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Authors: Will Lavender

Tags: #Thriller

Obedience

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"A taut and timely thriller that explores the dark side of academia." – Karin Slaughter

***

A complex conspiracy involving the writing of a book drives Lavender's compelling debut, a thriller that will strike some as a mix of John Fowles's The Magus and Stephen King's The Shining. At Indiana's Winchester University, three students-Brian House, Dennis Flaherty and Mary Butler-are taking Logic and Reasoning 204, taught by enigmatic Professor Williams. They quickly learn this is a course like no other. Their single assignment is to find a missing 18-year-old girl, Polly, in six weeks time-or else, Williams asserts, she will be murdered. Is this merely an academic exercise? As Williams produces clues, including photographs of Polly and her associates, the students begin to wonder where homework ends and actual homicide begins. Together with Brian and Dennis, Mary ventures off campus in search of Polly into a world of crumbling towns, decrepit trailers and hints at crimes old and new. A rapid-fire plot offsets thin characterization, though the conspiracy becomes so all-encompassing, so elaborate, that readers may feel a bit like Mary when baffled by her quest: This is what she felt like: led, played, not in control of anything she did.
Will Lavender
Obedience
© 2008
When bewilderment on a subject seemed to have peaked, often with the class baffled into silence, Zechman would move on to another topic. But he never made a positive statement, never gave anything which resembled an answer, not even a hint. He just stood up there in his black suit with an expression of muted concern and kept asking questions; and as confusion grew, so did dissatisfaction. No one was quite sure what Zechman wanted from us. Were we stupid? Were the questions bad? What were we supposed to be learning? It was almost as if Zechman had set out to intensify that plague of uncertainty which afflicted us all.
By Friday, the level of anxiety in the class had mounted to a kind of fury.
– Scott Turow,
One L

 

Run an Internet search using the name Deanna Ward.
You will get over 275 hits. Click on the first one. This is an article by a man named Nicholas Bourdoix.
Read this article. You will learn that eighteen-year-old Deanna Ward went missing from Cale, Indiana, on August 1,1986. Police thought they had found Deanna four days later, on August 5, but they had not; this was a girl who simply
looked like
Deanna. The Deanna Ward case remains unsolved.
Run another search: “Nicholas Bourdoix.”
You will get over 6,500 hits. Mr. Bourdoix graduated from Winchester University in DeLane, Indiana. He worked for fourteen years at the
Cale
(Indiana)
Star
before moving to the
New York Times
in 1995.
Run an Amazon search for Mr. Bourdoix. His latest book is a memoir about his career as a crime journalist. It is called
The Beaten Trail: My Life Covering Horrors and Hoaxes.
There are exactly twelve pages given to his years in Indiana.
There is a customer review of this book toward the bottom of the page. You will know it because it is the only review given. The reviewer awards the book one star and suggests, in rather harsh language, that readers not buy Mr. Bourdoix’s “lying crap.”
The reviewer’s name is Deanna Ward.
Winchester

 

*
Six Weeks Left

 

*
1
The strange thing about Williams was that nobody had ever seen him. The faculty guidebook showed a gray box labeled NOT PICTURED; group photos in the Winchester yearbooks only showed Williams’s hand or arm, even though the captions advertised his presence. The college’s website gave a brief curriculum vitae but no photographic evidence. By that Monday afternoon, the first day of classes for the fall term at Winchester University, the search for Williams had, for some of his students, become almost compulsive.
It was as if Williams were hiding himself from them, as if he were teasing them somehow. It had become a tradition at Winchester for students to find a picture of their professors before classes began; in this way, it was commonly believed, they could allay some of the anxiety when the man or woman strode into the room. It was a method of one-upping the faculty, of stealing some of their precious authority.
And so this thing with Williams had become a big deal. Some of the students of Logic and Reasoning 204 were so incensed over Williams’s invisibility that they were convinced they were being tricked. One student, a Young Republican who carried a briefcase to each class, brought out his battered and veined Code of Conduct, and much of the class hovered over him while he searched the index for words like Deception and
Faculty Misconduct.
It was as they were doing this that Williams himself walked into the room. He was wearing faded blue jeans, which was highly unusual for a professor at Winchester. He was also carrying nothing, which was even more curious than his dress. No papers, no manila envelopes, no coffee mug. He was wearing a flannel shirt that he had tucked in. No belt. Nikes. The professor was clean-shaven, another anomaly on campus, and his face was youthful (for a man clearly in his early sixties) and pitted with acne scars on the left side that brought to mind, both in their color and shape, pennies flattened on a railroad track. Yet he was handsome in a certain light, and he moved so softly and quietly that he gave the impression of extreme gentleness, his hands sometimes out before him as if he were feeling his way into the dark or perhaps gesturing, Don’t be scared; I’m right behind you.
Professor Williams took his place at the podium at the front of the room. There were fifteen students in the class. Eight female, seven male. They were all white, which was the rule rather than the exception in a Winchester classroom. They were all sharply dressed in clothes their parents had bought them over the summer. Many of them were upperclassmen, as this course was a prerequisite for third-year seminars in philosophy and English. Because the students were mostly philosophy and lit majors, the room had an air of uncertainty. These were students who did not know where they were going in life but were generally accomplished. “Smart kids,” a Winchester professor once wryly said of his philosophy students, “who were all seduced by Descartes’ brain-in-a-vat theory in Philo 101.”
Williams opened his mouth to speak, but before he could say a word, someone’s cell phone chirped. He waited while the student shamefully dug in her bag to find the offending object. In fact, the professor seemed more anxious than the girl: he looked down, red-faced, at his podium while the girl furiously mashed buttons. Some professors would embarrass the girl further, make her hum the ring tone or have the conversation while standing in front of the class or something just as discomforting.
But Williams simply waited. And when the phone had been silenced he said, in a voice that was soft and commanding at the same time, “There’s been a murder.”
No one knew how to take this announcement. A young man in the back row laughed aloud.
Williams smiled. He stared down at his podium again and brushed something off the surface. “Not a real murder,” he said. “No. This is a murder that may happen in the future. A…” The man paused, looked up at the class, waved his hand in the air as if he were trying to come up with the word by catching it in his palm.
“A hypothetical,” said a girl in the front row.
“Yes!” said Williams. He was pleased with the word, as it suited the conditions of his story quite well. “A hypothetical. A potential murder. Murder in the future tense. Because, you see, many things have to happen before this murder is to occur. Many things that you, if you are clever enough, can keep from happening.”
He fell silent. They met in the Seminary Building, the oldest of Winchester’s classroom buildings. Sunlight poured in through the high, bare windows and a few students were shielding their eyes from it. This was a bane of this particular classroom, Seminary East. The sun thing, as it was referred to, had become such a problem that afternoon classes, as Logic and Reasoning 204 was, were often canceled because the fierce light would give the lecturer or the students migraine headaches.
“What kinds of things?” someone finally said.
Williams turned toward the dry erase board and searched the tray for something to write with, but because it was the first day of classes and professors were hoarding their supplies, no one had left a marker there. Sighing, he turned back to the class.
“Time, for instance,” he said. “There is the variable of time. If the victim and her killer or killers-”
“Potential killer,” said the girl who had offered
hypothetical.
She was into it now. She was tapping notes on her laptop and nodding feverishly as Williams spoke.
“Yes. If the victim and her potential killer or killers are not found in a certain amount of time, then she will die.”
“How long?” someone asked.
“Six weeks from Wednesday,” the professor said, and everyone noted that the fall term was exactly six weeks long. The fall term was followed by what students referred to as Winchester term, an eight-week session when many students studied abroad. Logic and Reasoning 204-and all the classes during the fall term-promised to be highly competitive, because so many students would be trying to impress the Europe and South America Committees to win a coveted spot on a foreign campus.

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