Thursday, October 10, 2013

In response to a Facebook post regarding Halloween ghost stories on campus, here is an excerpt from BE CAREFUL, DR. RENNER!

GEOL 322, Micropaleontology, is a hoot this morning. Half a dozen of these really bright young people are dressed up as fossils. One has built an ameba shell; her arms and legs exit where pseudopods would be located. One of the guys is a Permian ostracod, with spiny clam-like valves and some kind of a head gear that looks like jointed antennae. There are a couple of worms, again with antenna hats and rows of spike-like feet down their sides. These kids have put a lot of work into this one day of fun. So I say to hell with whatever pontifications I’ve prepared this morning. Let the animals speak!
“Okay, Chrysalidina, tell us about yourself!”
Chrysalidina if not, of course, her real name; it’s her Halloween costume. She stands up, and with her arms moving slowly, drifts as on a gentle ocean current to the front of the room. Her audience is silent with admiration.
“My name is Chrysalidina gradata,” she proclaims; “and I come to you from the Cretaceous.” She’s eighty million years old. “I was discovered by d’Orbigny, Alcide Charles Victor Marie Dessalines d'Orbigny, that is, and I now live in Paris!” She pronounces it Pah-ree and does a runway twirl. “Never been to the Musé National d'Histoire Naturelle? Non? Then I give you a tour!”
For the next ten minutes she gives us a verbal tour of the fossil collections, in French. We are spellbound. And so it goes for the rest of the class period. One by one, these incredible young scientists regale their classmates, and their teacher, with similar performances. Fossils speak. There is simply no way to describe this experience unless you’ve lived it. At the end, I’m tempted to say a prayer, a prayer of thanks for having ended up here, in semi-rural Iowa, in this profession, with these people, doing their thing. Reality, however, is sitting upstairs, in my office, and its name is detective Leonard Branch.
“Morning, Dr. Marshall.”
“Good morning, detective Branch.” I honor him with that title, although we both know it’s as much of an act as Chrysalidina’s trip through the Musé Histoire Naturelle was forty-five minutes ago. “Evidently we’re meeting at the Renner house this morning, although to be really honest, I don’t know why I’m supposed to be there.”
Like hell I don’t know why I’m supposed to be at Renner’s place on Cherry Lane; I need to take notes and pass the information along to Elizabeth if there is college property in that house, part of the official Geology Department inventory. Also, after finding those cards to Renner, from Mary and Elizabeth, wishing him well in his travels but warning him of potential health problems, I’m a little less dismissive of Branch’s speculations about Renner’s demise. Somehow the combination of staff concern, given those blistering, insulting, and probably illegal letters from Renner about those ladies’ job performance, simply doesn’t seem logical. If someone—a supervisor—wrote me those kinds of letters, and I knew they were absolutely incorrect, I’d tell that person to go to hell and start figuring out a way to get even.

(BE CAREFUL, DR. RENNER! was the NaNoWriMo project for 2012, the perfect murder at a small liberal arts college in Iowa. It's available on smashwords, kindle, and nook.)

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