Chapter 4 – The Accusation Waltz (Part I)

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Frog borrowed Zane’s motorcycle, which he graciously offered after she flashed him a brilliant grin and promised to spend a yet-to-be-determined night over watching Battle Star Galactica on his new plasma TV with the boys. As she rolled it to a stop in an available space next to the ASU Book Store, an evening breeze darted between the buildings at ASU and caused the students walking past to pull their coats tighter. Elaine hopped off and took a few steps away from the vehicle after she felt the motor cut out—while she’d become accustomed to the cycle, she still hadn’t quite gotten over how afterwards her legs wobbled like jelly. That and how much she enjoyed holding tightly to Frog’s muscular midriff with the world whisking by on all sides and the smell hot metal in her nose.

Elaine removed her helmet and tossed it to Frog, who hadn’t worn one—preferring instead a pair of tinted lab safety goggles—leaving her verdant-green hair free in the wind when riding. The ex-cheerleader caught the helmet deftly and strapped it onto the bike. A black Japanese-built cycle with a red stripe across the engine cover, chromed trim, and silver metal gleaming everywhere else. Only a few other vehicles littered the small lot, most nestled up against the side of the building like horses at trough. Only a few students wandered past in small groups, clutching textbooks and book bags. Evening at ASU had given up the hustle and bustle of the day as the last classes of the day let out, people wandered back to their dorms, and got into their cars to drive home.

Frog and Elaine found the Engineering Administration building empty with the lights dimmed to sleepy levels. However, the front door swung open when Elaine tried it. Frog shrugged at her and slipped past into the quiet halls. They’d never entered the building after-hours before and the entire place seemed a bit eerie without the usual functionaries and students going about their business. Most of the doors were closed against the night, and the open areas with desks stood unmanned, their phones silent, but here and there the comforting hum of CPU fans still emanated from computers left running overnight.

A single open doorway, flooding light into the hallway, led the pair to the Dean’s Office.

The reception antechamber had a single desk dominating one end and a few waiting chairs resting against the wall. Elaine remembered her few visits here with a grim clarity. Only a month before there’d been a bit of a problem with one of her labs being raided—extending from a case involving a viral political campaign by the currently elect class president. She’d waited as long as she could before forcing herself to see the Dean of Engineering about that situation. She didn’t blame herself for that, of course, she had things to do and while the loss of her lab sorted itself out, the situation on campus happened to be more pressing at the time.

“Do you think we just go in?” Elaine asked.

The doorway from the antechamber into the Dean’s Office proper was closed tight. The sound of soft conversation penetrated the door like distant mumbling and Elaine noticed that the dean’s office line light showed in-use on the desk phone. She resisted the impulse to tap into the phone to listen in. The dean and her had certainly gained something of an acrimonious relationship over the past few incidents, and he’d summoned her mysteriously. Know thy enemy?

“He did call you out here after-hours,” Frog said. “He can suffer the consequences.”

She flung the door open unceremoniously and peered inside.

The dean sat behind his desk—back straight as a flagpole—with the phone tucked between chin and shoulder. In his hands he held a few stapled sheets of paper that he seemed to be addressing as he spoke. Upon Frog’s entrance, he set the pages down, caught the phone in one hand and leaned forward in his chair. His face, a taut crease of skin across his skull, wrinkled slightly with age, shifted in expression from distant determination to something less affable as he looked past Frog and fixed his gaze on Elaine.

“Ah, Ms. Mercer, you’re here,” the dean said, putting the caller he had on hold with a single punch of his finger. The light on the phone at the reception desk turned orange and started blinking. His eyes shifted from Elaine and focused on Frog. “I see that you’ve brought a friend. Mrs. Kermit, I presume? I understand you two are partners in crime.” He fingered a rather thick folder filled with ratty documents on his desk. Fingers ticked through the pages, rustling them like a dealer with cards. “You two seem to show up together a lot in dealings that this office is privy to.”

“You rang?” Elaine said.

“Please come in and shut the door behind you,” the dean said.

Frog moved aside so that her friend could pass and they both stepped into the room. As Frog closed the door, Elaine took in the room. It had changed subtly since last she’d visited and, much to her discerning attention, she knew it to be a room that changed very little. She understood the dean to be an fastidious man with an almost impeccable sense of feng shui—or some similar Western tradition that took into account a Harvard education and a stuffy suit with an off-colored tie—but something seemed slightly off today.

The lamp on the desk stood out, so she approached. The dean leaned back in his chair holding up a hand as if to stop her as she reached for it. Frog caught Elaine’s wrist and tugged, freezing her in her tracks. She looked back at the green-haired girl, who shook her head slightly—probably wasn’t a good idea to agitate the dean by fiddling with his personal effects no matter how curious they happened to be. Resisting the tug of her more suspicious nature, Elaine relented and took a step away from the desk. The dean appeared to relax. Slightly.

“Please don’t touch anything,” the dean said. “I’ve had quite enough of that for one day. If you would take a seat, I need your full attention.”

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