with the President.” Van noted the very sour look on Davis’ face. “Did anyone come into the office while you were here?”
“No, no one,” Van said.
“Did you by any chance leave the office unattended while Lucy and I were gone?”
This sounded to Van like he was being accused of some dereliction of duty. “No, I was here the whole time, and I didn’t see anyone come into the office.” He didn’t want to admit to dozing off.
“Could you check in your briefcase just in case the file was inadvertently placed in there?”
“I am sure it wasn’t,” Van said remembering the newsletter he’d pilfered.
“You said you brought your own reading material, the file might have gotten mixed up with it when you returned it to you briefcase?”
“I am sure it did not,” Van said.
“I am sorry, but I have to insist that you open your briefcase and show me its contents.” Davis was taking on a red hue now, but Van still had a dab of self-respect left.
“I told you your file’s not in here,” Van said, slapping the side of his briefcase.
“Lucy, will you call campus security, please,” Davis said. “Professor Lawrence, please remain where you are.”
“I will not.” Van felt good about himself, for the first time in…he didn’t know how long. He wasn’t going to stop by Home Depot to look for black-light motion detectors. Danay would just have to learn to live by her wits in the face of a mass invasion of scorpions. Van turned and walked toward the door. Lucy blocked his way; he pushed her aside and left. He was alongside his car in the parking lot, about to insert the key in the door lock, when a large hand descended on his shoulder. A large black man in a campus police uniform spun him around.
“Professor Lawrence, you are under arrest.”
“Arrest? What for?” Van said.
“Misappropriation of confidential documents and assault,” the campus police officer said. Van was pretty sure the officer was the former right tackle for the Plainfield football team that played in the Apricot Bowl five or six years ago.
“Didn’t I give you a B in my course?” The police officer nodded. “I should have flunked you.” The police officer pushed Van against the car, pulled his hands behind him and placed cuffs around his wrists.
“You have the right to remain silent, and I suggest you use it, unless you want to find out what a championship tackle learned on the football field after napping through one of the most boring courses at this university.”
Van exited the elevator and turned left past the Research Standards Office. It looked like they’d replaced the door handle; it wouldn’t help if the door itself was warped. He entered the interior conference room where Lucy was setting up the coffee machine.
“Good morning, Professor Lawrence.” Her greeting sounded false to Van. The assault charge against him for pushing past Lucy had eventually been dropped, as had the misappropriation of confidential documents; his arrest record expunged. He’d been reinstated on the Inquiry Panel, which had proceeded in his absence to interview the complainant Hillary Reardon and the respondent Harris Arnet. Van had received the transcripts of the interviews and the draft of the panel’s report.
The President had sent Van a conciliatory note, and the General Counsel gave Van a formal written apology from his Office, when Van came in the sign the release forms, agreeing not to sue the University for false arrest. William Davis had been equally apologetic when he persuaded Van to return to the Inquiry Panel.
“I should have been more understanding about the sensitivity of the document that had gone missing.” Van had told Davis, trying to mollify his embarrassment over the false arrest. Van was being treated like a big-money research star from Physics. “After all, I did inadvertently put the ORI Newsletter in my briefcase. I should have checked.”
Davis smiled, but Van knew it wasn’t sincere. Davis couldn’t be sure that Van did not know what was in the missing memo. Van understood from reading the transcript of Harris Arnet’s interview, which was filled with accusations of procedural irregularities, that the whole investigation could be derailed if Davis’ relationship with Hillary Reardon’s husband were disclosed.
The other two members of the Inquiry Panel came into the conference room, together with the General Counsel. They welcomed Van back to the panel after his absence due to his wife’s ill-health.
“Will we need to re-interview the complainant or the respondent, Professor Lawrence?” the panel chairman said, after Lucy had turned on the tape recorder and everyone had acknowledged their own presence. “We are happy to call them back, if you feel there’s something we might have missed.”
“Not at all,” Van said. “I found your interviews very thorough. I can’t think of any issues that weren’t completely explored.” William Davis and the General Counsel relaxed back in their seats. “I’m ready to sign the report to send the allegation to a full investigation.”
Everyone smiled while Lucy passed around copies of the final report for signature. Fifteen minutes later Van was on his way back from the Administration Building to his office. He saw his Dean coming down the corridor alone.
“Dean Pontini, when you called me last semester about participating in the research misconduct investigation, you mentioned you might need some additional materials to support my nomination to emeritus status when I retire next year.”
Looking at her watch, she said, “No, I think we have everything we need. The Secretary of the Board of Directors has already put your retirement papers into the packet for the next Board meeting.” The Dean started to move away from Van.
“One other thing, Dean Pontini,” Van said. “My department could really use my office space for my replacement. I was thinking about that small conference room off the College library. It hardly ever used; it would make a good office for an emeritus.”
Dean Pontini seemed to fight back a frown, “I’ll contact your chair about your office situation for next fall.”
“This summer would be better.”
“Fine,” she said. “Sorry, got to run.”
As the garage door rose, Danay peered through the blinds. Once Van was inside, she came out from behind the refrigerator.
“I’ve got a new assignment at school,” he said. “You’re going to be on your own a little more each day. Maybe you can get around to straightening up the garage.”
“I’ll need the exterminator to come again—the one in the white suit and the face mask.”
“Sure, it’s a big job,” Van said. “What’s for dinner?”
Andrew Hogan received his doctorate in development studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before retirement, he was a faculty member at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, where he taught medical ethics, health policy and the social organization of medicine in the College of Human Medicine.
Dr. Hogan published more than five-dozen professional articles on health services research and health policy. He has published more than eighty works of fiction in the Sandscript, OASIS Journal (1st Prize, Fiction 2014), The Legendary, Widespread Fear of Monkeys, Hobo Pancakes, Twisted Dreams, Long Story Short, The Lorelei Signal, Silver Blade, Thick Jam, Copperfield Review, Fabula Argentea, The Blue Guitar Magazine, Shalla Magazine, Defenestration, Mobius, Grim Corps, Coming Around Again Anthology, Former People, Thrice, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Black Market Lit, Paragraph Line, Subtopian Magazine, Pine+Basil, Festival Writer: Unpublishable, Fiction on the Web, Children, Churches and Daddies, Midnight Circus, Stockholm Review of Literature, Lowestoft Chronicle, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Spank the Carp, Beechwood Review, Pear Drop, Marathon Review, Cyclamens and Swords, Short Break Fiction, Flash: International Short-Short Story Magazine, Slippery Elm Online, Story of the Month Club, Birds Piled Loosely, Zero Flash, Canyon Voices, Alebrijes, Rose Red Review, Loud Zoo, MacGuffin, Yellow Chair Review, Funny in Five Hundred, Penny Shorts, The Thoughtful Dog, Front Porch Review, Minetta Review, Silver Pen Anthology, Zany Zygote, Ginosko Literary Review, Four Ties Lit Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Down in the Dirt, Ariel Chat, Columbia Journal Online, Fiction International, Haunted Traveler Anthology, The Dirty Pool, Corvus Review.
© 2018, Andrew J. Hogan