Friday, March 6, 2015

No Hard Feelings

“No hard feelings,” Daniels said as the budget meeting ended and he offered his hand.

“Then try Cialis,” I told him as I headed for the door. Every dollar he wrangled for his research came at the expense of mine.

“Livingston! I’d like to speak with you,” I heard over my shoulder and recognized the voice of the new dean – something that had been quiet throughout the whole meeting.

“Do so during office hours,” I responded and kept on walking. Now was not a good time for junior to espouse something from his management book of the day. My throat was dry and I desired something other than what came from the fountains.

“I need something from you,” he continued as he came up behind me in the hallway and slowed my progression toward the dark night waiting just beyond the next set of doors. “I need you to do something.”

Intrigued, I stopped. He was six months into a job that only lasted two years, on average, and the only thing he had ever asked for before was paperwork; a request that I routinely ignored. The desperation in his voice didn’t sound like it was going to be a request of that sort.

“You’ve got sixty seconds,” I told him and he began to talk. To his credit, each time he started to ramble, I looked at my watch and he got back on topic. Long story short, he knew his wife was cheating on him and he wanted help finding out with whom. Since I taught computer science and had co-written a text on security, he thought I could find things on her tablet that others would miss. On that count, he was right. I could also easily imagine his wife cheating on him; when he brought her around at the beginning of the semester, both Daniels and I had agreed that she had settled way below her potential.

“What’s in it for me?” I asked when he was done.

“I …” he stuttered. “I thought you might do it just to help me out.” The look on my face assured him that he was wrong on that count. “What do you want?”

“Get rid of Daniels,” I told him.

“I can’t do that!”

“Then I wish you the best,” and with that I was both done and I was gone.

A week later, I heard the rumors and the blood drained from my upper body so fast that my legs became rubbery. Daniels had been confronted about academic dishonesty and threatened with termination. Rather than face it like a man, he hung himself in his cubby of an office. A student found him when she went to explain how she had missed an exam because her grandmother had died yet again.

I hurried to my office in search of solitude. What I found was a Windows 8 tablet in a pink case sitting on my desk and a Post-it note stating that I had better start looking. The note wasn’t signed and there was nothing indicating who the tablet belonged to, but there was zero doubt.

After collecting myself, I started digging. There was nothing incriminating in email, in the Registry, or the deleted files. I brought up every saved restore point and looked for porn, for selfies, for letters and map directions, GPS coordinates, and everything imaginable. While the possibility existed that I was overlooking something, it was far more probable that she was innocent. I’ve been an expert witness many times and that is what I would have to testify to in this case. I restored everything to the way I had found it and headed downstairs.

“Well?” the dean asked when I closed his office door behind me and set the tablet on his desk. “Who is it?”

“You’re not going to believe this,” I started him and then noticed the rope burns on his hands. “It was Daniels.”