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In the faction fight raging within the Department of English at Parnell State University, Jonathan Sebelius has more allies than he thinks…


Mead Schaeffer’s frontispiece for The Three Musketeers (1929). I can’t get enough of his illustrations. Click for source.

17. Quips and Cranks and Wanton Wiles

“Hi Lynn, it’s Michael. We need to talk. Discreetly. What about lunch at… at Dino’s?”

Lynn Melton was surprised at the unexpected invitation from the Chair of Classics, Michael Templeton. He wanted to meet at Dino’s, a cute little Italian place in Rimini, the next town over from Parnell.

She and Michael were both divorced. It occurred to her that he might be asking her on a date, but she quickly dismissed the idea. Michael was something of an anomaly on campus for his conservative politics, and his blog, Cloud-Cuckooland, chronicled the excesses of political correctness and the erosion of traditional educational goals and methods on the American college campus. It was becoming required reading for people like David Brooks and Bill Kristol. She didn’t see eye to eye with Michael on national politics, though they respected each other. And besides, the last she’d heard, he was dating a blonde named Melanie, a New York socialite who followed his blog religiously. As she recalled, Melanie’s bra cups ranneth over, and so did her bank account.

When she arrived, she immediately spotted Michael in his signature suit and bowtie, industriously producing quarters from the ears and nose of a rapt little boy. Michael was an amateur magician, and children loved him. His own two boys, Buckley and Tucker, were already in college. Every Spring when Michael taught a large lecture course called “The Greek Achievement,” he made a point of demonstrating his mentalist powers to the students. After he “read their minds” by predicting the contents of handwritten messages sealed in envelopes, even the students who loudly insisted that it was only an act were afraid to cheat on his tests.

When at last they were digging into generous portions of Dino’s homemade potato gnocchi for her and spaghetti with meatballs for him, she said, “What’s this all about, Michael?”

“Mack the Knife.” This was Michael’s code name for Bill Jenko, the graduate coordinator in English. She laughed and decided to play along. “Could it be our boy’s done something rash?”

His face grew serious. “He’s been making the rounds of my faculty members, talking up a merger between Classics and English. He wanted us to give our support in principle, with the details to be worked out later this year, after he gets you on board.”

She suppressed her irritation at Jenko’s tactics. Naturally he wouldn’t come to her first. He would try to present her with a fait accompli. “But where’s the percentage for him? I don’t get it,” she said.

“Someone in your department —a Gerhard Dahl— was at Penn with Juniper Jamieson’s partner Jillian. They’re still friends, and he told her that the Rhetoric program wants a reconfiguration. They would become the Graduate School of Literacy and Rhetoric, and the rest of us would be the Department of English and Classical Literatures. The M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature would be abolished, of course, and all the graduate assistantships transferred to Rhetoric.”

Lynn nodded. The plan might well appeal to the Dean, as “streamlining” proposals always did. There would be one less department, and one less Chair to collect an administrative salary. A couple of secretaries could be let go, saving even more money. Nobody would have to move offices, because they were already sharing the same building. She explained to Michael that the graduate Ph.D. program review in English, currently in progress, was the perfect opportunity to carry out the plan. If Literature was made to look awful, whereas Rhetoric emerged smelling like a rose… The pieces were all coming together now.

“And the plan to give Literature a black eye?” she asked. “I assume that Mack’s sharpening up his knife for someone and loading up on bags of cement. Who is it? Me?”

“No,” said Michael. “It’s Jonny Sebelius.”

Of course. She mentally chided herself for not putting it together sooner. “Jennet Thorne came to see me the other day. She worked with Sebelius on this year’s tenure files, and said she wanted me to know that Jenko was fishing around, hoping to get her to file a gender discrimination claim against Jonny.”

“Makes perfect sense. He was going to pit the feminist against the misogynist. Michael laughed ruefully. “In fact, it’s brilliant. You’ve got to hand it to him.”

“I’d like to hand him his balls on a plate,” said Lynn fiercely, and then noticing Michael’s platter of spaghetti with meatballs, she added, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to say that aloud.”

Michael waved off the apology. “I’m not crazy about the little shit either, and now he’s stepped on my toes too. You’d better talk to Sebelius and tell him to be careful.”

She nodded. “And here’s what I think we should do about the Ph.D. review…”

Copyright 2016 by Linnet Moss

Notes: This chapter features characters from my other stories, especially New York Groove (where Michael Templeton is a minor character) and The Voynich Affair, which tells the story of Lynn Melton and her adventure with a Disreputable Librarian. Even Dino’s, the small Italian restaurant in Rimini, makes an appearance in Apollo’s Fire, a story which I’ll be serializing when the saga of Jonathan and Jennet is complete.