On that Wednesday morning in the spring of 1974, eight days after the probate hearing where he had met her once again only to lose her once again, Loren stumbled out of bed at seven as usual. He made the bed, showered, shaved, put a beige turtleneck and slacks on himself and the Janacek Slavonic Mass on the record changer, with the sound up on the kitchen speaker so he could listen as he made sausage cakes and a cheese omelet and reheated last night’s coffee. With no Wednesday morning classes during the spring semester he hoped to spend a few quiet hours in his office above the old law library, translating documents of Hitler’s bureaucracy for use in the legal history of the Third Reich that Loren had been working on for two years. That was what he hoped.
At 8:50 a.m. he swung the VW fastback into the exit lane of the thruway and got off at the Tully Avenue ramp which hung precariously over the Midcontinental Railroad freight yards. At Tully he made a right and put the industrial north side of the city behind him. Two miles ahead the downtown skyline gleamed in the crisp sky. Sunlight glinted from the glass sides of the new skyscrapers. Loren turned left onto University Avenue, made another sharp left into the narrow alley just beyond the faculty club, and two minutes later he snapped off the radio and eased the fastback into the law faculty parking slot stenciled mensing.
As he topped the low hill between the parking area and the law building, he saw the unusual arrangement of bodies. A line of young men and women stretched like a living conveyor belt from the law school side entrance to a City University panel truck in the deliveries bay. Bulky cartons slid out of the doorway from hand to hand along the line at the end of which a bare-chested young black man tossed them over the tailboard into the back of the truck. Loren remembered that the move to the new law library had been scheduled to begin today. He squeezed past the students blocking the entranceway and exchanged greetings with the ones he knew.
“Loren!” a high-pitched voice squealed overhead.
He peered up the stairwell and saw Gael Irwin halfway up the first flight. “Come help us?” she panted at him.
Loren watched her struggle to catch each descending box and pass it to the student four steps down from her. Perspiration glistened on her perky face under a tangle of short dark curls. She was wearing blue jeans and an olive drab T-shirt that was studded with peace and women’s liberation symbols, and Loren liked her very much. In the subdued seventies she was still keeping the faith of the strident sixties. Only a few of the law school’s six hundred students would ask a professor to share in coolie labor and call him by his first name rather than his formal title while doing it. After three semesters he found himself thinking of Gael Irwin more and more often with dirty-old-man’s thoughts, even though he was well under forty and showered daily.
Since he liked to think of himself as an enemy of elitism, he could hardly refuse her invitation. He tossed his tan sport jacket over a doorknob and the line shifted to make room for him next to her.
“Isn’t it great we finally get out of this stupid old building and into two thousand one?” Gael puffed. Two thousand one was her private name for the futuristic building that would house the law library and faculty offices plus several seminar rooms by fall semester. “But, oh, Loren, it’s going to take us weeks to get all the books packed and moved and unpacked! You teach jurisprudence, tell me why judges can’t just decide what’s morally right instead of putting fifty pages of shit in every opinion?”
“You know what you’re asking for?” he grunted as she thrust a lawbook carton into his midsection. “You want me to give you the whole jurisprudence course right here on this staircase.”
“And I haven’t paid the university any tuition for your course so you won’t tell me, right?” Gael swung her hand across her forehead in the moment between boxes. “Capitalistic pig. Not you, Loren, the university. You’re just a male chauvinist pig.”
“You always used to describe me as a big grizzly bear with glasses. What makes me a pig all of a sudden?”
“Oh, Loren, I can’t call you a male chauvinist bear, can I?”
It was on these notes of lofty juristic discourse that Loren happened to glance down as he handed on a carton and saw the tall thin man in gray staring up at him from the bottom of the iron staircase as if Loren were a tyrannosaurus skeleton that had suddenly come alive. Loren didn’t have to ask who the newcomer was. He had seen that cadaverous face every working day for eighteen months before he’d beaten a strategic retreat to the ivory tower. It was Stanford W. Nalbin, the law partner of Loren’s late father.
“Ah, there you are, Loren,” Nalbin intoned darkly. “I, ah, hope I’m not disturbing you?”
“Not in the least,” Loren panted. “Care to join us? It’s a contribution to legal education.”
Nalbin’s bony frame almost shuddered. “I need to see you at once, Loren. Something most serious has come up.”
Loren recognized that tone of voice. It was the one Nalbin reserved for the most pressing problems of the most affluent clients. Loren hadn’t heard it since he’d left the firm, but it meant deep trouble. He broke ranks, retrieved his jacket and slung it over his shoulder. “Gael, I think I have an emergency. I’ll try to get back later. Let’s go to my office,” he called down to Nalbin.
As Loren led the way up three flights he made a mental picture of the old litigator’s reaction to the jeans-clad box brigade that lined their route: eyes chill, lips tight, patrician nostrils aquiver at the realization that here in all their longhaired unkempt glory labored several dozen future members of the bar. “Still playing the radical democrat, I see,” Nalbin muttered as they climbed. “I must say I think you made a wise decision when you left the firm and decided to devote yourself to the education of these young, ah, people.”
“Better the kids than the corporate and probate work. Besides, I get three months off every year if I don’t want to teach summers. What do you give the junior associates now, three weeks?”
“Enough, Loren. Let’s get down to serious business.”
Loren unlocked his office door and motioned his guest through a jumble of lawbooks and course materials and miscellaneous paperwork strewn on every flat surface of the room. Nalbin adjusted himself daintily on the edge of a segment of sectional sofa upholstered in faded gray wool.
“Don’t bother looking around for the other half of the couch,” Loren advised as he removed a stack of salmon-covered advance sheets from the swivel chair behind his desk and lowered himself. “It doesn’t exist. That’s why the part you’re sitting on cost me only ten bucks. Now, what seems to be the trouble?”
“Those letters in the newspaper were correct,” the old man announced mournfully. “Graham Dillaway and Jackson Corby were murdered.”