The longer the awards ceremony dragged on, the more frequently Tony kept checking his watch. He had no idea what he was doing there. Yes, the chancellor had asked him to come – “Take a look at the family you’ll be joining. We’d be honored if you could make it…” – but it seemed so much like a selling point. He had already reached an agreement to start teaching in the fall earlier that day and he’d been happy about it. But this was a little much.
The ceremony consisted of the university’s various deans taking turns in front of a podium rattling off grants, awards, publications and other honors received by the faculty under their purview. There was applause, it seemed, after every mention, and once in awhile, someone would be called upon to stand. The grants all came from foundations named for people Tony had never heard of and the awards were all ten times longer than they needed to be. It wasn’t enough to be named So-and-So’s Biologist of the Year. No, you had to be the Recipient of the Award for Excellence in the Natural Sciences – Biological Research, for the year beginning……and on and on it went.
This was not his scene. Tony had always purposefully eschewed the label “academic.” He wrote books. Teaching was something he did in between to pay the bills. He was Mr. Lang (if not just Tony), not Dr. He left the theory and the ten-dollar titles to the PhDs. His job was to get young men and women to churn out writing they wouldn’t be embarrassed about while introducing them to books that were better and more influential than his own. That’s what he did at community colleges and at small liberal arts schools and that’s what he would continue to do in a permanent position at a good-sized university.
Tony watched the podium. Another dean was talking. She was an older woman, gray and sexless, and she read slowly from a list in front of her. Tony wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take. He waited for the dean to finish, then used the sound of applause for cover while he beat a hasty retreat. He’d stopped smoking a year ago, but if anyone asked, that’s where he was headed. That or he just didn’t feel well, which wasn’t too far from the truth.
It hadn’t been raining when Tony arrived for the awards ceremony, but it sure was when he stepped out.
“Goddamn,” he exclaimed. He’d gone from dry to drenched in an instant.
Tony was about to venture back inside – even if it meant listening to another dean or two – when something darted past him on the sidewalk. A human-sized blur, it moved with speed and urgency before slipping and tumbling to the ground.
Tony took a few steps forward. The runner was laying face-down, stuffing something into the right pocket of a long raincoat. The coat had ridden up during the fall, exposing the light bare flesh of a pair of legs and a hint of something else, something white, closer to the waistline. Tony couldn’t make out details. It was dark and the rain whipped his face. A barrage of droplets stung his eyes.
“Are you OK?” he half-hollered.
The runner responded by yanking down the raincoat, rising to his feet and taking off. Tony stared in disbelief. Some nut wearing nothing but a raincoat runs out across campus during one of the wettest nights in recent memory. That scene was going in a book someday, Tony thought. No doubt about it.
Curious about what prompted this marathon sprint, Tony began retracing the runner’s steps down the sidewalk. When he reached the side of the Faculty Center, he saw something sticking out of the bushes that made him stop. For the second time in five minutes, he came across a pair of legs. These legs were clothed. And, unlike the runner’s, these legs weren’t moving at all.