The collective work of Sarah Lawrence writing class 3303 - R, taught by novelist Melvin Jules Bukiet, here is a send-up of contemporary campus life that is also the latest installment in an inglorious literary tradition of wacky fun. And the mayhem hasn’t stopped. Soon, a student is found dead in the library, and, from the quad to the dorms, crime scenes and crises begin to multiply. A wealthy alumni donor becomes alarmed. Enter a libidinous medical examiner. Depicting rampant insecurities and raging egos, and with a cast of characters from conflicted faculty to student cliques, from hemp kids to Ugg girls and the J Crew crew, Naked Came the Post-Postmodernist takes us on a journey some may find eerily familiar. . . .
Already featured in the New York Times (“A Whodunit Committed by a Whole Classroom”), this first example of collegiate episodic experimental fiction is certain to draw wide attention on publication.
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About the Author
Melvin Jules Bukiet is the author of eight books of fiction and has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers. He lives in New York City.
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NAKED CAME THE POST-POSTMODERNIST
A Mystery Sarah Lawrence College Writing Class WRIT-3303-R
By Melvin Jules Bukiet
Arcade PublishingCopyright © 2013 Melvin Jules Bukiet
All rights reserved.
Detective Harsley knelt before the washing machine as if inspecting a victim's entrails. Slimy blue detergent covered his work shirts.
"Goddamn," he swore under his breath as he crawled behind it, deeper into the basement. His off-white boxers hung loosely on his frame, and his bare knees scuffed painfully against the grainy cement floor. Something was wrong with the hot water tube. It was a problem that had occurred multiple times over the last year, yet he had never been able to fix it himself. Fifteen minutes of a plumber's hour cost two days of a cop's wages.
As he examined a knot of wires in the back, he heard a faint ringing from upstairs. He paused, surprised at how strange the noise sounded. Then again, he had rarely used the house phone or given the number out since his ex-wife had insisted on buying matching cell phones. That was the year they moved to Waldham and still liked each other enough to be thrilled at the idea of doing it in all of the rooms.
"Bitch," he muttered under his breath as he thought of her. Knees cracking, he stood and trudged to the threadbare maroon-carpeted stairs, casting one last glance at the soggy, multi-armed tangle of shirts.
Harsley doubted Lisa still had that phone. Ronnie the insurance man would have bought her a new, sleeker model. Harsley imagined the two of them in their three-story house on the other side of town. Lisa was giving Robbie head in front of the TV so he could see last night's scores while she attended to him. Or some shit like that.
He opened the door that led from the basement stairs into the kitchen and stepped onto the well-polished wooden floor. The boards were so smooth that his bare feet felt rough against them, his heels bulbous and hard. He stood in front of the phone, staring at the blackened arcs and indents on the buttons Lisa had touched most frequently before she left. The numbers 4 and 7 were especially grimy. Humans are filthy, he thought. That's why getting away with killing them is so difficult. They leave their filth everywhere. Dirty bodies. Dirty thoughts.
He reached out and answered the phone. "Yes?"
He glanced at his reflection in the sliding glass door. Slight curves of muscles were visible beneath his skin, but they appeared to be buried deeper every day. He had always fancied the notion that his body was like a piece of marble that had never been completely chiseled into its ultimate shape. He remembered reading about ancient sculptors who could see what was meant to be created out of a piece of stone even when it was just a big square block. This was how he had always regarded his body—the slight double chin and the extra curl of fat at the base of his stomach were merely extraneous pieces that hadn't yet been chipped away. Since Lisa had left he told himself he didn't care, but he did.
"Sir? You there? It's Carl." The voice took form.
"Oh. Carl." Harsley stopped looking at his reflection and observed what lay beyond; the backyard was gummy with springtime and humidity. "Why didn't you call my cell?" he asked.
"I did," Carl answered.
"Oh," Harsley said. He decided he would buy a barbecue. That would fit nicely in the corner of the yard. He would invite the neighbors over, and maybe the woman with the hair that always smelled like pineapple and the charmingly tight skirts would stay later and they'd have sex on the living room floor. Or on the icebox, or the couch. Wherever she preferred.
"There's been a murder at that school in Hurst Green." Carl's voice sounded strangely robotic to Harsley. He wasn't sure why.
"Underhill College?" he asked. His brain switched directions instantly. This was why he was good at his job. An investigative checklist began scrolling behind his eyelids: blood spatter, knives, guns, access cards, security guards, parking lots.
"Your guess is as good as mine." Carl half-chuckled. "I don't think I've ever been to Hurst Green."
"Rich like you couldn't imagine," Harsley muttered. "I suppose their cops asked for some help? I'm guessing they don't have many murders over there."
"Said they'd appreciate our outside position. Apparently their detective is on vacation."
Harsley could tell Carl was grinning, as if working for the force in Waldham let him into the cool kids group.
"Well?" Harsley asked.
Carl coughed. "Right. Some professor at the school found dead in his office. Could be a natural death, but judging by the frothing around the mouth forensics thinks it's most likely a poisoning. We won't know until we get him back to the morgue."
"Who called it in?"
Harsley heard Carl ruffling through paper.
"Grace. Grace Montoya. A student of his," he said.
"And the vic?"
"A math professor. She said his name was Davenport."
Harsley watched a plane inch across the gray New England sky. "You think they were fucking?" he asked, almost with a sigh.
"Oh." Carl paused. "I don't know."
Harsley twirled a pen in his stubby fingers. He seldom took notes, but he liked to have something in hand to play with. Carl was efficient and reliable in his work but lacked the intuition necessary to be a good detective. Of course, there would be the possibility of a sexual relationship, Harsley thought. That was always a good motive for a murder.
"You said he was a math professor?" Harsley asked, returning his focus to the matter at hand.
"Yeah," Carl replied.
Harsley chuckled. "Didn't know they taught math at liberal arts schools."
There was a pause. "Uniforms have taped off the area," Carl said hesitantly. "They'll start canvassing soon. Meet you over there?"
Carl sounded more human now. Harsley wasn't sure what had changed. "Sure," he agreed. "Text me the address."
After he hung up, Harsley stood motionless in the kitchen in his boxers. He was sure he had dreamt this scene before but couldn't remember when or the exact details.
The coffee pot hissed and gurgled to a finish. He went to the counter and poured a cup and then paused and took down a thermos. He had one sip of the coffee and poured the rest into the thermos and set the cup in the sink. Stained and barely used, it seemed stripped of purpose and somehow lonely. Shut up, Harsley thought. Just 'cause you're lonely doesn't mean the damn cup is. Besides, forensics will be at the site, which means Kate, too. Maybe she'll be wearing that shirt I like, the one that outlines her tits so perfectly. He went into his room to change and found the only button-up he owned that wasn't smeared with blue gunk. Ten minutes later he got into his 1992 Honda with manual locks and depressed the cigarette lighter. He waited until the electric ring heated and then lit a Camel.
During the drive Harsley blasted the AC. The radio was off. He was sure Carl was already trying to piece things together, even before he saw the body. That was a common mistake, Harsley felt. Most men wanted to be one step ahead. Best to wait and then let his instincts guide him. His palms were sweaty, but the response wasn't unusual. He wiped them, one and then the other, on the thigh of his pants. The car was filled with cold air and smoke. He cracked the window.
When Harsley took the exit from 95 onto Mapleton Avenue, he noted the sudden difference in atmosphere. He had always loved this about cities and their respective suburbs—one street on the brink of gentrification, the next a wasteland. Streets where the sidewalk could seem cleaner or richer than the block before, even though it had been paved at the same time with the same cement. One stretch sparkled, the next had so many black gum spots it looked like a flattened Dalmatian.
Mapleton was a road he wouldn't have been surprised to see in a movie set in the countryside, perhaps in England. The clouds in Waldham that morning had never released any rain, but the cement in Hurst Green looked damp. Perhaps the weather is different here, Harsley thought. Or maybe the town pays illegal immigrants to hose the streets every morning for that fresh, glistening look.
Small roads branched off to the right, winding by large Georgian or Greek Revival–style homes. The driveways were cobbled. The kind of pavement that is particularly noisy, Harsley noted. Hurst Green was the type of place where everything had been built to be majestic rather than practical. That made murder harder to get away with. A poisoning made sense.
Harsley turned a corner and saw a sign pointing toward the administration building for Underhill College. Students in torn sweaters and large leather boots meandered up a sloping hill to his right. Their ragged appearance may have seemed odd compared to the wealth of the surroundings, but Harsley could tell their presentation was calculated: messiness made possible by privilege—you pay more for the holes. He shook his head, tapping the ash of his cigarette onto the passenger seat.
The students appeared to be going about their daily routines. Harsley wondered if they'd been told about the misbehavior in their midst. He glanced at them as he drove by. A boy with a large stud in his nose walked alongside a girl with curious hair. When the boy burst into laughter, Harsley thought there was something animalistic about his smile. He couldn't tell if the girl beside the young rhino looked happy or not.
He checked his phone and took a right and then a left on Compton Street. There were more students and a series of school buildings rising up on the crest of a hill to his left like ramparts. "Shit," he muttered. "A place this rich, what do they have to kill about?"
A group of uniforms were clustered at the bottom of the hill, and he parked his car on the side of the narrow road. He stepped out, cigarette smoke billowing around him, and spotted Carl moving toward him.
"There's a parking lot around the corner," Carl said, looking at Harsley's car, which took up a third of the road. Harsley shrugged.
"Right," Carl continued as if he wanted to take Harsley's actions with complete nonchalance. What was he trying to prove? Harsley wondered. He ran his eyes briefly over Carl. Clean tie, tightly knotted. Two pens in the breast pocket. Hair ruffled but clearly cut recently. Moderately smart man who knew just how hard to work and just how hard to appear to be working. The kind of guy who'd always been happy, even as a teenager. Good looking. He had probably slept at a woman's house the night before, and left early enough for a run and a protein shake. Before coming here.
"The body's this way," Carl said, motioning.
"Lead on," Harsley said, gesturing with his wrist, as if he were bowing.
Carl gave him a strange look. Harsley flicked the stub of his cigarette onto the ground, exhaling long and loud.
A young man immediately picked up the cigarette and put it in his pocket and walked away.
Harsley shoved past Carl and strode toward a large Gothic building on the far side of the courtyard. Carl followed.
"It's there," Carl said, pointing at a doorway off the west wing of the building. Harsley opened the door and let Carl walk through first. Offices lined a hallway that stretched to the left and right. On the doors were little plaques with professors' names in black lettering. There was yellow tape across the office farthest on the left. Harsley glanced at the doorknob on their way in. It was old and made of brass. There were probably over a thousand fingerprints on it. Good luck forensics, he thought.
The body, average in size and shape, was in good condition. It was face down, the head resting on the left side, the right arm raised, its index finger outstretched from an otherwise clenched palm.
"Eric, right?" Harsley asked, walking around the body.
"His name? Yeah. Eric Davenport." Carl flipped through his notes. "He'd been teaching here for about twelve years."
"Forty-seven?" Harsley muttered.
"About forty-seven years old?"
"Oh. Errr ..." Carl went to the cluttered desk and picked up a wallet with a handkerchief. He pulled out an ID. "Yeah," he said with an awkward laugh. "In April."
Harsley snorted and wedged his foot underneath the body to roll it over.
"Sir, you should let forensics do that," Carl said.
Harsley ignored him and squatted. There were no signs of a struggle. "Carl," he said, "what kind of person would poison you?"
Carl coughed and laughed awkwardly. "Sir?"
"I mean, the kind of person who can get away with poisoning you is the kind of person you wouldn't expect it from."
"So Eric must have known his killer."
Harsley shrugged. "Most likely. Also, unless you happen to be carrying some curare in your vest pocket when the mood hits, poison implies premeditation." Harsley glanced at his watch. "What did the student say when she called it in?"
Carl looked at his notes. "She said she came in for her weekly conference—apparently that's what it's called here, where the students meet with their professors one-on-one—and found him like this."
"And she thought it was a natural death?"
"I'm not sure. She told the 911 operator that her professor was dead. But when the cops got here and asked her what happened she said he'd been murdered."
Harsley stared at the body for a moment. "So perhaps she knew what the frothing at the corner of the mouth meant."
Harsley stood, rubbing his hands together.
"Sir, how could you tell his age?" Carl was still standing at his side.
Harsley sighed, examining the room. It was small and orderly, two chairs placed close together beside the window. "The shoulders," he said, still looking around. "The way they fill the jacket. Broad, but starting to sag; Hair at the back of the neck turning gray while the rest is pure black."
"What does that mean?"
Harsley glanced at Carl. Stupid, he thought. Stupid and lucky. The best things to be. "Eric still had an ego," he said with a sigh. "He wasn't ready to submit to being the 'old professor' yet."
"But why forty-seven? That could happen at lots of ages."
"He was on the edge." Harsley shrugged. "Partially fact, partially a guess. Instincts." He rummaged through his pocket and found an empty pack of cigarettes and crumpled it. "Got a smoke?"
Carl reached into his jacket and pulled out two cigarettes, handing one to Harsley.
"The murderer wasn't in a hurry. Wasn't worried at all," Carl muttered through the cigarette as he lit it. A puff of smoke curled up around his gray eyes and sandy hair.
Harsley could tell that Carl was the kind of guy who got laid all the time. He reached out to accept the lighter, imagining for a moment the kind of woman Carl would go home with.
"No forced entry, no surfaces rubbed down," Carl continued. "Whoever it was didn't feel the need to cover their tracks."
Carl got laid so often he didn't even need to think about it while he was working, Harsley decided. Lucky bastard. He exhaled.
"So it had to be someone he knew, someone who had been in his office before. They would have known there are all sorts of fingerprints here."
Harsley nodded. "Good," he said. He walked around the room once more, pausing at the window. It overlooked the small courtyard he had walked through. The courtyard had wooden tables and trees whose branches were thick with blossoms. From the outside no one was able to look into the office. Spring was a good season to kill in Hurst Green.
"Where's the girl?" he asked.
"Outside. Want to talk to her?"
Harsley nodded. Carl led the way. The hall was long and lit with dim fluorescence. The fixtures must be old, Harsley thought. There was an elevator next to a bulletin board crammed with overlapping announcements for mathematics programs abroad. One read, "Fibonacci in Fiorenza."
"Are these the only ways out?"
Carl glanced over his shoulder at the elevator. "That and the door we came through."
Carl didn't reply for a moment. "It's a big building," he said eventually. "The main cafeteria is upstairs, as well as lots of administrative offices above that."
On their way out they ran into the ME that Harsley had expected. Kate Steelford was wearing a large coat, so the detective couldn't tell what shirt was beneath it. Her hair wasn't quite straight, but wasn't greasy either. She had showered yesterday but not this morning. Was there no time or had she been somewhere else?
She nodded at Harsley in acknowledgment, and as she walked between them he caught a small smile passing between her and Carl.
Carl held the door open for Harsley. "After you," he said.
"No, that's all right," Harsley replied. Stop being a child, he thought.
Carl stood awkwardly for a moment and then stepped around the door. The air was already more humid.
"How was she?" Harsley asked, walking out after him.
"What?" Carl replied, his neck reddening.
Harsley nodded back toward Kate.
Carl ignored him. "The girl's over there," he said, pointing to a student with hoop earrings and a bag large enough to hold an unabridged Britannica and a laptop. She was wearing a gray sweater with a few holes in the shoulders. Harsley patted Carl on the back and walked over to her. When he got there, the officer who had been talking to her nodded and left.
Excerpted from NAKED CAME THE POST-POSTMODERNIST by Melvin Jules Bukiet. Copyright © 2013 Melvin Jules Bukiet. Excerpted by permission of Arcade Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 by Rebecca Shepard.................... 1
Chapter 2 by David Calbert.................... 17
Chapter 3 by Kelsey Joseph.................... 27
Chapter 4 by Madeline Dessanti.................... 39
Chapter 5 by Jessye Holmgren-Sidell.................... 43
Chapter 6 by Sasha Pezenik.................... 48
Chapter 7 by Mattie Hagerty.................... 54
Chapter 8 by Rebecca Shepard.................... 64
Chapter 9 by David Calbert.................... 73
Chapter 10 by Sura Antolín.................... 79
Chapter 11 by Patrick Phillips.................... 83
Chapter 12 by Jessye Holmgren-Sidell.................... 89
Chapter 13 by Sura Antolín.................... 101
Chapter 14 by Kit Howland.................... 109
Chapter 15 by Sura Antolín.................... 116
Chapter 16 by Patrick Phillips.................... 128
Chapter 17 by Caitlin Murphy.................... 132
Chapter 18 by Jacqui Goodman.................... 136
Chapter 19 by Elliot Goldman.................... 147
Chapter 20 by Madeline Dessanti.................... 152
Chapter 21 by Elliot Goldman.................... 158
Chapter 22 by Madeline Dessanti.................... 169
Chapter 23 by Caitlin Murphy.................... 179
Chapter 24 by Mattie Hagerty.................... 191
Chapter 25 by Kit Howland.................... 195
Chapter 26 by Kit Howland.................... 216
About the Authors.................... 229