Un Lampo di Bianco: Chapter 5

5
The gray car vanished from sight not long after they parked and Tony began to think that maybe they weren’t being followed after all. The events of the previous night had given him the jitters. Maybe they had made him paranoid as well. He said nothing of the gray sedan to K.J., and if she noticed, she kept it to herself.

It was a 10-minute walk from the visitor’s lot to their destination. Blair Hall, the humanities building, was new construction made to look old. Neoclassical pillars adorned the front entrance, while the surrounding walkways intersected at neat, Euclidian angles. Only the abundance of wide windows – a “green” touch to cut down on lighting usage – gave the true age away.

Tony followed K.J. into the building, onto an elevator and down a snaking third-floor hallway. The light tiled floor gave way to dark blue carpeting as they crossed through a doorway and entered an office wing. They stopped walking when they reached the third office on the right. The door was cracked open. A nameplate on the wall beside it read Donald Niccoldi, History. K.J. gave a single knock.

“K.J. Smith, Professor Niccoldi,” she said. “We spoke on the phone?”

“Come in,” a commanding male voice replied.

They entered and Tony scoped out the surroundings. Niccoldi’s office was much like any professor’s he’d seen, much like his would be when he got settled (if he could get settled after all this mayhem). There was a desk, a computer, a globe, a few chairs and a large bookshelf. The biggest difference is that Tony would stock his shelf with paperbacks, while Niccoldi’s held thicker, dryer volumes.

“Thick and dry” wasn’t a bad description for Niccoldi himself. He was stout without being fat and had wavy hair like Tony’s, only a few shades darker. He also sported a moustache that was on loan from the mid-1980s and favored a dreadful jacket-and-jeans combination – the classic attempt at “cool” and “casual” made by those who understood neither. Tony placed Niccoldi as a contemporary at first, but the wrinkles around his eyes and the stray gray-white hairs near his ears suggested he was at least a decade older. He was a vain 50, a man who dyed his hair and tried too hard to fit in with a younger crowd. Tony already got the sense he wasn’t going to like him.

“Welcome,” Niccoldi said, gesturing toward a chair. That was directed at K.J. To Tony, he offered, “And this must be your photographer.”

“Do you see a camera?” Tony asked. Niccoldi stared at him awkwardly a moment before Tony said, “Tony Lang” and offered his hand.

“Ah, the new English hire,” Niccoldi replied. His shake was weak for a man his size and Tony didn’t like the way he said ‘hire,’ like he was kitchen help. I’m tenure track, pal, Tony thought, same as you.

“Mr. Lang was here last night when…” K.J. began.

“I found the body,” Tony interrupted. Niccoldi went pale and that made Tony smile inside just a little bit.

“Good God,” Niccoldi exclaimed. “That was you? I heard somebody was out there, smoking in the rain when…”

“What can you tell us about Amy Holden, professor?” K.J. asked. She was good at getting him back on topic, Tony thought. Persistent, just like Jackson said.

“Amy,” Niccoldi echoed, clearing his throat. “Poor girl. She was a brilliant student and a genuinely decent human being. Caring, dependable. I’m sorry if this sounds…expected, but it’s the truth.”

“I’ll believe it,” K.J. said. “Everyone I talked to had very nice things to say about her. Could you tell me what kind of work she was doing for you?”

“Research,” Niccoldi replied, his voice tightening. “She was helping me with a book I’m writing.”

He shot Tony a “me too” look and Tony bit his tongue. He’d gotten through three books without any assistants. When he needed to research something – and he often did – he looked it up on his own. Great minds couldn’t be bothered, he guessed. Neither could assholes.

“That must be exciting,” K.J. said with an encouraging smile. She really knew how to turn on the charm. “Maybe I’ll read it when it comes out. What’s it about?”

Niccoldi sighed. “I really shouldn’t be telling you this. If certain people found out what I’m working on, they could get the wrong idea. That would put me in a very bad position.”

“I understand,” K.J. told him as she scribbled something on her pad. “Believe me, I don’t want to jam you up. We can go off the record, if you’d like.”

“Off the record it is,” Niccoldi agreed. He paused to take a sip of something from a cup on his desk. It was probably water, Tony thought. If he was a real writer, it would have been something stronger.

“For several months now, I’ve been working on a local history,” Niccoldi explained. “Legends, lore, that sort of thing. The chapter Amy was most recently assisting me with concerned Simon Valence.”

Both Tony and K.J. drew a blank at the name. Niccoldi seemed pleased by that, as it gave him an opportunity to lecture them.

“Simon Valence was a professor here years ago. A classicist. Very well-respected in his field. I had the pleasure of taking a class with him once. He was brilliant and passionate. He brought dead tongues alive.”

“So what happened to him?” K.J. asked.

“About twenty years ago – I was a graduate student at the time – Dr. Valence abruptly resigned. A persistent rumor swirled that he was discovered having an affair with a student and our erstwhile chancellor, Dr. Hand, forced him out. Shortly after he resigned, he committed suicide. Pistol to the temple. It was both tragic and completely out of character.”

“Do you think this had anything to do with Amy’s murder?”

“I certainly hope not,” an aghast Niccoldi replied.

“This research she was doing,” Tony said. “Where was she looking?”

Both Niccoldi and K.J. glared at him. It was as if they forgot he was in the room.

“The Special Collections department of the campus library,” Niccoldi said. “Dr. Valence’s papers are housed there.”

“Special collections,” K.J. repeated. “Got it. Well, thanks a lot, Professor. We’ve gotta run. I’d imagine the police will probably want to talk to you.”

“I’d be surprised if they didn’t,” Niccoldi said sourly.

Tony and K.J. retraced their steps through the hallway, took the elevator down and walked out the door and past the columns.

“Any idea where the library is?” he asked. “They gave me a tour yesterday, but I’m lucky that I remember my own name, given the circumstances.”

“It’s…” K.J. began.

“Hold it!” a voice from behind them boomed. “The two of you are in very big trouble.”

Re: Un Lampo di Bianco: Chapter 5

“It’s…” K.J. began.

“Hold it!” a voice from behind them boomed. “The two of you are in very big trouble.”

You do realize that when you end a chapter like that, you make us want to turn to the next chapter and read it. I will nag you for the next chapter even though that makes me a hypocrite.

Re: Un Lampo di Bianco: Chapter 5

Of course I realize this. It’s called building tension and inciting interest through well-placed but deliberately manipulative cliffhangers. :stuck_out_tongue: I’ll try to have another chapter posted by tonight. I am without Internet at home for the next few days, so that may delay me some.

Thanks for reading.

Re: Un Lampo di Bianco: Chapter 5

The only issue I saw was this-

He shake was weak for a…