There was a large floral arrangement in the center of his desk, with a sympathy card signed by all fourteen students in his antitrust class. Each had written a small paragraph of condolences, and he read them all. Beside the flowers was a stack of cards from his colleagues on the faculty.
Word spread fast that he was back, and throughout the morning the same colleagues dropped by with a quick hello, welcome back, sorry about your loss. For the most part the faculty was a close group. They could bicker with the best of them on the trivial issues of campus politics, but they were quick to circle the wagons in times of need. Ray was very happy to see them. Alex Duffman's wife sent a platter of her infamous chocolate brownies, each weighing a pound and proven to add three more to your waist. Naomi Kraig brought a small collection of roses she'd picked from her garden.
Late in the morning Carl Mirk stopped by and closed the door. Ray's closest friend on the faculty, his journey to the law school had been remarkably similar. They were the same age, and both had fathers who were small-town judges who'd ruled their lit-de counties for decades. Carl's father was still on the bench, and still holding a grudge because his son did not return to practice law in the family firm. It appeared, though, that the grudge was fading with the years, whereas Judge Atlee apparently carried his to his death.
"Tell me about it," Carl said. Before long he would make the same trip back to his hometown in northern Ohio.
Ray began with the peaceful house, too peaceful, he recalled now. He described the scene when he found the Judge.
"You found him dead?" Carl asked. The narrative continued, then, "You think he speeded things up a bit?"
"I hope so. He was in a lot of pain."
The story unfolded in great detail, as Ray remembered things he had not thought about since last Sunday. The words poured forth, the telling became therapeutic. Carl was an excellent listener.
Forrest and Harry Rex were colorfully described. "We don't have characters like that in Ohio," Carl said. When they told their small-town stories, usually to colleagues from the cities, they stretched the facts and the characters became larger. Not so with Forrest and Harry Rex. The truth was sufficiently colorful.
The wake, the funeral, the burial. When Ray closed with "Taps" and the lowering of the casket, both had moist eyes. Carl bounced to his feet and said, "What a great way to go. I'm sorry."
"Just glad it's over."
"Welcome back. Let's do lunch tomorrow."
"Lunch it is."
For his noon antitrust class, Ray ordered pizzas from a carry-out and ate them outside in the courtyard with his students. Thirteen of the fourteen were there. Eight would be graduating in two weeks. The students were more concerned about Ray and the death of his father than about their final exams. He knew that would change quickly. -
When the pizza was gone, he dismissed them and they scattered. Kaley lingered behind, as she had been doing in the past months. There was a rigid no-fly zone between faculty and students, and Ray Atlee was not about to venture into it. He was much too content with his job to risk it fooling around with a student. In two weeks, though, Kaley would no longer be a student, but a graduate, and thus not covered by the rules. The flirting had picked up a bit - a serious question after class, a drop-in at his office to get a missed assignment, and always that smile with the eyes that lingered for just a second too long.
She was an average student with a lovely face and a rear-end that stopped traffic. She had played field hockey and lacrosse at Brown and kept a lean athletic figure. She was twenty-eight, a widow with no kids and loads of money she'd received from the company that made the glider her deceased husband had been flying when it cracked up a few miles off the coast at Cape Cod. They found him in sixty feet of water, still strapped in, both wings snapped in two. Ray had researched the accident report online.
He'd also found the court file in Rhode Island where she had sued. The settlement gave her four million up front and five hundred thousand a year for the next twenty years. He had kept this information to himself.
After chasing the boys for the first two years of law school, >he was now chasing the men. Ray knew of at least two other law professors who were getting the same lingering routine as he. One just happened to be married. Evidently, all were as wary as Ray.
They strolled into the front entrance of the law school, chatting aimlessly about the final exam. She was easing closer with each flirtation, warming up to the zone, the only one who knew where ate might be headed with this.
"I'd like to go flying sometime," she announced.
Anything but flying. Ray thought of her young husband and his horrible death, and for a second could think of nothing to say. Finally, with a smile he said, "Buy a ticket."
"No, no, with you, in a small plane. Let's fly somewhere."
"Anyplace in particular?"
"Just buzz around for a while. I'm thinking of taking lessons."
"I was thinking of something more traditional, maybe lunch or dinner, after you graduate." She had stepped closer, so that anyone who walked by at that moment would have no doubt that they, student and professor, were discussing illicit activity.
"I graduate in fourteen days," she said, as if she might not be able to wait that long before they hopped in the sack.
"Then I'll ask you to dinner in fifteen days."
"No, let's break the rule now, while I'm still a student. Let's have dinner before I graduate."
He almost said yes. "Afraid not. The law is the law. We're here because we respect it."
"Oh yes. It's so easy to forget. But we have a date?"
"No, we will have a date."
She flashed another smile and walked away. He tried mightily not to admire her exit, but it was impossible.
The rented van came from a moving company north of town, sixty dollars a day. He tried for a half-day rate because he would need it only for a few hours, but sixty it was. He drove it exactly four tenths of a mile and stopped at Chaney's Self-Storage, a sprawling arrangement of new cinder-block rectangles surrounded by chain link and shiny new razor wire. Video cameras on light poles watched his every move as he parked and walked into the office.
Plenty of space was available. A ten-by-ten bay was forty-eight dollars a month, no heating, no air, a roll-down door, and plenty of lighting.
"Is it fireproof?" Ray asked.
"Absolutely," said Mrs. Chaney herself, fighting off the smoke from the cigarette stuck between her lips as she filled in forms. "Nothing but concrete block." Everything was safe at Chaney's. They featured electronic surveillance, she explained, as she waved at four monitors on a shelf to her left. On a shelf to her right was a small television wherein folks were yelling and fighting, a Springer-style gabfest that was now a brawl. Ray knew which shelf received the most attention.
"Twenty-four-hour guards," she said, still doing the paperwork. "Gate's locked at all times. Never had a break-in, and if one happens then we got all kinds of insurance. Sign right here. Fourteen B."
Insurance on three million bucks, Ray said to himself as he scribbled his name. He paid cash for six months and took the keys to 14B.
He was back two hours later with six new storage boxes, a pile of old clothes, and a stick or two of worthless furniture he'd picked up at a flea market downtown for authenticity. He parked in the alley in front of 14B and worked quickly to unload and store his junk.
The cash was stuffed into forty-two-ounce freezer bags, zipped tight to keep air and water out, fifty-three in all. The freezer bags were arranged in the bottoms of the six storage boxes, then carefully covered with papers and files and research notes that Ray had until very recently deemed useful. Now his meticulous files served a much higher calling. A few old paperbacks were thrown in for good measure.
If, by chance, a thief penetrated 14B, he would probably abandon it after a cursory look into the boxes. The money was well hidden and as well protected as possible. Short of a safety deposit box in a bank, Ray could think of no better place to secure the money.
What would ultimately become of the money was a mystery that grew by the day. The fact that it was now safely tucked away in Virginia provided little comfort, contrary to what he had hoped.
He watched the boxes and the other junk for a while, not really anxious to leave. He vowed to himself that he would not stop by every day to check on things, but as soon as the vow was made he began to doubt it.
He secured the roll-down door with a new padlock. As he drove away, the guard was awake, the video cameras scanning, the gate locked.
Fog Newton was worrying about the weather. He had a student-pilot on a cross-country to Lynchburg and back, and thunderstorms were moving in quickly, according to radar. The clouds had not been expected, and no weather had been forecast during the student's preflight briefing.
"How many hours does he have?" Ray asked.
"Thirty-one," Fog said gravely. Certainly not enough experience to handle thunderstorms. There were no airports between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, only mountains.
"You're not flying, are you?" Fog asked.
"I want to."
"Forget it. This storm is coming together quickly. Let's go watch it."
Nothing frightened an instructor more than a student up in heavy weather. Each cross-country training flight had to be carefully planned - route, time, fuel, weather, secondary airports, and emergency procedures. And each flight had to be approved in writing by the instructor. Fog had once grounded Ray because there was a slight chance of icing at five thousand feet, on a perfectly clear day.
They walked through the hangar to the ramp where a Lear was parking and shutting down its engines. To the west beyond the foothills was the first hint of clouds. The wind had picked up noticeably. "Ten to fifteen knots, gusting," Fog said. "A direct cross-wind." Ray would not want to attempt a landing in such conditions.
Behind the Lear was a Bonanza taxiing to the ramp, and as it got closer Ray noticed that it was the one he'd been coveting for the past two months. "There's your plane," Fog said.
"I wish," Ray said.
The Bonanza parked and shut down near them, and when the ramp was quiet again Fog said, "I hear he's cut the price."
"Somewhere around four twenty-five. Four-fifty was a little steep."
The owner, traveling alone, crawled out and pulled his bags from the rear. Fog was gazing at the sky and glancing at his watch. Ray kept his eyes on the Bonanza, where the owner was locking the door and putting it to rest.
"Let's take it for a spin," Ray said.
"Sure. What's the rent?"
"It's negotiable. I know the guy pretty well."
"Let's get it for a day, fly up to Atlantic City, then back."
Fog forgot about the approaching clouds and the rookie student. He turned and looked at Ray. "You're serious?"
"Why not? Sounds like fun."
Aside from flying and poker, Fog had few other interests. "When?"
"Saturday. Day after tomorrow. Leave early, come back late."
Fog was suddenly deep in thought. He glanced at his watch, looked once more to the west, then to the south. Dick Docker yelled from a window, "Yankee Tango is ten miles out."
"Thank God," Fog mumbled to himself and visibly relaxed. He and Ray walked to the Bonanza for a closer look. "Saturday, huh?" Fog said.
"Yep, all day"
"I'll catch the owner. I'm sure we can work a deal." The winds relented for a moment and Yankee Tango landed
with little effort. Fog relaxed even more and managed a smile.
"Didn't know you liked the action," he said as they walked across the ramp.
"Just a little blackjack, nothing serious," Ray said.