Friday, October 23, 2009

Halloween Stories

One of the joys of working in higher ed is being surrounded by smart and creative people. Once upon a time, a group of us started a halloween tradition that consisted of swapping names, writing a spooky story about that person, and then reading them all at a party. Over the years we accumulated quite a number of these. It was a fun exercise to imagine colleagues and co-workers placed into crazy situations, and there was a lot of laughter at these parties. I have taken one of these stories I wrote and edited it to change the names and take out the inside jokes, except for the title, which I will explain:

Some of us were walking back from lunch at a local restaurant one summer day with a senior colleague named Jack. Jack had a long history with the institution and was always good for a unique perspective on things. On the stroll back, he started warning us about the president's 'secret signals.' One of these was that if the president pumped your hand three times on a handshake, it mean you'd be terminated. We just laughed.

Not more than three minutes later we encountered the very man--the president--on his way somewhere. He greeted Jack heartily and grabbed his hand. The pres was a two-handed shaker, right hand gripping yours and left hand holding your elbow tight. We all watched one pump...two...and as the president seemed prepared to go on, Jack ripped his arm away as if he'd been bitten. And that's why this story is called...

The Third Squeeze

Under the hot midday South Carolina sun, light washed off the wakes of overpowered john boats on Lake Wateree. Two men sat comfortably in swivel seats in a sparkling new fiberglass racing hull. The enormous Evinrude outboards weighed down the stern so that even dead in the water the boat's bow stuck up as if it were planing. Tim Spear sat in the front seat, farthest from the controls but closest to the cooler, which was fine by him. He wiped sweat from his forehead with an already saturated towel. He glanced under the brim of his Duke baseball cap at the elderly owner of the boat in the other seat. Ezra Warren seemed unmoved by the stifling heat. He was meticulously unclipping a purple worm from his swivel. The replacement--a yellow popper--was sitting on the president's lap. Soon to be ex-president, really, since he'd already announced his retirement. The politics of who would replace him were intense and unavoidable on the campus of Rocke College. Tim wondered for the hundredth time why the president had invited him on this fishing expedition.

"A little hot for October, don't you think so, sir?" Tim asked. He couldn't stand the silence for more than about five minutes.

"Nah, not really. I've seen it so hot at Thanksgiving that the fish had to come up for air. After a whole summer of the water not cooling enough to turn over, the dead vegetation at the bottom of the lake just used up all the oxygen. All we had to do was scoop the bass off the surface. Wasn't fair, really. I think Dan Birch was on that trip. You can ask him about it."

"Who, sir?"

"Dan--oh, I guess that was before your time. Dan was the veep for business operations before the new guy came on board. Got my bleep into bleep-load of trouble, he did."

Tim had already noticed that the president's manner of speaking was a little different on a fishing expedition than it was in front of the senate, but it was hard to get used to this continual swearing, which seemed to get worse with every beer the man consumed.

"What happened to Mr. Birch?"

"He went elsewhere. Just in the bleep-bleep nick of time too, or I'd have booted his sorry bleep the bleep over the horizon. Hand me another beer there, if it isn't too much trouble."

Tim hurried to comply with the request. He was relieved to see that there were only a few bottles left. Surely this tortuous expedition would end when the president ran out of drinks. Tim fumbled with the opener as the president belched a loud one and suddenly hollered.

"I got me one!" Sure enough, the tip of the fishing pole was bent over in a graceful curve that could only mean something substantial on the business end of the line.

"If this is another turtle, I'm gonna A-S his green bleep," the president muttered. Tim had heard this curious circumlocution several times on the trip already and was still no wiser as to what it meant. He had a good buzz on already from the heat and alcohol, but was managing admirable self-restraint. Just imagine that you're in his office, he reminded himself through the haze of free radicals.

It was no turtle this time. Instead, a nice sized olive and silver fish flashed to the surface and flailed once before diving under the boat.

"On the motor boy!" the president yelled, standing and leaning out over the boat. The rod was bent into a U. Tim had been well coached on this maneuver, and he leapt to the bow where a trolling motor was mounted. Hoping he wouldn't screw anything up, he thumbed the switch to the 'on' position. The boat immediately started circling. The wrong way.

"Other way! Son of a cabbage, don't let him get away! This one's a keeper!" Tim complied as quickly as he could, jerking the tiny helm around 180 degrees. He tried to shake the mist from his head. Was the president really cursing in vegetables, or was his abused brain merely taking artistic license?

"Got him! He's coming up! Grab the net Ben!"

Tim didn't think this was the time to correct the man on his given name, so he grabbed the net, trying to look like a Ben. By a stroke of luck, he managed to neatly sweep the flopping bass up in a single try, and held it up for the other's inspection.

"Hot yam! That's a mother-tuber of a nice fish! Wait 'til Sarah sees this one!" He did a little dance. After yanking the hook out of the fish's mouth with a pair of pliers, the president deposited it into the live well. It was the first one they'd landed worth keeping. Tim himself had had only nibbles.

"Way to go, sir!" Tim congratulated his boss.

"Well now, a few more of those and we'll have a meal. You can turn off the troller now." After the boat was dead in the water once more, the president checked his lure for damage before flinging it back into the water with an expert snap of his wrist. The line whispered through the reel until the yellow popper smacked into the water near a log. They fished in silence for a while. At last, the president gave a grunt of disgust.

"I think we'd best move on to a better spot, Fred," he said. "The fish have figured us out here."


The huge engines coughed once before bursting into lusty voice. The president slapped the gear handle and the boat leapt with a jerk that threw Tim's head back. He had learned earlier to hold on or be thrown out of the boat. As the speed increased the ride became smoother.

"I didn't just bring you out here to fish, you know," the president shouted over the roar of the Evinrudes.

"No?" Tim tried to seem indifferent. In reality his heart was pounding. This had to be important, he thought.

"Let me find some shade, and we'll talk," came the shout forward. Tim held on tight as the boat turned sharply and headed into a small inlet surrounded by a shallow swamp. The motors cut off and the boat glided under the largest Cyprus trees Tim had ever seen. Their passage was slowed to a stop by thousands of lily pads.

"There. Out of the sun for a few minutes. Better, huh? Betcher cabbage it is." Tim wasn't so sure. He could already see clouds of mosquitoes approaching.

The president finished shutting the electrical system off, and then swiveled around to meet the gaze of the English professor. He didn't say anything for a full minute. Tim fidgeted, slapping at imaginary bugs. What did this guy want, he wondered.

"I know you've been applying around," the president said finally.

"Oh that. Nothing, really. I wasn't sure I'd get tenure, so I just..." Tim trailed off as the other held up a hand to stop him.

"I understand. That's not what this is about. I just want to make sure you're not unhappy here. Your presence is valuable to me." Tim tried to keep his astonishment from showing. The guy didn't even know his name!

"Yes, in ways you may not even think of, you are indispensable to this institution." The president waved his arms and it wasn't hard to imagine that the mighty tree trunks were the columns of Founder’s Hall.

"Young blood," he continued. "That's what we need. Dean Cartwright and I are of one mind on this topic." Tim felt like he should say something, but he couldn't figure out how to make his tongue work. His face worked, producing only 'ga-ga-ga' noises that went unnoticed.

"Every great institution is based on people. There are followers and there are leaders. They're equally important. Which are you, Ron?"

"A leader?" Tim gasped.

"No. You're a follower. Nothing wrong with that, boy. Less headaches, trust me."

"Fewer headaches," Tim croaked, and then was horrified that he had corrected the president's grammar. This too, went unnoticed.

"The followers are the really important ones, anyway. From Idaho Beach to the setting foot on Mars. Followers get the job done. No shame in that, now is there?"

Tim violently shook his head as if dismayed by the thought.

"I, or rather WE, have a job for you. The kind of job not just anyone could do. There are so few people around with real talent for the kind of work that's genuinely needed. Smart-mouth intellectuals are a dime a bushel, but real solid DOers, they are hard to come by. Dean Cartwright and I think you are such a person." The president's dark eyes bored into Tim's skull. He had no more chance than a rabbit on board with a cobra. He nodded numbly.

"Good. I knew you'd agree. Then let me tell you specifically what we have in mind. Do you want another beer?" Before the dazed Medievalist could object, the last frosty can was popped and thrust into his hands.

"First of all, you need to know that you've been watched very closely and groomed for this special position. Your wife's job, your committee assignments, and even some of your classes have been arranged for this purpose. Also putting a chair in charge of your department that would drive you crazy. Make that two chairs, although Dr. Gibbon was just a happy coincidence. I have to apologize for this now, but we wanted you unsettled, almost unhappy. The last thing we wanted was a complacent, fat, and lazy Ron Spear."

"Tim," Tim squeaked.


"My name is Tim. Not Ron. Tim. Short for Timothy. Rhymes with Jim, whim, and slim. Not like Ron, which rhymes with begone, Jon, and c'mon." Tim was in full babble mode and the breaking gear was stripped to the shaft. He continued in the same way until the president physically forced him to drink the rest of his beer.

"I can see you're surprised. Shocked even. Here, you need something a bit stronger than that lite beer." President Warren dug into a cabinet and came up with a bottle of rum.

"Pusser’s Rum okay? It's good enough for the British navy. Never touch the stuff myself, but I keep it for emergencies. Here you go."

Tim downed a swig of the sweet liquor. Sweat ran down his face.


"You becher sweet tomatoes it's good. That's the reason the good lord invented sugar cane. Have some more. That's right. You just hang onto the bottle, and I'll tell you a story or two." The president opened the top button on his shirt and settled back into his seat. He reached into his pocket an produced a crumpled pack of Camels. He pushed in the cigarette lighter button next to the ignition and waited for it to pop out while he fished out a slightly bent cigarette. Breathing life into it, he sucked deeply and visibly relaxed his posture. He seemed years older to Tim in that instant. The alcohol had instantly penetrated his dehydrated brain, though, and his judgment had flown to the four points of the compass. He waited dumbly for the other to top the astonishments that had already transpired, sure somehow that that was to come to pass. Pungent blue smoke from the cigarette enveloped the boat. Any mosquito that flew into it immediately perished. Finally, the president spoke.

"The college has always had a need for a strong personality to keep troublemakers in line. To make the machinery operate smoothly. Without people like Stonepot the whole system would break down."

"Stonepot?" Tim said in surprise, before he could think.

"Sure. Good ole' A-S. But you know, Ahab is getting old. He can't see as good as he used to, and he gets out of breath so easily. For some things he's still at the top of his game, but there's definitely a need for some new blood."

"What? You want me to become Stonepot?" Tim wished his mouth would just shut up, but it seemed to be no longer connected to his rational parts. He tried to wrap his mind around the connection between him and the faculty’s most opinionated and vocal--and feared--member.

"Tim, I know it's a big assignment. I know it seems impossible. And we know that you'll bring your own unique style to the job. You won't be Stonepot--hell, who could be--but you'll be Spear. You'll be the Stonepot that Ahab only dreams of."

"I'm not quite following all this. You aren't talking about being a sociology professor, are you?"

The president laughed so unexpectedly and loudly that Tim nearly peed his pants in terror. Heretofore he had only heard the man chuckle during a faculty senate meeting. This long orgasm of hilarity that went on and on left his hair standing on end. Who was this person he was in a boat with, he wondered suddenly. He began to be the tiniest bit afraid beneath the anesthetic fog of the alcohol. The truth is that he should have been running for the hills at that point, but how far can you run on a twenty foot fishing boat? Besides, how was he to know that some very fine German optics had produced a rifle scope that was trained on the back of his head with the whisper-thin crosshairs picking out the bumps at the exact spot where his skull met his spine? Only a psychic would have known that a certain aforementioned sociology professor was sweating his bleep off in the swamp adjacent to the boat, and that despite the uncontrollable natural elements: mosquitoes, snakes, and even alligators, his right index finger never wavered on the trigger.

"No," the president wiped mirth from his eyes, "not sociology. What we need is a strong arm man. An enforcer. What Ahab brings to the job is the ability to make certain recalcitrant faculty members work hand in hand with the administration. This is not ordinarily the case, you understand. For example, take Gibbons. She knows if she screws up she'll start getting phone calls in the middle of the night asking her if she knows where her dog is. The secret is to be proportional. That's not Ahab's strong suit, frankly. He goes for the nukes right off the bat. I think you've got more sense than he does, though. Are you following any of this?"

Tim couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"This is a joke, right? You guys are having me on. What, is there a video recorder somewhere here? C'mon, an 'enforcer?' You can't be serious."

"Serious as a heart attack, my boy. But I can see you need some convincing." The president stepped to the bow and engaged the trolling motor once more. The boat eased through the lily pads to an enormous tree trunk sticking out of the water. Pulling alongside, the president turned the motor off. He pointed at the tree.

"You see that spike in the side of the tree there?" Following the pointing finger, Tim made out a slime-covered railroad spike hammered deep into the wood about an inch above the water. There was a chain attached to it.

"Pull up that chain for me, would you?"

Tim leaned over the side and stuck his hands into the water with evident disgust. Algae covered the chain. It was quite heavy, and he sweated and swore under his breath trying to bring the thing to the surface. A mass about the size of a basketball emerged. It was impossible to tell what it was because of the goop covering it. Tim looked at the president for instruction.

"Well, put it in the boat, boy. We don't have all day." A trace of tension showed in the old man's voice for the first time.

"Yes, sir." Tim heaved the mass into the boat, covering himself with green ooze in the process. He looked sadly at his clothes. They were already beginning to stink.

"Open it up."

Tim looked more closely at the thing. It was a canvas bag with eyelets through which the chain ran, forming the top of the sack. He loosened the chain and pried the top open.

"Go ahead and dump it into the boat. It won't bite." The president gave a sharp barking laugh. He retrieved another cigarette and stuck it between his lips where it dangled, unlit. Tim turned the sack over and shook it. Water rushed out into the boat. Whatever was inside was too big to fit through the opening, so Tim fed some more chain into the eyelets and then shook the bottom again. A round thing thumped into the boat and rolled against Tim's feet. It had been in the water for a long, long time, but it could only be the skull and decomposed remains of a man's head. A few strands of matted hair remained on the scalp. The president grunted in satisfaction. Tim turned and spewed the contents of his stomach into the lake. He lay gagging, half in and half out of the boat, for several minutes.

"Meet Mr. Birch," the president said to his back. "He just couldn't see eye to eye with us on some important issues. Thought he ought to go tell the board of trustees about some things that were going on, and did so behind our backs. Some people just don't know what's good for them."

" killed him?" Tim croaked weakly, still staring at the water. He had no desire to look back in the boat. The president stuffed the loathsome object back into the bag and dropped it over the side.

"It's safe to come back in now," he chuckled.

Tim felt a hand on his elbow, and allowed himself to be helped back to his seat. The president thrust a towel into his hands and sat down himself.

"So," he said, "now you know where ONE of the bodies is buried." He laughed and finally lit his cigarette.

"Why me?" Tim asked, his voice shaking.

"Well, you're smart, for one thing. And you've got your head screwed on straight. Stonepot, he likes his job just a bit too much. I think you'll be much easier to handle. Who knows, maybe you could be a dean or president yourself some day."

"Thanks oh-so-much for your kind offer, but I wonder if I could have some time to think it over? Run it by my wife..."

"No can do, boy. You're smarter than that. I've done showed you where the Mr. Birch is. You can figure out for yourself that we can't just let you go blabbing your fool head off about this. Not that anyone would believe you, anyhow, of course. But you've got to decide right now if this is something you're interested in."

"And if not?"

The president's eyes turned reptilian.

"No problem," he said carefully. "We'll just shake on it, and agree never to talk about these events again." Then he brightened. "But that won't happen, I'm sure. Once you think about the benefits, you'll agree. For starters, we'd double your salary--off the books, of course, so you don't have to pay taxes on it. You could be chair of your department, chair of the senate... Anything you want, within reason."

"It all sounds very nice, really. Uh, the phone calling and heads in swamps. It's what I've always dreamed of, but I just don't think this is the right career move for me at this time. It's very tempting, and I'm so flattered by your generous offer that it leaves me breathless. But I'm really just an academic at heart. I'd much rather read about slaying and goring than actually participate."

"This is a big decision, you're making son. Are you absolutely certain that you're not interested in helping us out?"

"Helping you out is one thing. Being a bully is something else. I really don't think I'm cut out for that line of work, as tempting as the offer is. So, yes, I'm sure."

"I understand your decision, Ted, and I respect that. Really, I do." The president's expression was indecipherable. He spat the cigarette out of his mouth and into the lake.

"It wasn't supposed to be you," he said sadly, after a moment had passed. "You were a substitute."

"It was Sean, wasn't it?" Tim said with a sudden flash of insight.

"See, I told you you were smart. Yep, we had high hopes for Dr. Links. He really had what it takes. He didn't bat an eye when I showed him what's left of Dan Birch. Just asked where to sign up, cool as a cucumber."

"So you didn't kill him too?"

"Don't be an imbecile. No, we gave him that sabbatical as a perk--a kind of welcome aboard gift. Then he went and got hisself killed by some kind of swamp monster down near Savannah. Well, you know the story as well as I do. It's a damned shame. He could have eaten Stonepot for breakfast." The president made a dismissive gesture.

"Well, I guess we'd better head back," he said. He stood and held both arms straight up in the air for a moment. Tim stared at the unusual behavior, wondering if the sun was getting to the old man. Then he blinked. A perfectly round hole had just appeared in the empty beer can sitting on the gunwale. Half a second later came a flat report. Time seemed to almost stand still. Tim turned to look at the president, who no longer had his arms in the air. The man was watching him with cool contempt. Tim's brain was still trying to catch up to current events when a spattering of fiberglass slivers rained across his arm, followed closely by a second report. The president lost his composure and bellowed at the trees.

"You shot my boat, you frog-basted celery dip!"

Tim's mouth hung open in amazement. Shots? He was being shot at? By whom? He peered into the swamp and saw a small flash of light. Something whined by his left ear in a most peculiar way.

"Someone's shooting at us!" Tim gasped, and hit the deck. "Get down!"

"Stop!" the president bellowed across the water to the corpulent would-be assassin. "Stop shooting! You'll sink us, you idiot! Or worse, you might hit me," he muttered.

A faint voice spoke from the trees. "Did I get him?"

"No!" the president shouted back. "You couldn't hit a barn with a bazooka! Now cease fire!" Then he said to Tim, "You've got to do the job yourself if you want it done right."

Tim looked up to see the president heft a large wooden boathook. Squealing with alarm, Tim scrambled out of the boat and into the stagnant water. The boathook nearly parted his hair during the rapid egress, but he splashed into the lily pads unharmed. He flailed at them until he realized he could grab the stalks and pull himself through the water much faster than he could swim. He ducked under the water and made for the shore. He knew Stonepot was waiting there with a rifle somewhere, but swimming across the longer part of the inlet was out of the question. The president would surely run over him with the boat if he tried that. He quickly ran out of breath and surfaced to get his bearings. He wiped his eyes and looked for the boat. It was still there. Stonepot and Warren were shouting at one another. Tim submerged again and headed toward the thickest part of the trees. After half a minute he surfaced again. There was no more shouting now. He checked on the boat. It was still in place, and the president was doing something... Suddenly he felt an intense sharp pain in his right ear. His head was yanked around to the right, almost ripping his ear off his head. He screamed, and slapped at it with his hand. Then he saw the president standing on the boat with fishing rod in hand, cranking furiously on the handle of the reel. He'd been hooked just like a fish! He cursed and sputtered, but there was nothing to do but head back toward the boat to ease the pain. He briefly thought of trying to wrap the line around some obstruction, but the line was simply too taut.

"Stop pulling, you evil bleep," he bellowed. The president laughed and cranked away. Tim tried to grab the line with his hand, but it was too slick to hold.

"Got me an assistant professor, Ahab!" he yelled. "Think I should throw him back?" A laugh came from within the swamp. Tim despaired. He was completely exhausted by the time he reached the side of the boat again. The tension on the hook set in his ear never let up.

"Get back in the boat," the president ordered. Tim tried to comply, but the side of the boat offered little purchase for that purpose. Finally he grabbed the anchor line and managed to use it to pull himself up high enough to grab one of the safety rails on the gunwale. He used the last of his energy to heave himself back over into the stern of the boat. He closed his eyes and wheezed, waiting for the boathook to come crashing into his skull. After a while, he opened his eyes. The president was bent over in his seat. His face was very pale, and he was gasping for air like a fish out of water.

"My...heart..." he croaked. "...pills..." he pointed shakily at a blue and white windbreaker stowed new the engines. Tim reached over and shook a prescription bottle out of the pocket.

"This what you want?" he asked.

"What's going on?" Stonepot shouted from the swamp.

"I think he's having a heart attack," Tim shouted back. He popped open the bottle and looked at the little white pills.

"Holy Chitaquata smothered mushrooms!" Stonepot threw down his rifle and began slogging out to the boat as fast as his awkward hip-high rubber waders would allow him to move.

"How many pills should I give him?" Tim asked him.

"How the heloaise should I know? Give him the whole bottle."

"The whole bottle? There's like two dozen pills in there!"

Stonepot was having problems of his own. Once he got out deep enough, water had rushed into the waders and turned them into anchors. He sank in the soft mud until only his head, shoulders, and increasingly frantic arms remained above water. The president suddenly fell out of his seat and collapsed into a ball in the bottom of the boat. He made strange sounds.

"Hey Ahab, you know CPR right?"

"I think I'm sinking here!"

"What's a death rattle sound like? Listen, can you hear that?"

"I can't get my feet out of the mud! Help!"

"It's really more of a grinding wheeze than a rattle, though. Should I go ahead and force a pill down his throat?"

"Throw me a life preserver! I can't get these waders off!"

Tim thought about it for a second. His ear felt like it had been removed with a steak knife. Shrugging, he uncoiled a line attached to a white floatation ring. It said 'Sarah II' along the side. Holding onto the bitter end, Tim tossed the ring at Stonepot's head. His shoulders had disappeared. The throw was accurate, and Stonepot gratefully snatched at the ring.

"Pull me out," he ordered.

"Why should I?" Tim asked. "You were trying to kill me just a few minutes ago."

"That's true. I didn't though. That should count for something. How is he?"

"Oh, I think he's not going to be forming any blue ribbon committees anytime soon."

"He's not dead, is he?" Panic showed in Stonepot's voice again.

Tim nudged Rocke's chief executive with his toe. He lifted an arm and let it drop. There was no response. He rolled the man over onto his back. His eyes were still open and bulging. He wasn't breathing. Tim felt suddenly dizzy and sat. Two dead people in one day was too much, he though.

"Well?" came a pathetic voice from the swamp.

"I believe the technical term is deader than a doorknob."

Stonepot actually sobbed and hid his face.

"There wasn't anything I could do," Tim said. "Anyway, he tried to kill me too. You people are twisted. Stop crying. Did he owe you money or something?"

"Worse. Why do you think I put up with his stinking carcass for all these years? He has all the dirt on everybody! He's like the J. Edgar Hoover of Rockeville. Spies everywhere! In the event of his death, it all comes out. Why do you think everyone is--was--so deferential to him?"

"So he really does know where all the bodies are, then?"

"Well he put about half of them there himself, so yes. I'm a dead man. I can't go to jail, Tim. I'm too old."

"I guess you better just stay out here in the swamp then," Tim said. "I can't help you." He was looking around for a tool box. There had to be one somewhere, he figured.

"I think I'm still sinking, even with this ring. These waders have filled up with swamp mud, I think. They must weigh a ton."

"That wasn't very smart, running out into the lake." Tim located a small bag of hand tools by the engine controls and snapped it open. He located a pair of needle-nose pliers that also served as wire-cutters. Perfect for what he wanted.

"I know. I'm too old for this. You were supposed to take over."

"You mean Sean, don't you?" Tim gritted his teeth and snapped the end of the hook off. The yellow popper fell to the deck. The right side of Tim's head was sticky with drying blood, and his ear was swelling up like a grapefruit.

"Sean Links? Yeah. He would've been good at it. Frankly he scared me. We could still do it, you know. We just have to find out who Warren's lawyer is and make him tell us where the files are. You probably are in there too somewhere."

"Me? I haven't done anything."

"Never had an affair? Never said the wrong thing to a female student, or had a conference with the door shut? You'd be surprised how some things look in the right light."

"No, nothing like that. Don't try to drag me down to your level, Stonepot." Tim suddenly laughed as he realized he'd made a joke.

"Are you going to get me out of here or what?"

Tim nodded. He cleated off the end of the lifeline.

"Hang on, and I'll pull you out." Without waiting for a response, he moved the body in the boat to the stern where it would be out of the way. Then he turned the ignition and fired the huge dual engines to life. He shoved the gear lever into forward and eased the throttle up. The boat nosed out of the inlet, leaving a wake of chopped lily pads. Stonepot was pulled out of the mud, and towed along behind the boat.

"Hey--" he sputtered, trying to get to the air--"I can't breathe. Slow down!"

Tim didn't hear him. He shoved the throttle forward. The wind felt great in his hair. He looked back to make sure Stonepot was still there. The life ring was nearly submerged from the rushing water and substantial weight attached to it. I wonder why he doesn't stick his head up higher, Tim wondered. He could probably breathe better that way. Maybe if I increase the speed he can body surf. He shoved the lever to the wall and the engines screamed. He had to steer in a serpentine route down the lake because he couldn't see straight ahead, the bow was up so high. Halfway across the lake he looked back again and saw that Stonepot had let the ring go. It skipped easily along the waves, unfettered.

Just as well that he decided not to face the music, Tim thought to himself. It'll be easier that way. He went over his story again. The president had invited him out on the lake. Tim had accidently hooked his own ear. Someone had shot at the boat, probably accidently, and the president had gotten so excited he'd had a heart attack. There would be no words about rotund assassins or decayed heads. No, once he had a real chance to think about it, Tim realized that the president had been pretty shrewd. Some things would have to change, of course. No need to be so heavy handed. First, of course, he had to find out where the files were. Happy engaged in the project of figuring out exactly what pressure to put on Sarah Warren, Tim sailed straight into a freshening breeze and a brighter future.

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