Monday morning, the ROTC schedule took Emily to the obstacle course. Captain Driver said he wanted to get times recorded that he could compare with the end of the year when the students will hopefully be in better shape and improved on the course. Karyn got very nervous, but Carl took her out there illegally on Sunday afternoon and let her practice. Something seemed to be budding between those two, Emily thought and smiled.
In contrast to Karyn and the boys, Emily relaxed. The course consisted of running through old tires, climbing up and down nets and walls, swinging on ropes over the cliché mud pit. It tested things like coordination, agility and dexterity, not just speed and strength. In all, it did not appear too daunting.
Emily turned and looked up at the man. “Not this time. I have to hold back so I can show improvement at the end of the year.” She walked away quickly to get in line for her turn.
They went three at a time. Karyn finished last in her group but that landed her among the middle time slots. Emily felt surprisingly pushed, but held back at the end to come in second. Unfortunately, it also put her time second in the class. When Captain Driver came up to stare at her, Emily spoke first.
“Quality competition can sometimes help a person do their best.” Clearly, the captain put her in between two ringers—the two who tested at the top while she stayed busy the other day holding the flag. The captain’s facial expression changed from harsh to thoughtful as she spoke. He nodded and turned away without a word.
Lieutenant Terrence slid up and whispered again. “Second in the class? I thought you were going to hold back.”
“I did,” Emily said and let him think about it while she grabbed Karyn to go to the showers.
Karyn and Emily arrived back at the dorm to find Maria and Jessica waiting, Jessica staring at her watch. “I have to meet Thomas for lunch,” she said, though they still had a good hour before lunch.
Maria ignored her. She seemed excited and held up her papers. “I talked to Julie Tam at the medical examiner’s office. I said I was helping you and she faxed over this information. I said I had in mind to pass it by the professors here and see what they thought. She called that an excellent idea.”
“Which professors?” Karyn asked. Emily got busy thinking about it. She kept trying to listen to her intuition like Lisa said and something said one of these professors might be involved. In fact, she felt rather sure of it, but that did not feel like the time to make wild accusations.
“Why, biology, of course. I made an appointment with Doctor Zimmer, my advisor. Emily, you can talk to Swenson and we can both corner Hilde in class. Come on.” She started to walk. Jessica followed, but Karyn looked at Emily.
“I don’t—” Emily started to speak but Maria interrupted by shouting back.
“Come on. Zimmer’s appointment is in five minutes and late means no appointment with the turd. Besides, Pierce will be there.”
Emily bit her lip while she and Karyn followed.
Once up on the second floor, Emily began to have second thoughts but she could hardly pursue them before they ran into Morgan Granger. The woman came out of Professor Hilde’s office and blocked their way for a moment.
“Maria,” Ms Granger acknowledged her good student before she turned to Emily. “Help class is over.”
“ROTC,” Emily said, quietly.
“Yes. Well, we all have to make choices. It is a shame we can’t do everything we want in college.” Ms Granger shoved passed to get to the stairs. Maria spoke when the stairwell door closed.
“Stop, you’ll make me paranoid,” Emily said as she stuck her head in Professor Swenson’s open door and said, “Hi.”
Professor Swenson had her eyes absorbed in a paper on her desk. A man in a uniform sat in the corner. Emily guessed army, but she did not catch the rank in the darkened room. Professor Swenson’s hand came up and waved, though her eyes never left the paper. When the group moved on to knock on Doctor Zimmer’s door, they heard Professor Swenson’s door shut tight.
“What?” The word from the other side of the door sounded sharp. Maria opened the door a crack and spoke.
“Doctor Zimmer? Maria Rios. We have an appointment.”
As Maria opened the door wide, they saw Doctor Zimmer at his desk look at his watch, the clock on the wall, and finally his calendar. “This has to be quick, I have another appointment shortly.”
“I was wondering if you would give these papers a look and offer your opinion.”
“Papers? Why do you think I have a teaching assistant?” He threw his hands at the corner where Pierce had been reading. Pierce put down his book when they came in and stared at Emily. Emily tried to ignore the stare, and tried extra hard not to stare back.
“These are from the medical examiner. There have been three people murdered on campus in a most unusual way.”
“No, sir,” Emily spoke because Pierce’s stare made her think all sorts of wrong thoughts. “You are an expert and we value your expert opinion.”
“Because I gave up my medical practice years ago.” Doctor Zimmer finished his thought. “Everyone I treated died.” That was his attempt at humor. He cleared his throat and looked again at the papers before he handed them back to Maria. “Tell your Examiner to check the endocrine system. Blood isn’t good for much except for transfusions and maybe vampires.” He smiled. It looked unnatural, a Morgan Granger frightening kind of smile. “Waste liquid is good for less unless someone is trying to build a better fertilizer. Tell him to check the glands, particularly the hypothalamus, thyroid and adrenal glands. A person might be interested in those hormones and secretions. Someone might be working on a cure for cancer for all we know.” He shrugged.
“Heavy price to pay,” Emily responded.
“Perhaps,” Doctor Zimmer sounded noncommittal. “In any case, not my field. I am strictly genetics and bioengineering these days. Professor Swenson teaches anatomy and could better tell you about the endocrine system, and Professor Hilde is the biochemist. They are the ones you should be talking to. Now please leave. My appointment should be here any minute.”
The girls turned. Jessica had her mouth open at the rudeness of the man. They went to the hall and shut the door behind them even as the army officer exited Professor Swenson’s room. The Colonel, and he gave the girls a friendly salute. Karyn looked inclined to snap to attention, but she was not in uniform. Besides, the Colonel’s eyes stayed on Jessica who had squeezed into her shortest and best hooker outfit, and was busting out all over.
They whispered and walked slowly toward the exit. Emily dragged her feet to watch and to no surprise, the Colonel knocked on Doctor Zimmer’s door. “Come in.” She heard Pierce’s voice and stopped when Pierce came out to the hall and ran after her.
“Emily.” She was the one he came after and her heart jumped once or twice. “I was wondering if maybe we could go for coffee or something, sometime.”
She wanted to shout, “Yes!” But for some reason, her mouth betrayed her. “I don’t really drink coffee.” Pierce pulled back and she felt it. “But I love tea and anytime would be fine.” She felt him come back a little. “I would enjoy that.” He returned all the way and his smile showed it.
“Saturday night at the Hive.” Jessica stood over Emily’s shoulder. “We are all going and Emily needs a date.”
“Jessica!” Karyn and Maria pulled her back to the stairs.
“Would you let me be your date on Saturday?” The hope was there again.
“Yes.” The yes came, but it came out as a whisper, not the shout Emily felt.
Jessica broke free and butted in again. She handed Pierce a small piece of paper. “Her phone number.”
“Me, too.” Pierce started down the hall, but he walked backwards to Zimmer’s door. “I’ll call you.” He grinned and waved the paper before he went into the office. Emily felt sure she was grinning too and was not surprised when Karyn and Maria each took an arm and turned her around toward the stairs.
“You were staring,” Maria said.