The Way You Look Tonight
I walked across Carnegie Mellon’s campus, trying not to think of the damage the snow was doing to my Prada boots. The second week of February and we were getting hit with non-stop snowstorms it seemed. The ground hog moved to Florida, was the popular joke, when that rodent didn’t even come out of his burrow this year to collect his yearly appearance fee from the television stations. We had a couple of ad campaigns running for Valentine’s Day but it was difficult to develop anything romantic about ice and cold. Pittsburgh in winter is not romantic, I complained to Cynthia. She just sneezed into her elbow and tried to look less miserable. I’d sent her home as I headed out to meet Mac. Ted could hold down the fort, such as it was.
Mac had asked that we meet in his office for lunch instead of in town. I almost argued that it would make more sense to meet at my office – we had better snow removal at least – but something in his voice made me agree without question. Mac wasn’t someone who got upset easily. In fact, I couldn’t remember any time that he had been upset. Hot, wild love-making, that was something Mac did well, but always behind closed doors. Well, except for one memorable time; I thought back to our first kiss and had to grin. My quiet professor had hidden depths of passion.
But he was not a man to get worked up unnecessarily so if something was bothering him, he had good reason. I quickened my pace. It was a few minutes before noon. I wanted to reach Mac’s office before the between class rush began.
I turned the corner that took me into the corridor leading to his office just in time to see a figure rushing away from his door. Mac’s office was the only one in this particular hallway – the only one of a professor in residence, that was. Mac had told me that the other two professors with offices in that section were both on sabbatical that semester. It was why he’d gotten stuck teaching a freshman class in marine biology, one of the big lecture classes that someone of his stature normally got out of doing. Mac was used to knowing everyone in his classes by the second week. He despaired of learning the names all of the students in this class of two hundred before the end of the term.
“Don’t sweat it,” I’d told him. “Most of them are only there for the group requirement. They probably won’t know your name by the end of the term either.”
I found his door ajar but when I pushed on it, there was no sign of Mac. The office was still dark in fact. I stared down at the door handle, wondering if perhaps it just hadn’t caught when he’d left for his class. That’s how he found me a few minutes later. Standing just inside his office, staring down at the doorknob.
“Brian? How did you get into my office?”
“Hello to you too,” I said, bending to kiss him. He didn’t return the greeting or the kiss. Instead, he gently pushed me the rest of the way inside his office and closed the door behind us. He knelt down and examined the doorknob, frowning. He looked up at me, his expression serious.
“You didn’t do anything to the lock, did you?” He answered his own question before I could get offended. “No, of course you didn’t. I’m sorry. Before we can order lunch, I need to call campus security.”
“What the fuck’s going on, Mac? I’ve never seen you this jumpy.”
Without a word, he handed me a letter. I took it gingerly. It was a printout from a computer from the looks of it. Pretty standard. None of your cutout letters from a magazine type of letter, though it had all the creepy feel of such a missive.
MacArthur. Patton. Just like the brilliant generals. I’m named after a
brilliant general too. I think it’s just another sign that we’re
meant to be together. Me and you. Don’t hide from me Mac.
I can be so nice. Or I can be...not so nice. It’s all up to you.
I looked up at Mac, who was sitting on the edge of his desk, his face somber.
“Not a feel good type of letter,” I said mildly. “Did you report this to campus security – not to mention the English Department?”
“Yes, of course. That was the third one. I got the first one three weeks ago.”
Three weeks ago and he was just now telling me about this? My face must have revealed how...what? Perturbed? Pissed? Furious I was, because he paused to apologize, running his hand through already rumpled brown hair distractedly.
“I know, I’m sorry. I should have said something sooner but I really thought that it was just a stunt by some silly student with a crush. I get them, you know? I ignore them and they go away. Or, in the very rare case, I fall in love with them.”
He smiled then, spreading his legs and tugging on my arms to get me to step in between his hard thighs. I did, wrapping my arms around his chest as his arms came around my neck. We kissed for several long minutes, establishing our connection all over again. Eventually we needed to breathe, and I lifted my head. Mac turned his so that his cheek was resting against my shoulder. He sighed.
“I received the fourth message this morning before class.”
“The fourth!” I held him away slightly, my hands on his upper arms, so I could look at him. Seeing the fatigue in his face, the shadows under his eyes, I didn’t have the heart to yell at him. This was serious, though. I wasn’t sure that campus security was up to handling it. I pulled out my phone.
“Who are you calling?”
“Carl. He’s retired now but he was a detective for almost thirty years. There isn’t much he doesn’t know. I think you might need a fresh eye looking at your friend. Where are the rest of the letters?”
Since Mac didn’t have another class until three, and the campus cop still hadn’t arrived, we called him back and arranged to meet him at two-thirty at Mac’s office. Carl agreed to meet us at the diner in half an hour. In the meantime, the campus security promised to send someone over to secure Mac’s door. They also promised to check the security camera for the hallway and see who had been in the hallway that morning. Looking around, Mac could not tell that anything had been disturbed but he admitted that his belongings were not so neat that one would know if anyone had moved them around. Or taken anything.
We drove to the diner in silence. I was troubled by the fact that Mac had been receiving emails from a stalker for two weeks and was only now telling me. We were, for want of a better word, dating. No, that wasn’t the right word for it. We were in a relationship. Another stupid heterosexual word but sometimes the words were needed. Words gave depth and weight to the connection, the type of depth and weight that meant something. It took me some time to learn that; Justin tried to tell me but I didn’t want to hear him. Eventually, though, the lesson sunk in. I used words to good effect as an ad man; it took being left alone to realize that the absence of the right words could be even more powerful.
Mac should have told me about this stalker. As new as I was at this relationship thing, I was pretty damn sure that threatening letters came under the “must share” category, like positive lab tests for venereal disease.
After about ten minutes of silence, Mac realized something was wrong. He’s a quiet guy and he was no doubt lost in his own thoughts, but finally he looked at me and said, “You’re mad at me, aren’t you?”
I debated how to answer. Honestly, of course, but in looking at the strain on his face, I found that my honest answer was not what I thought it was just minutes before.
“No, not mad, not anymore. I do wish you’d told me sooner.” I pulled him closer with my free arm, keeping the other on the wheel. “I would have liked to have known so I could have....”
He sighed. “That’s kind of the problem, isn’t it? What could you have done, other than worry, which I didn’t want you doing. For what it’s worth, I haven’t told my parents yet either and they’re going to be really angry.”
“Because....” I looked away from the road to check out his expression which was torn between sheepish and a kind of little boy guilty.
“Because you...and they...care about me and have a right to know when something like this is going on?” he answered in the tone of a student guessing at the right answer. I laughed even though I was still on edge.
“You’re an ass,” I told him as I pulled into a space in front of the diner. I saw Carl’s old Buick in the spot in front of me. Good, he was already here.
“Come on, let’s see what Carl thinks of all this.”
The retired detective was leaning on the counter, chatting with Debbie when we walked in. He must have told her it was business because for once Debbie didn’t greet us with an off-color comment or even with any questions that we wouldn’t have wanted to answer in front of a diner full of strangers. Carl was an amazingly good influence on Deb. No one valued her more than I did, but she could be a bit much, especially for a private person like Mac. I could feel his relief emanating in waves when Carl merely pecked Deb on the cheek and gestured for us to follow him toward the back of the diner, where he sat in the last booth.
“I told Deb we wanted to be kinda private,” Carl said, by way of explanation. “I trust you guys don’t mind?”
“This is good,” Mac quickly assured him. “Great, in fact.”
We waited until Kiki had brought us some menus and we’d ordered before getting down to what had brought us there.
“Mac has a stalker,” I said bluntly.
Mac objected. “We don’t know that the guy is stalking me.”
“What else would you call it?” I was starting to get annoyed all over again.
Carl put up a hand. “Why don’t we just let Mac tell us what’s been going on, starting at the beginning, as much as he knows.”
Mac exhaled slowly. “Okay. It started shortly after the semester started. I received a letter, printed, an anonymous letter, saying how much he enjoyed my class, how....” At this point, Mac’s cheeks reddened slightly. “How good I looked in my slacks when I turned to emphasize something on the power point screen. Just flattering comments. I ignored it, not that I could do anything else since I had no idea who sent it.”
“What made you conclude it was a male?” Carl asked before taking a sip from his coffee.
Mac raised his eyebrows. “Well, I...it...the letter....” He frowned. “I suppose I just assumed. I’m known to be gay so it didn’t occur to me that a female student would send this type of letter, but now that you mention it, I have received advances from female students before. It’s just that the bolder approaches tend to be men.” He looked at me and gave me that shy smile of his. I couldn’t help returning it – it gets to me every time, probably because it’s so at odds with the man he is when we’re alone.
“You’ve had bold male students make advances toward you? Imagine! The nerve of some men,” I said.
“Brian,” was all Carl said but I immediately quieted. This was serious, I knew. You only had to click on the news to see another story about a stalker gunning down some poor slob – it didn’t matter whether there was a restraining order or not. These whackos hunted down the objects of their obsessions mercilessly.
“So, you don’t really have any idea if it’s a man or a woman, do you?” Carl asked.
“Well, there is this letter.” Mac handed him the third letter. “A parent wouldn’t name a daughter after a general – would they? Not twenty years ago, which is when one of my students would have been named.”
“Hmm,” Carl said, looking at the letter closely. “You’re probably right. Still...we probably should keep our minds open. Mind if I keep this?”
“Not at all. That one was slid under the door of my office, the last one was left on my desk.”
Carl’s eyes seemed to grow even keener, Brian noticed.
“Your admirer had access to your office?”
Mac nodded. “I came back after a class and my door was ajar. I would have sworn I’d locked it. On my desk, I found the most recent letter. The other two had been emails. I’ll forward them to you. The second one had chided me for not smiling more in class that day and asking me to go to the library that evening, which of course I didn’t do. That one was two weeks ago. The third one came a week ago, and this one a few days ago. You see how it warns me not to disappoint again. I’m due for another one, which is why I was so jumpy, Brian.”
“I saw someone in the hallway when I went to Mac’s office this morning, Carl. The person ran when I approached. The only place they could have been coming from was his office, since the other offices in that hall are empty. His office door was unlocked and he says he’d left it locked. So it looks like I must have scared away his little admirer.”
Carl nodded. “Give me a description.” He had a battered old notepad out, ready to take down notes.
I was torn between being amused and impressed. The twenty-first century and Carl was still using a wire bound pad the size of an IPhone. Yet, he was ready and waiting in less time than a more modern man would take to find the right app. And he never needed to worry about the charge either. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much to tell him.
“The guy was wearing jeans and a parka with the hood up. Maybe five eight, five nine, medium build as far as I could tell but with a parka, who knows. The ass was covered by the coat.”
“What kind of shoes?”
I frowned as I thought. A good question. Sneakers or boots? I tried to picture them in my mind. “Sneakers...but not running shoes,” I finally said. “They didn’t have the deep tread you see on running shoes, but they definitely had a sneaker type sole. Chuck Taylors, that’s what they were, lime green,” I told them, feeling like I’d just aced a test. I’d had a glimpse of the side of the shoe and now recalled that distinctive design.
“That’s helpful. We can put out word to security to look for a person in Mac’s classes with that type of shoe without alerting the individual. Now....”
Carl then proceeded to pick both of our brains. Before we were done, he’d arranged to meet with campus security and to have a class roster for each section Mac taught sent to him so he could have someone in the police Research department check for names that were similar to any known generals, living or dead.
“Because it could be that he was named for a general known to the family,” Carl pointed out, “but who was not historically significant.”
“Should Mac be guarded?” I looked at my lover anxiously.
“No!” he answered at the same time that Carl responded with a more thoughtful, “I don’t think that will be necessary now.”
“Thanks, Carl,” Mac said, smiling with his relief. “I'm afraid we’re putting you to a lot of trouble unnecessarily.”
“It’s no trouble, son. Better safe than sorry. What I do ask, is that you don’t take unnecessary risks. If you feel uneasy about something – go with that feeling. You are enough of a student of nature to know that our animal nature sometimes protects us better than our logic ever will.”
I could have hugged Carl for that. He knew exactly the right argument to make to appeal to Mac, the man with the PhD in Natural History.
“I understand, Carl – and I’ll be careful.”
That night, at the loft, Mac and I had one of our rare arguments. It wasn’t really much of an argument. It was hard to argue with Mac. I usually found myself agreeing with him before I’d had a chance to work up steam for a really good fight.
He had just finished showering. He looked completely delectable with just a towel around his waist as he entered the bedroom.
“I just got off the phone with Ted. He’ll be sending one of the Babylon bouncers over to the campus each day to escort you from your classes to wherever you need to go.” I turned off my phone and walked toward him, intent on removing that towel. His hands caught mine before I could pull it away.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“What do you think? Why the fuck are you stopping me?” He pushed my hands away and took a step back. I noticed, a bit belatedly, I had to admit, that his green eyes were narrowed with his anger.
“I do not want nor do I need a Babylon bouncer to babysit me.” Mac bit each word out like he was aiming them at a spittoon. It would have been more impressive as a demonstration of macho control if he weren’t so...naked. I grinned and reached for the towel again.
Not a good idea. Mac is normally a very even-tempered man but he does have his moments. This was going to be one of them.
“Brian, you do not seem to be listening to me,” he said, turning away and walking over to the chair where his jeans had been tossed. I stared in disbelief as he got dressed.
“You’re leaving because I asked Ted to send some added security to the campus?” I was beginning to get angry.
“Then why are you leaving?” My voice was getting louder despite my best efforts to stay as calm sounding as him.
As he pulled on his socks and shoes, Mac listed his reasons for leaving.
“You didn’t ask me if I wanted ‘added security’, Brian. Hell, you didn’t ask me if I wanted you to tell Ted, the biggest gossip among your friends, about this problem.” I almost winced as he said that – I hadn’t thought about Ted’s weakness for gossip when I’d contacted him. All I’d been thinking about was protecting Mac. He went on.
“I do not need you to protect me like I’m a child. I appreciate your concern but this...situation...is one that I’ve dealt with before. Not to this degree, I’ll grant you, and I appreciate Carl’s help, but that’s it. You don’t get to treat me like a child.”
“I’m not going to stand by and....”
“And what?” He stood in front of me, fully dressed. We came here in my car. He would have to call a cab, I thought, still not quite believing he was walking out over this. Except, I knew he would. He was very protective of his autonomy.
I squeezed the bridge of my nose. “Listen, don’t go. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called. But, I think you’re being a little too blasé about this person. I have a bad feeling about him.”
“It’s just a student, Brian. Some guy who is getting off on thinking he’s having an effect on my life. I’m not going to let him.”
“Then don’t let him make us fight,” I said, moving closer and pulling Mac into my arms. I kissed him. He resisted at first but neither of us has ever been able to hold out against the other’s kisses for long. With a soft moan, he wrapped his arms around my neck, pressing his hands against the back of my head, his fingers weaving through my hair.
“I want you to stay,” I murmured as soon as I could catch enough breath to form words. “Bed’s too cold without you.”
“That’s because you don’t heat this place,” Mac grumbled, but then he tossed his phone and wallet back down on the dresser and turned back to me. He stood in front of me and let me take his clothes back off him, assisting only when it came to toeing off his shoes.
I took my time. I love Mac’s body, the smooth tan skin and toned, taut muscles; it comes as such a surprise beneath the baggy khaki pants and bulky sweaters he favors. Mac doesn’t spend much time in gyms but he does spend a lot of time outdoors, testing himself against mountains and rapids – hundred mile bike rides, fifty mile road races and five mile ocean swims. He was the classic absent-minded professor in the classroom, with his glasses slipping down his nose and his perpetually rumpled clothes and untidy hair falling in his eyes, but once you put the man in the wilderness, he was in his element, a modern Lewis and Clark.
Pressing him down onto the bed, I kissed him again, holding his face in my hands as I stretched out above him, knowing that the roughness of my clothes would be arousing against his skin. He bucked up impatiently and moaned into my mouth.
“I want to fill you...press into you until all you can think of is me,” I whispered, moving my hands finally in order to reach for the condom and lube. He was busy unbuttoning my jeans, pushing them out of the way, pulling my shirt up to my armpits.
“Now,” he ordered, sliding his hips up easily, raising his legs up to my shoulders. I slid my hand along his flank, loving the feel of the long muscles there as he curved toward me. I dropped the condom into his hand as I used mine to prepare him, stroking his cock and balls along the way.
“Fuck, Brian...get down to it,” he joked, giving my cock a warning squeeze when I didn’t move to enter him after he’d had the condom on me for a bit. He lifted his hips up to move himself tantalizingly close. With a groan of surrender, I sank into his heat, entering slowly, savoring the exquisite pleasure as his flesh enveloped me. He threw back his head and the long line of his neck, curving back from his slim, sculpted torso was so beautiful I forgot to move, I was so lost in just looking at him.
The thrust of his hips soon reminded me, however, as did his face tipping back down from its blissed out pose.
“Forget something?” he asked politely. Then he grinned and I just had to smack his ass – hard.
“Not a thing,” I said, and proceeded to fuck him into the mattress.
At Mac’s insistence, I canceled the extra security but I wasn’t happy about it. His stalker friend was quiet for a few days but then sent flowers to the classroom on the Tuesday before Valentine’s Day and signed it “With love, the General.”
The next note, on Thursday, was more worrisome. It was accompanied by flowers also but they were left inside Mac’s locked car. The note said the General was looking forward to their “date.” And, the worst part to my mind, the jerk made reference to what Mac had been wearing the night before. In my loft. He hadn’t been on campus on Wednesday so somehow this stalker had seen him on Wednesday night when he’d been with me. It was enough to make me want to move.
We were finally on the same page. Mac agreed as soon as I demanded that we set up another meeting with Carl. This creep was getting too close. Carl agreed to meet with us at the diner on Friday to discuss the situation. I hoped that he’d made some progress.
Carl waved to me as soon as I entered the diner and I walked back to our “usual” booth.
“Hi, Brian, where’s Mac?” He looked past me as though I were hiding him or something.
“I came from work. I take it Mac hasn’t arrived yet.” My comment was as obvious as his, I thought. I pulled out my phone to call. Mac was often late; he was capable of forgetting appointments completely if he got caught up in some research or reading, but I knew that this meeting with Carl was important. We’d discussed it before parting from each other that morning.
“He’s not answering his phone,” I said, trying not to panic.
Carl was on the phone. “Rich, Dr. Williams is not responding to calls – send a detail to campus. You have his class schedule? ....Good. Send some uniforms to the students we ID’d. Right. Contact me if you get anything. ..Thanks, Rich, I owe you.”
I waited. His blue eyes were faded but still sharp as he looked over at me after snapping his phone shut.
“Come on, we may as well get closer to where the action will be,” he said as he slid his portly frame out of the booth.
“What’s going on?” I asked as we walked quickly to the cars. Carl took one look at his Buick and then with a shrug turned toward my Corvette.
“I’ll get you out of any ticket,” he warned, “but keep in mind, we want to arrive in one piece.”
“Want to drive?”
He grinned. “You bet.”
I’d been half-joking but seeing his expression of glee, I didn’t have the heart to turn him down. I tossed him the keys and walked over to the passenger side. I ended up being glad I gave him the wheel. Damn, the man could drive. I was holding onto the door and dash the whole way – I don’t think he went below seventy once he got out of the business district. He drove one handed, and used his other hand to call someone to let them know what he was driving so we didn’t get pulled over. Instead, I swear he must have gotten an unmarked escort for part of the ride out to Carnegie Mellon. We made it there in record time.
“That was fun,” he said, pulling to a smooth stop, the brakes barely squealing.
“You’re a man of many talents, Detective Horvath,” I said, catching my keys as he tossed them.
“Nice of you to notice.”
A uniformed cop came hurrying over toward us. Carl got right to the point.
“Lee, this is Brian Kinney. He’s a good friend of Dr. Williams. What do you have for me?”
“Dr. Williams didn’t show up for his ten-thirty class. They waited for half an hour for him then started heading out. Something about ten minutes for a T.A., fifteen minutes for an associate professor....”
“Yeah, yeah, full tenured professors get a half hour, but other than waiting with their timers out, did anyone notify campus security? What’s been done to look for him?” I felt ready to scream.
Carl put a calming hand on my arm. “Relax, Brian. Losing control doesn’t help Mac. Lee, has his office been checked?”
“Yes, sir. Office empty, unlocked though. Johnson is going through it now. His car is in the faculty lot and there is no one home at his apartment, though that isn’t unusual neighbors say.” The young officer glanced at me speculatively. I glared back at him.
“Congratulations. Your men have obviously determined that Dr. Williams sleeps away from home often. I bet they know he is gay too. The stalker is still way ahead of them and is probably holding him captive right now if....”
“Brian, that’s not helping,” Carl said, his voice mild but firm. I pressed my lips together and turned away while Carl continued to question the young cop. They were rounding up all the men who had names that in any way fit in with the “general” description.
“How would someone get Mac away without getting someone’s attention?” I turned back to Carl and Officer Lee. They looked at me questioningly. “Think about it. Mac isn’t that big but he’s strong as hell. A lot stronger than someone would be expecting.” Unless they’d been making a study of him, a little voice in my head said, but I ignored it for now. “He made his first class, right?” The officer nodded. “So, he had to have been convinced to leave or forced to leave between 9:45 and 10:30, just forty-five minutes. Assuming he left the first class right away, he still would have been in sight of his students for most of the fifteen minutes between 9:40 and 10:00, giving the stalker even less time.”
“Unless he was in that class,” Carl suggested. “Give me that roster, Lee. And hand a copy to Kinney here if you have a spare.”
They put their heads together and pointed to a couple of names, then got on the officer’s radio to call for detectives to hunt down those students first. Carl turned to me. “Brian, will you be okay if I leave you here? Or would you prefer to wait in Mac’s office? I’ll send another man to wait with you if you like.”
“No, don’t waste the manpower, Carl. Keep as many as you can looking for Mac. I’ll head over to his office. He gave me a key when the new locks were put in. I’ll go over there.”
“There may be officers there already, dusting for prints and what not so don’t disturb anything. Call me if you hear anything and of course I’ll let you know if I get word of anything.”
I nodded glumly. The officer took the roster back from me with an apologetic smile, citing student confidentiality issues. Fuck confidentiality. A professor goes missing, I would think that would trump privacy issues but it didn’t take Carl’s raised eyebrow to tell me that any trumping of privacy didn’t extend to worried boyfriends.
To my surprise, Mac’s office was empty when I got there. I don’t know what I was expecting. A police guard, maybe a yellow tape. Something to show that something had happened. All of a sudden, I was angry. No, I was furious. I slammed my fist against the door.
“Excuse me, could you keep it down out here? Some of us are trying to get a little work done!” A pale, dark-haired woman in wire-rimmed glasses had opened the door to the office next to Mac’s and poked her head out to frown disapprovingly.
“I’m sorry. I thought that office was unoccupied.” I stood gaping at her foolishly, rubbing my hand which was hurting like hell.
“You may have broken your fingers,” she said, nodding toward my hand. “Not wise to punch these doors. Double strength. BOCA requirement, I believe. You should ice it. I told Dr. Williams the same thing when he hurt his hand.”
“Have you seen Dr. Williams this morning?”
She frowned at me more deeply. “I just said I did, didn’t I? Well, not exactly, of course. But yes, I told him to ice his hand when I saw him hurt it this morning. Silly men. Roberta told me she would take care of it.”
“Lovely girl. Best graduate assistant I’ve ever had. I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”
“Brian Kinney. I’m...I’m Dr. Williams’ partner. And you are?”
That frown became even deeper, impossible as that seemed. I thought her glasses would disappear into the crease in the bridge of her nose and get stuck.
“Dr. Williams has a partner? Oh my. That is...surprising. Why, I don’t think Roberta will be pleased at all to hear you say that. Or do you mean tennis? I understand that tennis has partners. And of course, you could be business partners....” She seemed to be talking to herself and I cleared my throat to regain her attention.
“Mac Williams and I are lovers,” I stated. I could see her brown eyes behind the thick lenses blink slowly several times before she said, “Oh dear, Roberta Lee is going to be most completely devastated.”
“What did you say her name was?” I practically shouted it at the woman as I pulled my phone out and hit the speed dial for Carl. “Get over to Mac’s office,” I said. “Now, Ma’am, tell me your name and then tell me where I can find....what’s her name?”
“My research assistant,” she said in faint accents, “Her actual name is Miss Roberta E. Lee Jackson, but she goes by Robbie Lee with the young people. Her parents named her after....”
“The Confederate General, do tell,” I said grimly. “Where can I find Miss Jackson?”
“I am sure I don’t like your attitude, Mr. Kinney.”
“Perhaps you’ll like mine better, Professor Pringle.” Carl had turned the corner behind me in time to hear the dingbat’s huffy reply.
“Carl, you were right in the beginning. A female grad student has Mac.”
“I’m sure I don’t understand what you gentlemen are talking about,” Professor Pringle complained. “Roberta Lee wrote to me two weeks ago to tell me the good news. She and Dr. Williams were getting engaged, on Valentine’s Day. Surely a couple can be excused for wanting a little time alone when they are making such a big commitment.”
Carl and I exchanged incredulous looks. If the stalker was crazy, this loony was right there with her in needing a padded room. Mac wasn’t one for waving a rainbow flag around during Pride week but he was as out as they came. I don’t think he’d ever dated a woman, and before we got together, he was quite the serial monogamous; never really serious but always with one man or another. This professor whose office was so close to his must have noticed some sign of his orientation.
But then, so would the stalker, I’d have thought.
I tried to stay out of the way as the police did their thing, questioning the Pringle woman, checking the other “empty” office to make sure it was really empty, and sending teams to the grad student’s apartment. I wanted to go with the SWAT team for that but Carl insisted I stay with him. He was in constant radio contact with them, which was worse than no contact in some ways. I could hear the sound of them breaking in and the screams of what must have been her roommate who for some stupid reason didn’t answer their repeated knocks and announcement of police. She was taken in for questioning while the apartment was searched.
But, no sign of Mac. I sat at his desk and glumly stared at his computer screen, with its scrolling pictures of birds that he’d taken during his various trips. But...there was something off. I started paying more attention. He and I had gone on a trip just last month during the winter break, a very easy camping trip, one which he didn’t even count as camping, but we got some great photographs of loons. They were missing from this slide show. I clicked on Mac’s mouse, even though I knew I should leave it for the police.
There was an email flashing.
I opened it. It was a digital Valentine’s Day card. The message said, “But they’ll never forget what we do here.” The picture was of rows and rows of graves. I knew that site. It was Gettysburg. The cemetery there. On a whim, I checked the internet cache.
“Bingo,” I whispered. Mapquest. Someone had saved the directions from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg. I didn’t think Mac was a history buff. A little over three and a half hours, Mapquest said. I knew I could make it in less than three. Hell, if I let Carl drive, maybe we could make it in two and a half.
But Carl wasn’t picking up his phone. I tried three times and finally left a voice mail message, tersely telling him that I was sure I knew where the she-stalker had taken my man. As I turned my car onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike fifteen minutes later, I worried that I might be making a big mistake. What if I was wrong and I ended up being some three plus hours away when Mac needed me?
Go with your instincts, Carl had told us. That’s what I was doing. I floored the gas, not sure whether I wanted to escape being pulled over or not.
I wondered what type of person this Roberta E. Lee was, that she would kidnap her professor. Or rather, not her professor. She must have just been the grad student assistant for the professor next door to Mac. We all assumed she was in one of his classes...and that she was a man. Thinking back, I had an image in my mind of a quiet young woman who often was around when Mac and I left his office or I met him at his lecture hall. She was the teaching assistant, he’d told me, that he’d inherited along with the class. He’d made an effort to get to know the girl, but hadn’t made any progress all of first semester as he’d found her to be painfully shy.
And now that I thought about it, he’d told me that her name was Bobbie. Bobbie Jackson.
So much for shy. Following the directions I’d printed out at Mac’s office, I easily found my way to the large cemetery once I arrived in Gettysburg. It was going after four o’clock and was already getting dark. Snow had started falling a couple hours ago and visibility sucked. I pulled my coat closed and wrapped my scarf around my neck, wincing at the twinge in my sore hand. I hoped Mac had his coat and was dressed for this weather. Did an infatuated crazy person take good care of the object of her obsession, I wondered.
The cemetery was closed but in the freshly fallen snow I could see footprints that weren’t yet covered over. Kneeling to get a closer look, I judged that two people had entered the cemetery sometime after the snow had started, but not long enough ago that the still falling snow had had time to cover over their tracks. The one set of prints, sneakers from the looks of the light tread, were significantly smaller than the other set, which looked to be boots. Mac wore boots, hiking style boots, in this weather, with Vibram soles.
It had to be him. I sent a text message to Carl’s phone, not wanting to risk talking, knowing that sound traveled better in the cold. Mindful of the light on my phone as well, I cupped my free hand around it while I used the other to text.
Then, I stood still and listened.
Gettysburg’s cemetery is huge. A fucking lot of people are buried there. But, I hadn’t been fucking a naturalist for nothing. I followed the tracks as quietly as I could, and listened for any sounds that would indicate movement. An animal scurrying away. A branch breaking. Or...
“Brian! Over he...”
Mac’s voice cut out abruptly. I took off at a run in the direction of the sound. It didn’t sound that far. It came from the Virginia section of the cemetery. Of course.
If I had any doubts we were dealing with a nutcase, they left when I saw that she had him stripped to his waist. In this blizzard. He was also tied to a monument of some dead southerner, probably Robert E. Lee himself, for all I knew or cared, but that was run of the mill crazy. A little bondage I can deal with. Freezing the man – that’s plain nuts.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I demanded, walking right up to her. And stopping dead.
“Brian, no,” Mac said. He kind of gasped it, actually. It was then that I saw the rifle in the fruitcake’s hands. Molly Pitcher was holding what looked like a real Civil War era rifle, not that I was willing to take a chance on it not being in working condition. From the look of Mac’s chest and stomach, he’d taken a couple of blows from it. That must have been what she used to shut him up when he’d yelled to me. He hadn’t been calling me to him, I realized belatedly. He’d been trying to warn me before I stumbled onto them, probably so I could summon help. Which would have been good..
Well, time for plan B.
I smiled at the lady brandishing the rifle and held out my hand. I spoke in my best Southern accent.
“Miss Jackson? I’m the Reverend Josiah B. Kinney. The blacksmith said you were waiting for a preacher?”
She lowered the rifle and looked at me suspiciously. “You’re the preacher? You look like that man from Pittsburgh. The one who was always bothering my fiancé.”
“I’m from the good Rebel state of Georgia, Miss Jackson. I’m not sure who you’re speaking of, but I can assure you, I’ve nothing on my mind but performing your nuptials and getting back to my preaching back home.”
I held my hand out and waited. After what seemed like forever, she lowered the rifle completely and took my hand. I jerked her forward roughly, causing her to fall to her knees. The rifle fired, but fortunately, the shot went harmlessly into the ground. One more bullet into that already bullet laden soil.
“I’m sorry, Robbie E., but your paperwork was defective,” I said as I twisted her arms behind her back. She cried out to Mac.
“Darling, help me! Help me! Save me from this madman.”
“'Fraid I can’t. A madwoman has me all tied up at the moment,” he said, his voice tired but amused at the irony. His eyes met mine. “Perhaps you could put these ropes to better use? If you had a knife?”
“Just so happens I have this Swiss army knife in my pocket that my lover gave me for Christmas,” I told him. Without any compunction, I slugged Roberta E. Lee Jackson, hitting her hard enough to knock her out.
Mac let out a low whistle. “Why’d you do that?” he asked as I quickly cut through his bonds.
“Because she took away your shirt and froze you half to death and scared me three quarters of the way to death,” I told him, putting his arms into my coat before wrapping my arms around him.
“You’re frozen,” I told him, completely unnecessarily, since he was fully aware of his condition.
“You saved me,” he said, laying his head down on my chest. In the distance I could hear the sirens of the police arriving. In the nick of time, I thought, glancing down at the unconscious villainess of the night.
“Do you know why she did this, Mac?” I tightened my arms around him and moved us a little further away from her crumpled figure.
“She said she did it because.....” He fell silent.
“What? What did she say?”
“She said I was the only one who ever looked at her...and really saw her. She kept telling me that the way I looked at her tonight was all wrong, that I had to go back to looking at her the way I did before.”
“How was that?”
He looked somberly down at the figure on the ground and then back at me.
“I think what she was looking for from me was, well, the way you look tonight. When you look at me. And probably the same way I’m looking at you. It was all due to a...quirk of chance, I guess you could call it, Brian. Robbie sat at the back of that large lecture hall and when you waited for me that first day, I smiled at you when you came into the room...she must have thought I was looking at her. From that look came all this. She built a whole fantasy relationship out of one smile.”
He was shaking slightly, from the cold, from reaction...both, probably. I handled the police and got Carl to smooth the way so that I could take Mac away, promising to have him looked at by a doctor if he showed any signs of problems arising from the exposure. I also promised to take him down to the station to give his statement first thing in the morning. For now, I was checking him into a luxury hotel and getting him into a hot tub. One big enough for two. There would be time enough for the long drive back to Pittsburgh tomorrow.
For tonight, I was going to take my time with my lover. And savoring the way he looked...all mine...tonight, I might just give some consideration to talking Carl into letting Mac give his statement on Monday and spending Valentine’s Day Weekend in a suite, snowed in, with nothing to do but cater to my obsession.
“Mac...let’s get you someplace warm and out of those wet clothes,” I whispered, half leading, half carrying him back to my car.
Monday would be just fine, Carl texted me even before I asked. Valentine’s Day in Gettysburg might not be such a bad idea after all. With the right person.
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