In spite of the slight hint of warmth in his final words, I didn’t think he would warn Allie. I couldn’t blame him, wanting to keep his distance from my problems. From the whole mess. And the thing is, it really was my fault. I’d known enough about Eventive’s no-holds-barred tactics that I should have realized how they’d respond before I got him involved.
I first connected with Brian years ago on a techie IRC channel when he asked a dumb question about setting up a dual boot on his laptop and got pelted with insults. They were funny insults, the kind of humorous hazing the geeks routinely inflicted on noobs. I thought was hilarious at the time because I had cracked the insider’s code of lulz; joining in on the crude jokes made me feel like I belonged, like I was sophisticated and funny. But it got pretty cruel, which was a crummy way to feel superior. After piling on with my own insults, I felt ashamed enough to send him a private message and talked him through the setup. He stuck around on the IRC channel, mostly lurking but occasionally tossing in something funny or thoughtful and now and then something amazingly ignorant, but the group began to tolerate him, like a pet monkey. He’d earned enough trust that they didn’t banish him when he revealed he was a reporter. He back-channeled me a few times for information or to share a private joke.
We had become pretty good virtual friends when he somehow became aware that I was a lot younger than him, and worse yet, a girl. That made him suddenly self-conscious about the raunchy banter on the channel, and he got weird about our private chats. Having a twelve-year-old walk him through tech problems that seemed complicated to him might have smarted a little, too.
He wasn’t stupid, though, and he was determined to learn as much as he could because he had somehow talked his way into writing a regular technology column for a newspaper chain. He might not have had mad skillz (what people actually called tech know-how back then), but he was good at talking to people and embedding himself in online spaces where he could get wind of the next big thing. Eventually he was able to pitch features to Wired and major newspapers, and by that time he was accurate about computer stuff at least half the time.
We kept in touch through various tech channels as I went through high school, sneaking into computer labs at Bates pretending to be a college student so I could use their network, and he cheered for me when I got hired at Eventive. I realized his friendship with me, especially after I started to work at a hot startup, had a utilitarian purpose: I was a source. But he was smart and funny and when he traveled to Boston he’d treat me to lunch or talk me into taking the afternoon off to go to the Gardner Museum with him.
I’d burned that bridge. Burned it so thoroughly there was still smoke rising from the charred remains. I couldn’t count on Brian to warn Allie. But if the number listed at her domain registration belonged to a cell phone I could text her.
I downloaded an app that concealed my number from both Allie and my carrier and stared at my phone for ten minutes, trying to decide what message to send. Finally I started typing.
>Hi, I used to work for Eventive. Do you use the Signal app?
The message didn’t bounce, so there was a good chance it was a cell number. I waited. Checked the time; dinner was going to be late tonight. Eventually—it felt like hours but had only been seventeen minutes—I got a response.
>Never used it before, just installed it.
I opened the encrypted messaging app and sent a new message to the same number.
>Thanks. I know this is kind of random, but I heard through the grapevine you were researching the company. You need to know something, they will destroy you if you ask too many questions. They will hurt your family, they will stop at nothing. It’s not worth it.
Her reply came immediately.
>Nice try. Bye.
Well, shit. She knew enough about the company’s methods that she must have assumed I was an Eventive operative.
>Seriously, I don’t work for them anymore but I know what they are capable of. They don’t just produce slick social ad campaigns. They have a whole network of shell companies that have contracts with US intelligence and with foreign governments. They once ran a political influence campaign in Turkey that involved planting false evidence to get people arrested and hiring thugs to beat up journalists. Promoting lies about political candidates to smear their reputations and muster troll armies is on-brand for Eventive. They’re more powerful than you realize. Destroying an individual’s life is a walk in the park for them.
>Scary stuff. I’ve seen rumors, but nothing concrete. Can you provide any evidence for these claims?
I could, lots of it, but that was the last thing I wanted to do. Goddamn it, I was trying to discourage her, but it seemed I was only whetting her appetite.
>What I’m telling you is that they will come for you and they will make sure your life is in ruins. It’s what they do.
>So you’re saying they can get away with murder and nobody should do anything about it?
That landed like a punch in the gut. They had gotten away with murder. Just not mine. Yet.
>A reporter already tried to expose them. He had the receipts, he had proof. He had credibility with major publications. It didn’t matter. Eventive managed to smear his reputation, stir up a violent mob, and attack his family. It wrecked his life. I’m just trying to warn you.
>What was your role at Eventive?
>I worked in UX.
>Sorry, user experience. Making the product work for customers, working with sales and tech support. But I knew people at the top, and I’ve seen firsthand what they do to whistleblowers. For your own safety you have to stop asking questions.
>Someone needs to.
>But I’m trying to tell you, it won’t work.
>Who is the reporter who had documents?
He won’t talk to you.
>Tell me anyway.
Shit. He wouldn’t like it, but if anyone could talk her down, he could.
>Brian Friedman. Used to write for Wired. Don’t believe what you read about him on the internet, he’s a good guy. But what they did to him, they’ll do to you.
She signed off. I deleted our exchange and went downstairs to cook a meal even though the thought of food made my stomach turn.
“You are very quiet tonight,” Dr. Mishkin said. “Not that I’m complaining. Most people talk far too much. Since Lara’s father died and she left for college I have enjoyed the quiet of my own thoughts quite happily. But tonight—it’s not a peaceful kind of quiet, it’s as if you’ve brought a storm cloud into the room with you.” Since I didn’t say anything, she clarified. “I don’t require entertainment, but you seem unusually glum tonight.”
“Sorry. I just have stuff on my mind.”
“Obviously. Is it that foolish story in the student newspaper? This is a very small pond, and it doesn’t take much to make a splash, but it will soon calm down. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“I’ll try not to,” I said, though her reminder only made me worry more. Students would likely make catchy Instagram posts about how shockingly racist students at Magnusson had been, complete with all the gory details. If some thin-skinned alumni in Facebook groups got upset by the criticism, their angry comments could leak into the public sphere and flow through the social media fuel lines that power far-off outrage factories. Their turbines relied on a constant supply of grievances they could spread and amplify to keep up their metrics and profits, even if it was a nothing story from a nowhere college. Anything that called attention to me put a target on my back. But I didn’t want to think about it, and I didn’t want her to start asking questions. “How long have you been a widow?”
She looked momentarily blank. “A widow? I suppose I am. I met my husband when I moved here. He taught Russian, back when obscure and useless languages were offered at Magnusson. I was surprised when Daniel proposed marriage, quoting Pushkin no less, but it was a sensible arrangement for both of us and he was an excellent father. Very patient and attentive. Lara takes after him in both looks and temperament, which is fortunate on both counts, though I wish she had inherited my intelligence. He was a kind man, but not an intellectual. She was only twelve when he died. It was a difficult time for her.”
“I’m sorry. He must have been young.”
“Not that young. He was already in his sixties when we married. Quite a nice man, an introvert and too bashful to have much of a romantic life until it was nearly too late. You should have seen the look on his face when I said yes. He was so prepared for rejection he didn’t know what to do. We were at an impasse until I forcibly took the ring from him and put it on myself.” She stared at the wall and smiled ruefully. “You might call him a nerd. Do people still use that word? He dressed like an accountant but was proud of his collection of bow ties, his one affectation. His colleagues were scandalized that he would marry a woman thirty years his junior, and a foreigner at that. After all, I moved here from Brooklyn. I was quite exotic.”
“I can imagine. It must have been a big change from Brighton Beach. How did you end up here?”
She sat back and sniffed. “Now you are becoming nosy. I liked it better when you were in a funk.”
I shrugged and let it drop. She ate a few peas and dissected the baked chicken I’d made for dinner, examining the remains and taking a fastidious bite. “I do want you to know one thing.” She pointed her fork at me. “Whatever it is that is troubling you, you can confide in me and it will go no further. I may even be able to help, who knows?”
“Okay.” I took a drink of water. “Um, thanks.”
She watched me for a long moment, waiting. I wanted to tell her everything, let it all come gushing out to relieve the pressure that had been building inside me, even warn her I might need to borrow her car one of these days if I had to make a run for it, but I couldn’t decide how to start and she got tired of waiting. She went back to her chicken and the moment passed.
“What happened to the bow tie collection?” I asked her as she pushed her plate away and dabbed her mouth, signaling the end of the meal.
“Why? Are you in need of neck wear?” She straightened an imaginary tie at her neck, enjoying my expression. “I gave them to Lara when it was time to sort out his things. She kept them for a while but eventually donated them to a clothing drive. Perhaps they are still out in the world somewhere, flitting about like butterflies.”
She hauled herself up and we went through the ritual of her offering to clear the table and me declining, all through practiced hand gestures and a few mumbled words. “All right, then. If you’re planning to make tea, I’ll be in the study. Daniel not only left me this house, he left quite a decent library of Russian literature. Reminiscing has put me in the mood for a bit of Nabokov. Do you know he was quite an accomplished lepidopterist? The study of butterflies,” she added, seeing I was clueless. She didn’t explain who Nabokov was, and I didn’t ask.
When I finished cleaning up the kitchen and making tea according to her strict protocols, I carried a tray into the study. I set it on the table beside the armchair where she sat, wrapped in a floral shawl, her feet on a leather ottoman, a book open in her hands. The walls of the room were lined with bookshelves. Most of the books had Cyrillic writing on the spines, apparently ones her husband had left behind. Only one shelf was reserved for math, relics of her academic career. There was an open laptop on her desk, a bundle of papers and mail, and a silver photo frame that opened like a book. On one side a smiling child with blond braids tied with big white bows, a hint of the adult Lara in the shape of her face. On the other, a white-haired elf with wire-rimmed glasses, dimples in his cheeks, and a paisley-patterned bow tie.
“You may borrow books if you like,” she said without looking up. “Though unless you are fluent in Russian or mathematics most of them would be difficult to read.”
I took my mug up to Lara’s room, thinking about the essays I needed to mark, the classes I had to prepare for the next day, the dreaded chore of checking social media for the fallout from the student newspaper story, but all I could think about was an elderly man with a bowtie collection and the young Russian mathematician he had married. I ended up reading everything I could find about Dr. Miskhin and her husband, Daniel Faulkner, in the digital records available at the college archives site. Then I went further, into public records and news archives.
There were a few photos of her in the college yearbooks and student newspaper, a tall, slim woman wearing fashionable clothes, her hair unfashionably pinned up in a crown of braids, that long nose looking even sharper in a face that was thin, almost gaunt. But she was always partially concealed in those photos, looking away from the camera, standing behind taller men, or her face blurred by movement. The only clear and candid photo I could find was in a yearbook. It was taken in her second year of teaching at Magnusson, a group shot of the math club. She was surrounded by boys looking geeky and awkward as one of them pointed at something complicated on the blackboard. She stood in the midst of them with a piece of chalk in her hand, not much older than them but seeming far more mature, looking directly at the camera, startled. Caught.
Her official profile on the math department page, where she was listed with two other retired faculty, was skimpy for someone who had worked there for decades: a PhD from Moscow State University, a handful of journal publications with titles I didn’t understand, a list of courses she taught semester after semester, mostly calculus. Lots of calculus. The place where her portrait should be sported the same generic vaguely-female silhouette of a head as appeared on my profile page.
The archival records were skimpy enough, but beyond the college site I found almost no trace of her existence. Marriage and Lara’s birth dates noted on a handful of genealogy sites that tracked his side of the family, but provided nothing for hers; a brief obituary of her husband complete with a photo of him, a professional headshot that must have been taken before they even met, his hair dark, his sideburns long, and his glasses in thick black frames, wearing his signature bowtie. Her name was listed as the treasurer of a regional society for math teachers some twenty years ago on a website that looked its age. And while I didn’t expect to find anything about her youth in Russia, I thought I would find something in public records from her life in Brooklyn. Maybe a teaching position at one of the universities there, or some other signs of life. But there was nothing at all. Not one thing.
It seemed we had something in common: We were both ghosts.
I was late to my first class the next day, and had to tell the students I didn’t have feedback on their essays ready. I expected a wail of grievance, but they didn’t seem fazed, too busy gossiping about how their friends were responding to the story in the student newspaper and relishing their fifteen minutes of fame. I tried to get them focused on a half-assed writing exercise I’d found online, but they were too restless to settle down and work. By the time the fourth section met, I gave up on the fill-in-the-blank worksheet and let them carry on with their podcast research instead. But even that turned out to be too much to ask.
“Have you seen this?” Steve asked me as he held up his phone. Someone had created a meme—the cartoon version of Magnusson’s celebrated President Bjelland, but in lurid blackface, the kind of image that would be offensive whatever you thought about his eugenicist past, exactly the kind of meme that aimless jokers with nothing better to do would love to spread across the internet to stir up controversy. The other students brought up mentions on social media sites and obscure right-wing publications. Apparently, our small local discovery, promoted by an internet-famous activist student, had become the fuse to light up a host of grievances. My heart sank. The last thing I needed was a troll brigade bringing attention to my classes. To me.
“There’s a whole Reddit thread about what we’ve uncovered,” another student said, sounding smug about the attention.
“Shit. The Twitter account for the archives is blowing up, and it’s getting ugly.” Liv stood and whistled shrilly for attention. “Who’s on Twitter?” Some hands went up. “Go to the archives account and report those racist motherfuckers. Zoe doesn’t deserve this shit.”
“Same for Facebook and Insta,” Madison said. “She’s getting slammed, like it’s somehow her fault that we found out the college has some racism in its past. Are they going after you, too?” she asked me, her fingers busy searching for my accounts.
“I don’t really do social media,” I said. She looked startled and turned back to searching in case I was fooling.
I had checked Maggie’s skimpy Facebook presence earlier that morning. One of my “friends” who had been in the same graduate program but rarely showed up on Maggie’s feed had posted a link to the student newspaper story and a gossip-seeking message barely masquerading as concern. It had collected a few comments in the past twenty-four hours, but I had limited who could see these posts to Maggie’s small band of followers and had earlier posted a bland profile statement indicating I was loving my new job but simply too busy with my teaching to keep up online, so please forgive any failure to respond, all worded with warm-and-fuzzy phrases to sound as much like Maggie as possible. I would have pulled the plug on the account, but a not-very-active Facebook account was less suspicious than no account at all. That said, given the low number of likes or comments she’d gathered over the years, maybe nobody would notice.
It was actually a little sad. Maggie hadn’t intended to leave no trace. She just had never invested much of her time in turning herself into a brand. She was too busy teaching courses for peanuts and supplementing her income with low-wage jobs and writing a dissertation she hated about a poet nobody ever heard of. I sent up a small message of gratitude to her dead self for not wasting too much of her too-short life on joining the frantic competition for digital attention.
Chucking my plans for the class period, I reminded the class of the exercise we’d done a couple of weeks earlier on privacy. I pulled up the handout and projected it so the class could review what we’d discussed—ways to block ads that collected personal data, search engine alternatives to Google and its data-sucking habits, steps to take in order to make social media accounts more private. We talked about the ways social platforms could be manipulated by bad actors through keyword squatting, filling data voids with misinformation, and using marketing ploys to drive crappy sites to the top of search results.
Well, mostly I talked, though Michael Knutson chimed in from time to time, obviously well-versed in clever techniques for using all the powers of the internet to complain to masses of followers that he didn’t have free speech. “The more inflammatory the content, the more attention it generates,” I told them, “and the more money it brings in, so guess what stuff the algorithm favors?” They nodded in their jaded we-know-all-this way as they surreptitiously checked their phones.
It wasn’t until class was over that I opened my email. My inbox was flooded with dozens of cloned messages with similar subject lines ranging from “President Bjelland was NOT a racist!!” to “Protecting the Reputation of Magnusson College” all containing copy-pasted complaints that I was indoctrinating students with left-wing commie radical beliefs.
Nestled among the cloned hate mail messages were an email from a public radio reporter hoping it found me well and wanting to talk soon, given a tight deadline (delete), a request for comment from someone working at a CBS news affiliate in Minneapolis, also on a deadline (delete), and a message from the college provost, who wanted to meet ASAP (oh shit).
I stopped by the department office to ask Shirley Anderson who the provost was and where would I find him, but before I could open my mouth she snapped out, “The provost wants to see you.”
“I just saw the email. I’m not even sure what a provost is.”
She rolled her eyes. “The big boss. I told him you were in class. He told me he wants to see you soon as it finished. Better get over there now.”
“I’m going, I’m going. But where to?”
She rolled her eyes again. I was a hopeless case. “Sundin Hall.” She saw that wasn’t helping. “The admin building in the middle of campus? You can’t miss it.”
“The big stone building with the bell tower?”
“That’s it. His office is just past the bursar’s counter.”
I had no idea what a bursar was, either, but it didn’t seem like the right time to ask. She was shooing me out of the office, enjoying the hell out of all the drama.
“Thank you for coming.” The provost shook my hand, saying it like I had a choice. I had been passed along by two layers of assistants before being ushered reverentially into an office lined with books that looked as if they’d been ordered up wholesale as intellectual wall decor. He nodded at the much younger man beside him. “This is Charlie, head of media relations.” I shook his hand, too. He looked to be about my age, maybe even younger, roly-poly in his build and with the kind of chubby cheeks grandmas would want to pinch. They both seemed to tower over me, even though they weren’t especially tall, and I felt strangely vulnerable in my flimsy wrap-around sari skirt and second-hand t-shirt that was a little too tight. Somehow I had never had the time or money to replace Maggie’s limited wardrobe and it had grown on me as part of my camouflage. It worked in a classroom, but it seemed somehow juvenile in this formal setting that combined ivory tower with corporate boardroom.
They settled comfortably at a conference table and I took the extra chair. The afternoon sun pouring through the blinds made them into looming, sinister shadows against the brightness. I had a feeling that was intentional.
“We have a bit of a public relations problem on our hands,” the provost said, taking off his glasses and pinching the top of his nose to illustrate what a nuisance I had become. “It’s marvelous that your students are delving into local history with such passion. Unfortunately the student paper got a few things wrong.” He chuckled fondly. “Student reporters. Still learning the ropes. I’ve already had a word with their faculty advisor about tightening editorial standards, but it’s a little late for that now. The cat, as it were, is out of the proverbial bag. Charlie, here, would like to walk us through some options for ensuring a coordinated response.”
Charlie tapped a pen against a blank notepad. “First, refer all press requests to my office, okay?”
“Absolutely. I have no interest in speaking to reporters.”
“Great. If we decide to include quotes from you, I’ll handle it so we don’t run into any misunderstandings.”
“I’m fine with you handling the whole shebang.”
“Excellent. Second, we should throw together something positive to put on our site and run through our social media. I’m thinking a short piece about this class project. Curious Campus? That’s a catchy name.” He paused for a moment, head tilted. “I think we can get a decent photo of you with the right lighting.”
“I’d rather not.”
He hesitated, caught by surprise. “Uh, okay? We could get some students together for a shot, I suppose.”
“Even better,” the provost said. “A couple of students holding old documents in the archives?” He framed the imaginary photoshoot with his hands. “Or, I know, holding some yearbooks. Alums would love that.”
Charlie nodded. “We’ll have a write-up with a little background on the course, some quotes –don’t worry, I can work those up myself—to talk up the kind of experiential learning you’re promoting with this podcast thing.”
“It’s not a real podcast. They’re just writing scripts. It’s basically a research paper in a slightly different format.”
The provost snapped his fingers. “We could highlight it as digital pedagogy, so long as we can downplay the, the more… the controversial material. Surely some of the projects reflect well on the college.”
“Like sports,” Charlie said helpfully. “Are any of the groups focused on our athletics programs? Or music? Our choral program is popular with the senior crowd, they love our Christmas event.”
“Well, the group doing music got sidetracked with the blackface thing, so—”
“Oh, right.” Charlie winced.
“I can get you a list of the projects. They’re mostly pretty boring, honestly, they wouldn’t get anyone worked up. But I really don’t want to be part of the story. Can we leave my name out of it?”
“I’m not sure we can avoid it. I mean, it’s already out there.”
“Yeah, but I’m getting all this angry email.”
“You’re not the only one,” the provost said with a pained chuckle.
“And the archivist is getting hassled online, too,” I said. “Including racist messages. It looks to me like there’s an organized campaign. The wording of the emails is too alike for it to be anything else, and I’m guessing it originated with Michael Knutson. His father—”
“We know,” the provost said. “He called the president as soon as he saw the story online, and the president called me. That’s why we need to deal with this right away. Damage control.”
“Tell you what,” I said to Charlie. “I’ll email you a list of projects today. I’ll include the names of students who would do a good job of representing the interests of the company. I mean, the college. I think you should give Michael Knutson’s group some play. Since his research project on free speech on campus is clearly coming from a right-wing playbook, it would throw a bone to the trustees who are pissed off and balance out the claims of being too lefty.”
Charlie nodded, taking notes. “You’re right about the coordinated campaign.”
“You should also check in with Zoe Chen. She may not want the spotlight, but if she’s okay with it, she’s smart and used to dealing with alumni. This could give her a chance to promote the work she’s doing in the college archives and repair some of the damage. But only if she wants.”
“And if we got her in the photo shoot we’d get some diversity in there, too,” the provost said, pleased.
“Okay, but right now she’s getting harassed like crazy. What’s your policy for protecting staff when they get brigaded?”
“When they get—” They looked at each other.
“When the mob attacks.” I took a breath and tamped down my impatience with their cluelessness. “When there’s a campaign to recruit a large numbers of people to fan out across social media platforms to attack someone who works here. Like, an Asian woman archivist who tries to promote the college’s history through social media but gets hassled and threatened. Also known as brigading.”
“I don’t think we have a policy, per se,” the provost said. “It’s never happened before.”
“Yes it has. It’s happened to her, and probably other people, too. You need to put a policy in place and procedures to back it up. She deserves to know you have her back. So does anybody who gets in a situation like this.”
“She’s not thinking of suing, is she?” He blanched.
“Not that I know of, but risk management is something you need to think about these days.” Plus, you should protect your employees from violent trolls, but that obviously didn’t make his list of Things to Do.
“We should get a committee on that,” the provost said to Charlie.
“Form a task force, maybe? I could drop a line to the chair of the all-campus IT advisory board, see if they’ll put it on next month’s agenda.”
“Good, good. I’m going to a conference in a couple of weeks, I’ll ask around and see what our peers do. Maybe someone already developed a policy we can copy. Thanks, Maggie. You’re input has been really valuable.”
I opened my mouth to object. They needed to do something now, not weeks from now, but stopped myself. That clearly wasn’t how things worked here. And anyway, given the exaggerated gesture the provost made, visibly checking his watch, the meeting was at an end.
As Charlie and I passed the desks of assistants who provided a protective shield in front of the provost’s door, he said “you’re good at this.”
“Media relations. Understanding the social media environment we’re in. It’s hard to get the crusty old guard to understand how the world works now. You seem to have all the right instincts, even if it gets the conservatives riled up.”
“That was not my intention, believe me.”
“I’m sure. I mean, that trustee, Knutson, he’s on a power trip. Being on the board, he thinks he can order people around. And his kid apparently is connected to some pretty fringe groups.”
Charlie kept talking before he peeled off to head to his office. “That assignment of yours—that’s exactly what our students need, experiential learning for the twenty-first century.” He paused, scribbled something on his notepad. “That should be in the lede. You sure you don’t want to be the star of the show? We could get a great pic of you and your students. I hope I didn’t… I mean, I didn’t mean to imply it would be hard to get a good photo. Your accident and all.”
“I look better than I did a few weeks ago. Not so technicolor.”
“Plus you’re really rocking that punk look. Trendy.”
“I didn’t have any choice. I used to have long hair, but I had to get stitches in my head, so.”
“You have the face for it. It looks terrific, if you don’t mind me saying.”
I did mind, but Maggie would say something polite. “That’s kind of you to say.” Did Maggie ever hate herself for being nice to jerks?
“And I really liked the way you handled that meeting. You had good ideas, and you didn’t let the provost intimidate you. You took charge.”
“I wouldn’t go that far.” She wasn’t stupid, she probably used niceness for camouflage. Her life wasn’t any easier than mine, and she would have run into plenty of creepy, entitled academics while earning her PhD.
“It almost seemed like you’ve done this kind of work before. Media relations. I mean, podcasts, how cool is that? Do you have a background in marketing?”
“Gosh, no,” I laughed. “Me? I’m an English PhD.” Who had, in my real life, worked for a company that peddled marketing campaigns that could totally destroy a small college’s reputation using the latest in persuasion technology and psychographic profiling, not something I was proud of. And not something I would ever tell him.
“English! Of course. No wonder you’re good with words. Say, I need to stop by my office, but you feel like getting a coffee later? Or we could meet at the Nighthawk for a beer after work. They have good burgers, too.”
It took me a minute to realize the roly-poly doughboy was hitting on me. “The Nighthawk? Isn’t that the student bar? I haven’t been there.”
“It’s a Magnusson institution. Everyone goes to the Nighthawk. You’ll love it.”
“I’m sure I would, but I really need to catch up on grading. I’m hideously behind. I hope we can do it another time when things aren’t so busy.” I smiled at the creep, for some reason imagining myself pinching those chubby cheeks hard enough to leave a bruise, though that would definitely send the wrong message. He’d probably think it was some kinky punk thing. “I’ll send you that list of project topics and students who you could interview. I’m sure you’re eager to get on top of this situation.”
“Oh, right. Yeah, I need to try to get something out in the next couple of days. Thanks for your help.”
“Of course,” I said, pushing out of the door into the fresh air. I wasn’t sure whether to head to the office to see if Oak was there and find out if he had been caught up in Magnusson College’s version of coordinated inauthentic activity, or whether to check in on Zoe first and see how she was doing.
Maybe it had been the mention of having a beer that influenced the texts I sent them. We all ended up meeting that evening at Bosco’s instead.