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Could the blood of a miraculous saint combined with the diabolical work of Josef Mengele finally unlock the secret to immortality and rewrite apocalyptic history?Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed https://pszr.co/qAfcU
|Thriller Alternate History #1 in Thriller|
|7 publishers interested|
What if an essential piece of missing information would change our understanding of the Holocaust forever? What if the work of Josef Mengele was not merely to prove Hitler's racialist theory, but to defeat death itself?
Following two timelines, an alternative history of World War II and the near present-day, The Incorruptibles follows its protagonist, Ambrose Reagan, and his wife, Cecilia, as they and two friends try to uncover the mystery surrounding the secretive work of their colleague, the internationally famous Andre Lupei, and their discovery that the Romanian scholar intends to complete what Mengele failed to do: by using the miraculous blood of St. Januarius, patron saint of the city of Naples, Italy, to create a stem cell line capable of defeating death itself and conferring immortality. The WWII timeline follows an alternative history of the movements of Josef Mengele from Auschwitz through Bavaria to Genoa, Italy, where he receives the liquefied blood of the "incorruptible" St. Januarius (St. Gennaro to the Neapolitans) and boards the infamous U-boat 977 which takes him to Mar del Plata, Argentina, where his intention is to complete his attempt to unlock the secrets of death and immortality--the true aim of the Nazi conquest of the world. The present day action follows the protagonists as they try to understand Andre Lupei's discovery of the Nazi project and his attempts, with modern technology, to bring it to its fruition.
The discovery of obscene religious artifacts in the Reagan home, and a series of supernatural events that threaten the Reagans and their three children, lead Ambrose and Cecilia to enlist the help of their colleague at Yale University, John Corwin, and their parish priest, Father Rose, in the attempt to understand these events and Andre Lupei's sinister plot to recover the blood of the saint and complete the Nazi project. Their investigations take them severally from New Haven to New York, to Rome and Naples, as they come to grips with their role in stopping what looks increasingly like the beginning of the Apocalypse.
The Incorruptibles is not divided by numbered chapters, but intertwines two historical paths identified by date--the near present day, and an alternative history of the end of WWII. The present day action concerns the discovery by the protagonist, Ambrose Reagan, his wife, Cecilia, and Ambrose's colleague at Yale University, John Corwin, that an internationally famous Romanian scholar, Andre Lupei, has set up a phony institute to carry out biological and genetic experiments the nature of which are not, at first, entirely clear.
A series of supernatural events in the Reagan household, the near-murder of John Corwin, and the discovery of diabolical figurines and a connection between the Reagan's babysitter, Kimmy, and Andre Lupei, inspire the protagonists to enlist the help of their parish priest, Father Rose, in discovering the nature of Lupei's scientific investigations and how those might be related to the discovery, in the basement of the university hospital, of the medical bag of Josef Mengele, the "Angel of Death" at the infamous concentration camp at Auschwitz.
The alternate history of WWII traces Mengele's escape from Auschwitz just eight days before its liberation by the Red Army and his transportation to Bavaria where he assumes a new, temporary identity with the purpose of escaping Allied forces and continuing his work in South America. This plot line follows him from Auschwitz to Bavaria and thence to Genoa, Italy, where he is given a sample of the purloined blood of the miraculous Saint Januarius (St. Gennaro, Patron of Naples, Italy), whose blood has been liquefying three times a year since 1389. Upon receiving the Saint's blood, and under another assumed identity, Mengele is picked up by the famous German U-boat--U977, one of only two that refused to surrender to the Allies at the end of WWII and instead sailed to Mar del Plata, just south of Buenes Aires, Argentina. There, Mengele is given still a new identity and intends to continue his search for the secret of life eternal, despite the fact that his experimentation likely sped the demise of the intended beneficiary of his work, Adolf Hitler. At Mar del Plata, however, Mengele is seperated from his medical satchel, which itself remains on the German U-boat and ends up off the coast of Massachusetts, where U977 was towed by the United States Navy and, after being fully investigated and--its contents removed and stored by the US Navy--was scuttled in 1946.
Once the protagonists realize that Lupei has retrieved something from the mysterious medical satchel--and the Reagans' babysitter has disappeared--Ambrose, Corwin, and Father Rose follow him to Naples, Italy and there are confronted, finally, by the true nature of his diabolical scheme.
Audience: Adult, Commercial, catholic/christian; readers of thrillers, alternate histories, diabolism, occult, supernatural, mysteries, apocalypse, techno/scientific, world war II, Nazis/Nazism
Gregory Borse is an Associate Professor of English and Philosophy at a small university in a large university system in the Midwest. He has previously published an anthology on World Literature (Other Canons: A Selection of Non-Western Literary Masterpieces, FountainHead, 2012) as well as a chapter on Hitchcock's "Psycho" and Stephen Frear's "The Grifters." He has presented on Shakespeare, Jane Austen, William Faulkner, as well as the Oral and the Literate in the Age of the Internet. He is married and resides with his wife and some of his children (those who have yet to reach escape velocity) and a very smart heterochromiatic Border Collie, appropriately named Bowie. The Incorruptibles is his first novel.
I will promote via hundreds of Facebook friends/followers as well as through Twitter and Instagram, with the help of my tech savvy daughter. I will produce a new Facebook Page dedicated to "The Incorruptibles" and will aggressively promote this novel across every social media platform possible. In addition, I will promote this novel to specifically Catholic audiences, through the Knights of Columbus (I am a grand knight), as I think Catholic readers are especially hungry for a non-anti-Catholic Catholic novel of the kind that became bestsellers for G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien (as the popularity of "The Passion of the Christ," "The Lord of the Rings," and "The Chronicles of Narnia" films so nicely and recently attest. Though this novel has more in common, in a sense, with Umberto Eco and Michael Crichton, it is the answer to the stupidity of Dan Brown, and will do very well with intellectually minded readers who take seriously ideas about the Apocalypse as it dovetails with humankind's progress toward defeating suffering and death--the real goal of human progress in Science.
The Exorcist, Peter Blatty, HaperCollins Paperback, 1971
Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco, Secker & Warburg, 1989
Father Elijah, An Apocalypse, Michael D. O'Brien, Ignatius Press, 1997
The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, Doubleday, 2003
Dmiter (or The Redemption) Peter Blatty, Forge Books, 2010
The Fifth Gospel, Ian Caldwell, Simon & Schuster, 2015
Elijah in Jerusalem, Michael D. O'Brien, Ignatius Press, 2015
There are affinities between each of the forgoing and The Incorruptibles--Blatty's and Eco's works are inspirations and, in the case of the latter, a direct influence incorporated into the plot. Brown's and Caldwell's works form negative inspirations, as each, in its own ways, fails (through historical inaccuracy or logical inconsistency) to fully satisfy, even as they are both highly entertaining and enjoyable reads. O'Brien's works capture a certain piety I wished to convey in my novel--though my plot twists are more adventurous. The Incorruptibles will appeal, however, to the audiences of all of these works.
The Incorruptibles, A Novel, by Gregory Borse
Napoli, Italia, 27 September 1943
ENZO Schlomo was running the wrong way.
There were, it seemed to him, indiscriminate explosions and a barrage of machine gun fire coming from all directions. But mostly they were coming from in front of him. An explosion behind him on Via Duomo propelled him forward, against his fear and his will. He summoned all his courage and turned to run the other way. Enzo heard cries from here and there—sometimes in German, sometimes in Italian. He could not quite make them out. Gun bursts continued from his left and right. He could smell smoke and almost taste it. He was stung in the ankle sharply with the splintering of stone in the street—no doubt from a ricocheting bullet. But he ran forward, almost blindly. Then, he could make out the façade of the Duomo di Napoli, his destination, about a block in front of him and to the right. Via Duomo ran in front of the Cathedral and was tightly crowded with buildings—but the Cathedral’s stately façade was discernable even in the falling light and the explosions. It gave him hope. Napoli had been in turmoil for days. The Italian resistance, though unorganized, seemed to be making a kind of chaotic progress. The Germans had issued orders. Their Italian collaborators echoed their own. Curfew. No guns. Report to certain sectors (if you were an able bodied man between 18 and 30 years of age). It was rumored that a group of Neapolitan children in one sector, with the help of a single Allied Soldier (Enzo had not heard of what nationality) had successfully defeated a
German unit. There was hope. It was a hope that propelled Enzo: If the children are willing to die for the city, then I am willing to die for St. Gennaro, he thought. He was just a half a block away. The saint’s bones. His miraculous blood. His head. If Enzo could see himself through the Cathedral doors, perhaps he too could be a hero.
Enzo had converted, much to the shame of his parents (once they found out), from the Jewish to the Catholic faith when he was 10, in 1933, after he had witnessed the “miracle of the Blood,” a thrice yearly spectacle in Naples that he’d heard about for as long as he’d had memory but had been barred from attending. But on September 19th, 1933, he’d lied to his mother about where he was going and had gone to the city to see if what the Catholic Neapolitans said about St. Gennaro was true. The priests processed the reliquary into the Church and many ritual prayers, which Enzo did not understand, were recited by the congregation, led by the Archbishop and his phalanx of priests and deacons. The prayers were in a mixture of Latin and Italian. Enzo did not understand the Latin because it was Latin; he did not understand the Italian because he was not Catholic. It seemed hours for the ceremony. Enzo was hot but excited. Everyone seemed to anticipate a great event. But at the end of the prayers, the Archbishop, who held the reliquary, turned it upside down and showed the congregation that the blood was still solid. It was encased in silver which held a kind of spherical flat glass globe attached to a glass tube which, in turn, was suspended by a golden rope around the Archbishop’s neck. Enzo guessed the rope was to ensure that if the reliquary was dropped, it would not fall to the ground and break. The Archbishop lifted up the holy
object again to show that the coagulated blood was still solid. Then he continued to walk around the altar as the congregation prayed, periodically pausing to lift up the reliquary, twisting it, almost ritually, before the expectant crowd.
Then. Something happened.
The Archbishop turned the sacred object and the congregation gasped. The coagulated blood began to bubble and flow from the spherical globe into the tube. Enzo himself witnessed it. There was no mistaking it. It was like a child’s chemistry experiment: the solid brown mass changed to a discernible bright red and trickled naturally into the tube below the globe. The Archbishop said, “Il miracolo è avvenuto,” –“The miracle has happened.”
Enzo did not know how such information could have been communicated so quickly to the Castel Nuovo, but, momentarily there rang a twenty-one gun salute from what Enzo guessed was at least a few kilometers away. He remembered those booms from his youth, when he’d ask his parents, “What does that mean?” They’d say, “It means the Catholics are superstitious. Pay no mind.” But he had paid mind.
From the moment he witnessed the miracle, Enzo was a Catholic and went to the Archbishop himself (a man named Alessio Ascalasi) to ask him urgently for baptism and confirmation and to express his fervent desire to be a Holy Priest of Jesus Christ. The Archbishop was puzzled and pleased by the boy’s enthusiasm, since he’d simply showed up at the Archbishop’s residence and asked to speak with him personally. The Archbishop was a man of faith. Mindful of
the miracles that perhaps had been missed by the Church in the past, he had admitted the boy. He examined him and made inquiries regarding the family but finally baptized him himself one day, in a very casual affair, telling him that he must, despite his conversion, continue to honor and take care of his parents. After all, the Archbishop reminded Enzo,that was a commandment for Jews and Christians alike, no matter anyone’s conversion. Enzo agreed and resolved to become a priest only after his parents had passed away. They would never agree with it otherwise. They would need to be in the presence of God Himself to go along, Enzo reasoned. In the meantime, he secretly volunteered at the Duomo in whatever capacity he might. And he did help. Sweeping. Carrying out the garbage. Serving at Mass (when he could get there in time without his parents knowing what he was really doing). And he’d done all of this until he was 16 and the second Great War had come.
But his parents were now dead (as a matter of God’s good grace, he told himself), before the outbreak of the War, so he only had two things on his mind: St. Gennaro’s blood and his own ordination. He had not really been through anything like Seminary while his parents lived, but the kindly Archbishop had taken his cause and assured him that he would, someday, be ordained. But, at the moment, his fervent hope was that he could make it to the Duomo before everything blew up. The Saint’s blood had liquefied on September 19th, his feast day, but because of the war in the city, the procession to the Monastery of Santa Chiara was cancelled and the miracle had occurred right in the Duomo, where the blood was stored under lock and key. The Archbishop had barred anyone from witnessing
it, save a few priests and deacons at the Cathedral. Enzo had discovered a few days after that the liquefied blood had been left on the altar in the Baptistery Chapel and was to remain there so long as it remained liquefied. The Archbishop had stationed deacons and priests on watch night and day to insure that the reliquary was not damaged by the war. So far, the Germans and the Italian Fascists had not attacked the Duomo directly. Enzo had seized this day to attempt to go to the Duomo because a city-wide uprising had thrown everything into chaos and Enzo worried that the watchers might have deserted their posts.
He made it to the two central front doors of the Cathedral and found them locked tight. He pulled on them a few times, but they were fast from the inside.
Enzo ran to the right as more explosions spit smoke and dust and rock spittle that stung his body. He tried one of the side doors there—it gave way. When he entered, he realized that it had been blown from its hinges but remained erect. He pushed it to, so that from the outside, it would appear to be shut.
It was quiet inside. A flickering glow emanated though the windows above the main altar, keeping the Lady of the Assumption completely in silhouette. But Enzo needed to get to the Baptistery, where St. Gennaro’s relics were maintained. The reliquary would be on the main altar within the small Chapel, which was to the right of the nave, separated by a bronze grille. The bust of St. Gennaro—a silver and gold replica of the saint’s visage commissioned by Charles the Second in 1305, and dressed in cope and mitre—stood with the tabernacle
behind that altar, in view of the reliquary on the altar before it. The replica encased the holy Saint’s head, which had been taken from him during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian and was the cause of the saint’s martyrdom. The Saint’s bones were buried in a crypt below the Chapel altar. From where he stood, Enzo could not see if the ampoule with the blood was on the altar.
He took a few steps. Enzo was amazed to see in the dim light the reliquary still in its place in the Baptistery. Even from where he stood, the blood still looked bright red and liquid. But where was the watcher? “War is a funny thing,” Enzo thought. There ought to be a watcher. Even if men’s wars have nothing to do with what is really important to man.
As he passed through the gate, he saw the body. It was that of a deacon. He looked as if he was curled asleep before the altar. He looked peaceful. Enzo could not bring himself to look to see if he knew him.
Stepping around the body, Enzo wrapped his hands in the extra material of his tunic and picked up the ampoule from the middle of the altar. He paused, knelt down, and touched the reliquary to the dead man’s shoulder, praying for the repose of his soul. He saw then that the man had taken a piece of marble or stone or shrapnel to his temple. The wound was quite small, but apparently lethal. Enzo stood back up and looked out of the Chapel. He had the sensation that he was committing a sin. He was so ashamed that he enfolded the sacred object into his tunic and wrapped it away at his stomach and turned to find his way back out, holding the reliquary with one hand against his midriff as he did so. He
imagined that the object felt warm. The gun-bursts and bomb-blasts from outside made themselves heard again. His fear returned. At the rail separating the Chapel from the main sanctuary, he turned and looked to the bust of St. Gennaro for reassurance. It stared blankly. Enzo whispered, “St. Gennaro, intercede for my protection,” and turned and ran through the sanctuary.
In the dark, he found his way back to the door through which he’d come, crossing himself before the attempt to open it. He paused and found the golden rope attached to the reliquary and carefully slung it around his neck. He took a deep breath and slipped back through the door.
All was momentarily quiet. He started to move toward the dull light that indicated the Via Duoma. Suddenly, there was a figure in front of him. It was crouched and moving at first but then stopped and, seeming to erect itself fully, said, “Wer bist du? Stopp!” Enzo froze and tried to make himself in the slim shadow a part of the wall. But the figure strode forward and grabbed him roughly. Enzo was hauled out into the street where he saw German soldiers. They all looked at him; his tunic gathered in the fist of the German Officer who’d captured him. “Eine Italienische insekt,” the officer said, pulling Enzo up so that his legs dangled. “Was haben sie da?” he said. With that, he grabbed the reliquary from beneath the folds of Enzo’s tunic. Someone said, “It looks important.” Enzo was thrown to the ground while the officer looked more intently at the reliquary. Someone strode between the officer and Enzo, who was now on his back, looking up. The German soldier looked at the
officer and said, “Was zu tun ist?” There was no answer.
Enzo watched as the German soldier unholstered the pistol on his hip and pointed it at him. Enzo saw the flash from the muzzle very near his eyes and felt a momentary intense concussion that was not merely the exploding of the front of his head from the outside, but the bursting of his eardrums from the inside. His last feeling was something of remorse, since he had been made to give up the comfort of the miraculous blood of St. Gennaro. He thought, Pray for me, Mother Mary. The last thing that occurred to him was a question: Could blood not merely baptize a man, but ordain him a priest as well? He hoped. Then, nothing.
Yale University, Thursday, 4 September 2014,
New Haven, Connecticut
Male voice: “THAT’s the surprising part. He didn’t.”
Female voice: “He didn’t take it?”
“What did he do?”
“He put it back on the altar, apparently.”
“Just like that?”
“There was a crack.”
“In the ampoule. The reliquary. The container.”
“When was it discovered?”
“Oh, sometime after the war was over.”
“Did they fix it?”
“Of course they fixed it. Well, not the Germans. They wanted the crack to be discovered. Church officials discovered and repaired it, I think. And the miracles have continued since.”
“Oh ye of little faith.”
“Here’s the thing.”
“They took some of the blood. The Germans. Took some of the blood. It was liquefied that night. I think they broke the ampoule and secreted some of the blood and took it back to Germany. Then they replaced the reliquary on the altar so that the city and Church officials in Naples would believe that the breakage was due to the war. It has been reputed for a long time that after liquefaction, the volume of
material in the ampoule varies. So, the Germans believed the Holy See and the Archbishop would assume the damage was from the violence of War and nothing else. Which, if you think about it, is true. And it worked.”
“So? What for?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know—to prove that miracles don’t really happen??”
“To prove that they do…”
Yale University, Friday, 5 December 2014,
New Haven, Connecticut
There was a light knock on the open door. It was the voice of Dean Pritchett.
“Yes? Come in, Dean.”
“Ambrose,” the Dean crooned as he stepped into the office, dropping the pitch of his voice on the second syllable of Dr. Reagan’s first name. The Dean set his trench coat and fedora (he fancied, Ambrose thought, that it made him look like someone in Mad Men) on a stool just inside the door
and made himself comfortable in a dirty, overstuffed chair Ambrose had positioned next to the coffee maker opposite his desk.
“Ambrose,” he said again. He paused. “How ARE you today?”
“I’m great. Thank you. What, …uh, To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I come with great news. I’ve just met with the Provost and he’s informed me that your tenure and promotion have been approved by the Chancellor and his committee. So. Would you like to buy me a drink this evening?”
For a moment, Ambrose didn’t know how to respond. He didn’t like this habit of the Dean’s to take possession of Departmental and University knowledge and then make it his own. He ought to be jumping for joy, but he had to suffer through whatever came next. Though it was a habit to which he’d grown accustomed, it still felt as if the Dean drew a perverse pleasure from making even good news sound as if it came with some sort of moral baggage or obligation the import of which would be revealed at a later time. Even now, Ambrose felt keenly that the Dean telegraphed to him that Ambrose’s own successful application for tenure was somehow the Dean’s and not his own.
“Well, …Of course,” he said, trying hard to sound enthusiastic.
“The outcome was never in doubt, Professor Reagan, and let me be the first to
congratulate you not only on your tenure—but on your promotion. You now hold the rank of Associate Professor, with all of the honors and accolades that appertain thereunto, as they say.”
“Thank you, Dean Pritchett. I know that I could not have succeeded without your support.”
“Think nothing of it. You know, when we hired you I told everyone that we were glad to get you and we’d be even luckier to keep you. I’m glad you stayed—and I’m especially glad that you persevered through the, uh, unpleasantness that you sometimes had to endure.”
Ambrose looked at him quizzically.
“Come now,” the Dean continued, with a short wave of the hand. “You know of that of which I speak. Let’s not dwell on it.”
The Dean’s insistence upon formal grammar in speech irritated Ambrose: of that of which? Who the hell actually says that??
Despite this fact, Ambrose was aware of what the Dean was talking about. Not only was Ambrose married and Catholic, he was married and a practicing Catholic. When he’d come to the university, it had not really occurred to him that this might present a problem for some of his colleagues. After all, as a graduate with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Dallas, a small, Catholic, liberal arts college, he had been inculcated
in the principle that where there were disagreements regarding important issues, there was a kind of academic chivalry that mandated good faith and good manners. At the end of the day, even when people vehemently disagreed, he’d been taught, we were all human beings occupying space for a temporary time on a rather crowded planet—there might be disagreements about the nature of the human condition, but there was no necessity for what one of his mentors had called “nastiness.”
“I am not available, Ambrose,” the Dean said, picking up his coat and hat, “for a drink today. But we will get together soon to celebrate. Official word of your promotion and tenure will come by way of letter in the next couple of weeks, I would guess. You understand that the Board must make final approval, but that, of course, is a simple matter of form. Again, congratulations, Dr. Reagan.” He turned and left Ambrose’s office.
“Well,” Ambrose thought, “that’s one way to start a Friday.”
Ambrose sat and absorbed this news. It made him feel odd. Of course he’d been quietly worrying about his application ever since he’d presented it some six and a half months earlier. But that worry had turned to a kind of resignation, since Ambrose could no longer influence the process once the packet had been turned over to the Dean. He’d been hired for a tenure-track position.
They wanted him to succeed, obviously. He’d presented at conferences and had managed to put his book about Umberto Eco out while he was a “new-hire.”
So, he’d decided simply to put the entire thing, as best he could, out of his mind. The news was all the more surprising at this moment since the process had wended its way through the system and to the Chancellor’s office and John Corwin was still missing. No one in the department had seemed worried about his absence, but ever since he’d discussed Lupei’s dinner party with Corwin and then Corwin had disappeared some months ago, Ambrose had connected his chances for tenure and promotion with that bizarre episode. He’d done the best he could to concentrate on his day to day rather than the future. In fact, he’d deliberately refused to think about what Dean Pritchett had just called the “unpleasantness.”
But he thought about it now.
After his initial hire, the honeymoon in the department had lasted perhaps a year. Then, subtle changes began to manifest themselves. He and his wife had attended official festivities sponsored by the Department, of course. They’d accepted invitations to parties held by faculty members. They’d even made a point of attending student-sponsored literary and art events. Ambrose had volunteered to advise the English Graduate Student Association on its annual conference and had made
suggestions and a few phone calls regarding key note speakers. Everything seemed to have been going fine. But Ambrose had noticed a cooling off in the second year. He’d become a popular professor among undergraduates and had begun to hear rumblings of jealousy from some of the more established faculty. In fact, Dean Pritchett had informed him that one of his scheduled courses, one of his first seminars, had been effectively cancelled by a senior faculty member who argued that he had not yet established himself sufficiently to teach juniors and seniors instead of freshman and sophomores. He had taken it in stride. His book on Umberto Eco came out and had made a small splash. This engendered a round of congratulations from his colleagues—but he could tell that their graciousness was tinged with a kind of reserve. Ambrose decided that this was simply to be explained by the tendency in Academia to increase scrutiny of a colleague who is enjoying any level of success. “Success” outside the Academy meant, immediately, “lack of seriousness.” Ambrose had tenure to worry about, so he did his best to simply concentrate on his research and his teaching. He turned his attention to a tangential matter of his last book: The Medical satchel of Josef Mengele—lost when the “Angel of Death” had escaped Europe for South America in 1949. It was not especially literary in nature—but literary theory had been so thoroughly blended with history, cultural studies, sociology, and the like, that it wasn’t very difficult to
argue for its importance in an English Department.
But his research hadn’t come to much. It ran in circles. Mengele had resettled under an assumed identity for some four years somewhere in southern Germany and then, under another name, had fled Europe to Argentina in 1949. Presumably, he’d taken his important research notes and medical bag with him. But, there the trail went cold. Everything Ambrose had found indicated that whatever Mengele had brought with him to South America had yielded exactly nothing—unless rumors of twinning in Brazil and a suspicious drowning amounted to anything.
So, a cooling period had followed the “honeymoon” in his Department and Ambrose focused on building his record and CV in anticipation of his applying for tenure. He went to conferences and presented papers on a variety of subjects—most of them cultural in nature. He published a variety of articles in respected, peer-reviewed journals. He and his wife, Cecilia, dutifully attended Departmental and University functions. And things remained rather normal until about the time his tenure packet was due. They had not thrown their own dinner parties for the faculty in general, but they had made friends and were on good terms with most of Ambrose’s teaching partners. Early on, they had hosted a dinner to which Dean Pritchett had come, but it became obvious that having children was a kind of problem. So, they did not pursue that particular avenue of academic advancement.
But then early in this Fall semester, one of the most popular and well-known professors in the department, a man who had fled Ceausescu’s Romania and had come to the United States and had established himself via his poetry magazine—The Ineluctable Feast—and through his weekly commentary on NPR, had invited him to a dinner party. Ambrose had accepted and asked if his wife was welcome as well. Andre Lupei had said—“Of course,” and then added, cryptically, “the parties I put on are calculated to appeal to every type of taste!”
At the last moment, Cecilia had had to cancel because a crisis at the hospital had necessitated her staying to oversee an administrative conference regarding the behavior of a male nurse. She’d called Ambrose in the afternoon that Friday to apologize. Ambrose said, “Well, it can’t be helped. I’ll send our regrets.” Cecilia said, “Oh no, Am, do go. We already arranged for Kimmy to stay late so that we could go. Just tell your colleagues that I’m very sorry I couldn’t make it. You and I will have a drink when you get back and you can tell me all about what kind of depravity your peers are really into. Just have fun. But not too much.”
So, Ambrose had gone from his office at the University to the house to shower and change and spend some time with his children—Evelyn, 7, Owen, 6, and little Sophia, just 2. Kimmy had them in the playroom when he arrived and was boiling water for pasta in the kitchen. The oven was pre-heated for some garlic bread. Kimmy
Campbell—a high school junior who’d they’d found through one of the jobs boards in the student union—asked if there was “stuff for salad.” Ambrose opened the refrigerator and looked. “Kind of,” he called. “If you don’t mind just lettuce, tomatoes, and Ranch!” “That’s fine.” she said. “What time do you want them in bed?” “Nine-ish is fine,” he said.
Ambrose popped his head into the playroom, which was on the back of the house off the kitchen. “Daaaaddddy!” came a chorus of giggling voices as his children ran to group-hug him around the legs. Evelyn’s and Owen’s greetings were enthusiastic but perfunctory—they turned back to their puzzles and drawings as soon as they embraced him. Sophia just stood there with her arms in the air, looking at him. He picked her up and nuzzled her neck. “How’s my girl?” he whispered. “Goo,” she said. “Are you going to say goodnight to the moon for me tonight?” “Yes,” she said, leaning back to look in his face. “Good. Because Daddy is coming back after you go to sleep and I might not get a chance to say goodnight to the Moon—so I need you to do that, okay?” She nodded. He moved into the playroom and set her down amidst a pile of toys next to the toy box. Ambrose walked back through the kitchen. “Are you going to be late?” Kimmy asked over her shoulder. “Not very. Maybe eleven? Is that okay?” “I guess,” Kimmy said, finding a box of penne in the cupboard and beginning to tear it open. “The olive oil is in that cabinet,” Ambrose pointed. “I know, Dr. Reagan. I’ve been coming here for a while.”
“Sorry,” he said. “Oh, Dr. Cecilia is not coming with me tonight—so she might be back before I am. She got caught up at a meeting at the hospital. So, you might get lucky and get off early enough to go join your friends at the soda-shop!” “Very funny, Professor,” Kimmy said. “I didn’t have any plans. And, besides, you guys pay really well when you come in after a couple glasses of wine. I’m fine!”
So Ambrose jogged up the stairs to the master and showered and changed. He decided to go semi-casual—choosing flat-front chinos, a black t-shirt, and his blue blazer with light blue socks and his moccasins. He’d failed to ask Lupei what the dress was—so he reasoned if he dressed as Lupei customarily did, he’d be fine.
He pulled his silver Hyundai Sonata out of his driveway and checked the time. 7:17pm. He drove the short distance to the neighborhood shopping district and parked in front of the butcher shop—which closed at 8pm—and went in to get a bottle of red wine. He didn’t really know what would be appropriate so he settled on a French red table wine of middling reputation and went back out to his car. Carlo was grumpy as usual—which Ambrose found charming. The evening had fully descended and it was rather warm for late September. It had threatened rain earlier in the day but that had never been realized. But it was still moist. He stood next to his car for a moment, enjoying the smell. Then he got into the car and began the drive to the
other side—the “tony-er” side, he thought—of New Haven.
Lupei lived in one of the better neighborhoods on the other side of the University. It was not a long drive. Ambrose pulled up to the house and found a space some way down the block and parked. He was surprised that there were so many cars. Lupei’s house was attractive—in the right kind of neighborhood and befitting someone of better than modest national and even international reputation.
He was greeted at the door by a graduate (or perhaps an undergraduate) student—a beautiful Asian girl wearing a black, crisp, short server’s jacket, a white blouse, and black cummerbunded slacks. She offered to take his jacket but he elected to keep it on. He asked where he might take the wine. She directed him to a serving table along the wall to the right—next to what was obviously an entrance to a brightly lit kitchen at the back of the house. The stairs to the upper floors were also to the right and the spacious living room was to the left. Ambrose left the bottle on the table and turned and walked into the living room.
What struck him immediately was that this dinner party seemed to be a mixture of professors and graduate students and other young people of indeterminate pedigree. They might be students from Lupei’s classes, certainly, but they might—in some cases—be young people who had no connection with the
university at all. He simply could not tell.
The rooms were comfortably but dimly lit by lamps on low tables and candles here and there. He regard Lupei’s taste in art—oriental vases, 19th century oils, Greek and Roman miniature statuary and curious on tables and mantles. Plush leather, marble here and there. The décor was perfect for a man of taste and travel, reflecting a refined sense of history and culture.
Andre saw him enter and strode over to him from a far corner. “Ambrose! So glad you could make it!” he said, and opened his arms for a hug and then planted the customary European kisses on each of his cheeks. “Where is your beautiful bride?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, Andre. Hospital business.”
“Not to worry. Next time. So glad she let you come anyway. Come in! Come in! I want you to meet some people.”
Lupei led him to the corner of the living room from which he’d come. Once they were back in the group from which Lupei had emerged, another student (presumably) came over and handed Ambrose a drink. It was caramel colored on ice. Bourbon. Good bourbon. Ambrose paused momentarily, after his “thank you,” and noted the slight sting on his lips as he tasted it. “Very nice,” he said, raising the glass in Lupei’s direction. “I’m glad you like it,” the poet
said. “You know Marcia Payne, of course,” he said, gesturing to the head of the University’s Writing Center. She nodded, the customary black scrunchy holding her hair in a bunch at the back of her head showing momentarily as she did so. “I think you have not met Bridget? Oh, you may have seen her in the halls? She’s a graduate student—third year—and writing a dissertation on Derrida.” She was a waif of a woman: athletic but like a dancer, not a runner. She wore a tank top and tight fitting black leotard with flats and a beige bolero jacket. Her hair was black and cut severely short. She looked Russian to Ambrose. She merely nodded in a disinterested way at him before resuming her conversation with Professor Payne. Next to her was a troglodyte from the Mathematics Department—Dr. Anthony Drake. He was squat and looked like a frog. His skin was flaky and he had eyes that protruded from their sockets. Lupei introduced him and he bowed. Ambrose nodded, not wanting to commit to the bow. Finally, Andre introduced him to an administrator he’d never met: Dr. Jeremy Baker—vice-dean of Academic Affairs. He was tall and slim and ill-fitted for the decade in which he lived. His hair was pure 1970’s and blow-dried. “Nice to meet you,” he said, extending his hand. “I’ve heard about you, Professor Reagan. An unfortunate name, I might add,” he said dryly. Having lived his entire life with his name, Ambrose merely smiled, feigning that he understood the joke.
While there was a proper dining room, there was only room for twelve at the table.
Dinner was served buffet style with undergraduates or graduate students standing in as servers and Ambrose took his plate of sliced roast beef au jus, mashed potatoes, and steamed carrots with mint to the study beyond the living room. He found himself next to, and surprised by the presence of, the apparent pariah of the department, the tenured full-professor John Corwin. He, a former Hegelian who had apparently had some kind of epiphany or crisis (or both) sat with a plate on his knees and paid attention to the chicken Cordon-Bleu and green beans in front of him. Ambrose sat next to him and felt compelled to greet him. “Dr. Corwin. I’m surprised to find you here.” “Oh?” he said, without looking up. “I come to these things pretty regularly. But I usually leave rather early.”
Ambrose didn’t know what this meant and felt a kind of disappointment. Corwin was one of the professors in the department that had attracted him in the first place. Yes, he had been a Hegelian. But he’d changed. This had caused something of a crisis apparently—either for him or the department or both. He’d gotten tenure on the strength of a Hegelian reading of Melville’s Moby Dick. But sometime after he’d gotten tenure, according to some in the department, he’d gone crazy. Outside the copy room one day, Ambrose had heard the head of the Womyn and Gender Studies Department say, “What the heck is wrong with Corwin? I heard he didn’t vote Democrat, for Christ’s sake.”
Corwin continued to pay attention to his plate. But he said, “I come to these things because it’s the only way to gauge what is really going on. You need to pay close attention, sir.” With that, he got up and disappeared.
After Ambrose had finished his plate and had been handed a brandy and a cup of black coffee, he wandered the room and chatted with various faculty members and students. He found one conversation, on the apparent uselessness of the “old” model of academics, especially entertaining. One graduate student argued that the entire structure of granting degrees ought to be changed and that the under-the-surface competition between students ought to be brought into the light of day so that poor students could be more easily recognized and dismissed from the program. Reagan had asked about privacy and the student had said, “Look, there is no privacy during athletic competitions, so why should there be privacy during academic competitions? Let’s face it—academics at the graduate level are as competitive as any sport.” At that point, Lupei, who had been listening with interest, said, “Yes, but in athletic competitions everyone knows the rules—even the spectators.” The student had said, “That’s the point.” Lupei smiled. “Perhaps,” he said, “But when the competitors and spectators do not know the rules of, say, academic progress and tenure,” he paused and looked at Reagan, “It keeps everyone on their toes, don’t you think?” With this, Lupei wandered over to another knot of people a little way off.
Ambrose thought of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
At that moment, Reagan recognized the voice of Dean Pritchett—who had apparently come late. Ambrose looked at his watch. He was surprised to see that it was already almost 10pm.
Pritchett found Ambrose in the study—which had an entryway to the kitchen at the back of the house and French doors to a patio in the back yard. Ambrose was admiring the group congregated in the back yard. There were a smattering of professors and Andre Lupei, holding court again among them. Tiki-torches blazed warmly on the edges of a courtyard appointed with a fountain with a Grecian female nude in the corner and a number of cast-iron café style round tables and chairs, nicely arranged. Perhaps 50 people stood and sat in the patio, drinking and smoking and emoting as people do during a good party. Ambrose was mellow and happy and the scene pleased him. Pritchard sidled up to him.
“Nice to see you here, Ambrose.”
“Same to you, Dean Pritchard,” he said, as pleasantly as he could muster.
“You’ve met my wife, April.”
Ambrose turned and saw an ample woman dressed in leather from head to toe. He was surprised she was not holding a rider’s crop.
April looked at him hungrily. She wore a skin-tight vest that was held across her ample breasts by a single elastic that stretched from a fastening on one side and looped around a button on the other. Underneath it, her breasts seemed to want to burst. Her belly protruded from the top of her skin-tight pants, which laced at the crotch, and had holes cut in the thighs (from her hips down, bigger to smaller, in circles). She didn’t so much as acknowledge him as look him over. Dean Pritchard seemed to regard the exchange as a kind of victory. Ambrose felt uneasy. Dean Pritchard’s wife’s expression clearly illustrated that she felt she was superior. Ambrose was glad that his wife was not present and at the same time wished that she was there. More than anything, however, he wished he’d stayed home.
“Ah,” said the Dean, looking away, “I see the Vice-Dean of Academic Affairs. I simply must speak with him. April?” He turned back to Ambrose, “Good to see you here, Ambrose. I’ll chat again with you later.” With that, he strode through the study and into the living room.
Ambrose walked through the open French doors onto the patio. He drifted into the midst of the group of people in the courtyard. He felt hands touching him, gently, on his hips and his shoulders. He looked around. Eyes were glazed. Ambrose was suddenly alone and his anxiety increased. He realized the pungent odor he detected was marijuana. He couldn’t see who was smoking it. All he wanted to do was
leave. He looked around for a way to get out without going back through the house. He put his Brandy down on a table, abandoning it.
“Professor Reagan,” he heard a voice say. He turned. He was presented with the visage of Dr. Ruth Schmidt, most recently of Germanic Studies, but newly appointed to the Interdisciplinary Institute for InterCultural Studies, the IIICS, a trans-disciplinary school with scholars from a variety of humanities studies departments that specialized in cross-disciplinary classes that combined the disciplines in an intensive one-year course of study designed to introduce students to what the Institute described as the “intersection” of “knowledge clusters” from history, philosophy, political science, sociology, literature, composition and rhetoric, gender-studies, and comparative literature. It was a kind of Honors College within the Honors College and accepted only nominated undergraduates from the Honors College who had shown themselves as especially talented future candidates especially for entry into graduate or Law school. It was the twin of another institute in the Sciences that combined biology, physics, chemistry, genetics, anthropology, and zoology that selected the most talented students within those disciplines for the same kind of cross-disciplinary experience. And with the aim of getting them into the top med schools or graduate schools in biochemistry and genetics, or, alternatively, into government jobs at the State Department and the like. The scientific counterpart was called the
Institute for Scientific Cross-Disciplinarianism (ISCD) and sought to train “great brains” (as its literature described), to “rethink assumptions through the lens of new paradigms.”
“I am surprised to see you here tonight,” she said, walking up to him and touching his arm.
“Dr. Schmidt,” he answered, “It’s nice to see you. How have you been? I don’t think we’ve seen each other since …How long has it been?”
“I remember,” she said. “It’s been since that perfectly awful breakfast meeting the Provost put together to discuss the Institutes. I remember feeling vaguely disappointed that you did not enthusiastically endorse our work.”
Ambrose remembered. The discussion had been about getting faculty to volunteer to a cross-disciplinarian presentation of a number of intellectual topics. He’d been enthusiastic about it when he first heard about it—being from a Liberal Arts background himself—but, as the discussion had continued, he’d cooled. He felt he’d not been on the faculty long enough either to qualify for or volunteer his services. So, he’d sat on his hands.
“We wanted you, Dr. Reagan,” Dr. Schmidt said. “You would have been a good addition to our ranks. I do hope you will reconsider when the opportunity presents itself—if it does, of course—in the future.”
“I’ll certainly think about it,” Ambrose said. “I do think the work you are doing is very important and I follow it keenly,” he said.
Ambrose had spoken to a few enthusiastic undergraduates who had been accepted into the program. But he’d been disturbed by the ideological nature of their enthusiasm. One bright student had talked about how excited he was to study the “destructive” influences of the “constructive” nature of “power relations manipulated through public institutions.” How his classes had opened him to the “pernicious” (he said it as if it was a word he learned that very day) effects of the power of society to “norm” individuals—to make them believe that their own efforts at individuality and freedom were merely masked enactments of social roles introduced to them by society as “rejections” but which were really stand-ins for a kind of conformity that the individual was always ill-served to accept. Another student declaimed passionately one day in his office that the entire structure of rebellion was “manipulated” by those in power to convince young and naïve individuals into believing that such rebellion was legitimate when, in fact, it was enslaving. He mentioned the “Occupy Wallstreet” movement as one such monstrosity. “It was a piece of theatrical manipulation,” he said. “Those kids didn’t know what they were for. They didn’t know what they were against. They didn’t know anything!” In the end, this student said, the only answer was to come to grips with who could and could not be trusted. Every
person in authority was suspect (including and especially unknowing parents) but there was a key to understanding who was actually telling the truth. And that secret was simple, he said: “Who was telling you to do the thing for which you’d be punished the most?”
Ambrose had decided that the thesis of these two institutes seemed to be a kind of attractive rebellion. The idea seemed to be that whatever the authorities were selling must be a kind of agenda that insured that the “authorities” retained their privileged positions. The fact that the Institutes themselves existed within and were funded by the very authorities against which they were arranged was held out, Ambrose surmised, as the “proof” of their own anti-authoritarian legitimacy. What better way to hide than to seem to be the very enemy you sought to undermine? When Ambrose asked these impassioned and sincere students how they squared their ideas with the fact that the very rebellion they rejected was introduced to them by folks in pretty impressive positions of authority, they all said the same thing: “That’s the great ruse! Dr. So and So looks like a member of the elite, but is really working against what they (“They”) are trying to do—which is to enslave us! You see? We beat the great Satan with his own arm!”
So, Ambrose had begged off. It seemed to him that the students he’d met who were influenced by the Institutes had already bought into a way of seeing things that pre-determined a conclusion that they were being
shaped to accept. It was one, he thought, that would confirm views they’d been softened to understand and with which to sympathize. They seemed happy to accept their role in the active “bringing about of something” (as he said) the definition of which was not quite clear. It gave him pause. And more than once, he’d found himself asking What are they really up to?
“I don’t think you agree with my point of view, Dr. Reagan, or the view of our Institute,” Dr. Schmidt offered.
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Ambrose said, trying to look as if he was interested in what seemed to be transpiring in the living room, which could be seen through the French Doors.
“I mean,” she answered, “that you take a different view of human nature and, so, refuse to participate in the ‘next step’ in evolution which, regardless of your views, comes about nonetheless.”
He looked at her in surprise.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that, Dr. Reagan. We are members of a community that is dedicated to furthering the human cause. What is that cause? To defeat everything that stands in the way of our success. What is the form of that success? I think you already believe in it—in fact, I think I know that you positively believe in it. You are married, no? I’ve seen your wife. She’s gorgeous. So are your kids. You go to Church on Sunday, no? You believe that
humans are, by their nature, good, no? Well,” she said, after a pause, “So do I.” After another pause she turned to him and said, “The only difference, my friend, is our thinking differently about how to make human perfection come about.”
Well, perhaps this was true, Ambrose thought. He couldn’t formulate an answer to her in the moment. He simply smiled.
“Dr. Schmidt,” he began, “as I said, I think the work you are doing is very important."
Ambrose meant this—but not for the reasons that Dr. Schmidt might think. But that was okay. Ambrose just wanted to get out of there. She’d confirmed what he’d figured out about the Institutes’ nature: It was a way to inculcate within its students a certain point of view—which, after all, was the task of education itself. It was a weird moment. Here was a woman who dedicated herself to what Ambrose believed was a good foundation for a man or woman’s life’s work. And she was making an argument. But he didn’t want to have an argument. Dr. Schmidt looked at him for a moment—she was short and plump and wore a tight fitting pants-suit. He could see the dimples of her thighs. He wondered why that was the choice she’d made. She reminded him of his Social Studies teacher in the 6th grade: a woman who wore skin tight leisure suits and constantly ate cauliflower from a Zip-Lock bag. And made the boys spank themselves in front of the rest of the class if they misbehaved. She’d make them bend over and hit themselves with a ping-pong paddle and when she was unsatisfied with
their efforts, while munching cauliflower, she’d say, “Haaaardeeerrrrrr.” The white spittle hanging in her teeth punctuated the humiliation. Ambrose shuddered a little.
“Dr. Schmidt, perhaps we should have coffee sometime,” Ambrose said, by way of moving away from her.
“I would like that very much,” Dr. Schmidt said. “Now, where can I find myself a cigarette?” She drifted toward the French doors to the living room.
Back through the French doors, Ambrose could see that the furniture had been pushed to the sides of the room, leaving an open space in the middle. People were gathered around the edges. Obviously, something was about to happen. The lights in the kitchen were off and the rest of the house was dim.
Ambrose realized that lights had been extinguished and replaced by more candles. Suddenly the number of people in the house and in the courtyard seemed to have grown. Perhaps it was a trick of the dark, since now he could only make out shapes of groups of people, not individuals. Ambrose looked at his watch again. A little after ten-thirty.
Through a group of people in front of him, Ambrose could make out that a low table or bench had been put in the middle of the living room. A woman stepped forward and lay down on the low table. Ambrose thought that it looked like Pritchard’s wife, April. He couldn’t be sure, however, because she seemed to be wearing some kind of mask. It
reminded him of Mardi Gras. She bent her body backwards. She arched her back and placed her left hand behind her head and made herself a kind of arch. Someone moved in front of him and Ambrose, adjusting himself, realized with a shock that the prone woman was nude, though partially covered by some sort of cloak. He felt a moment of panic and looked around. Those around him were transfixed. Lupei stepped from the crowd. He was now wearing a robe, and also had a mask. With revulsion, Ambrose realized that he too was nude beneath his robe. Ambrose felt uncomfortable. He felt in his pocket for his keys.
Corwin was suddenly there. “This way,” he whispered.
Ambrose followed him to the back of the courtyard and through a gate.
Presently they found themselves in an alleyway behind Lupei’s house. To the left, Ambrose saw light spilling from a street lamp into the alley. Corwin was walking toward the light. Ambrose followed him. When they got to the street, Ambrose noted his car about a half a block up. Corwin turned to him. “Don’t ask any questions now. We will talk soon.” He turned and walked along the sidewalk in front of Lupei’s house. Ambrose watched him walk past it and into the darkness. He turned and walked to his car. Once inside, he let out a long sigh. He realized just how tense he’d been for the past half-hour or so. What the hell is going on in that house? he thought. He started the car and drove home.
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