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Tequesta University

The professor becomes the student...

and he's learning about murder.


Craig Mertler

First Published by Mirador Publishing at Smashwords

Copyright 2018 by Craig Mertler

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

All right reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without permission of the publishers or author. Excepting brief quotes used in reviews.

First edition: 2018

Any reference to real names and places are purely fictional and are constructs of the author. Any offence the references produce is unintentional and in no way reflect the reality of any locations involved.

A copy of this work is available through the British Library.

IBSN : 978-1-912601-12-7

~ PART I ~

~ Chapter 1 ~

The iPhone alarm sounded at 4:55 AM. Dr. Cameron McClellan quickly reached over and disabled it. He and his wife, Kat, had been waking early for several years now. With their busy schedules, early-morning workouts were almost literally the only time in the day to fit them in. Since their son, Atticus, had grown older and entered high school, evenings seemed to be routinely occupied with either his activities or helping with homework and other school projects, leaving little time for Cameron and Kat to fit in their hour-plus workouts. Neither was a workout fanatic by any stretch of the imagination, but both valued trying to maintain their health and fitness as they were now reaching middle age. He had been able to stay in decent shape for his age, but his wife still looked exceptional, just as she had when they first met nearly twenty-five years ago.

Like so many mornings over the past month, Cameron awoke to thoughts of his new faculty position at Tequesta University in South Florida. He yawned as he reached over to the nightstand to fetch his journal, but he did so as quietly as possible, so as not to wake Kat. He gently touched the home button of the iPhone in order to provide a limited amount of reading light. Some days, the alarm woke her, but on other days, she was able to sleep through it. Today seemed to be one of the latter, and Cameron was determined to let her have a few extra minutes. He quietly flipped through the pages of the journal, and as he did so, he rolled his eyes a bit. Kat had encouraged him to keep the journal as a means for him to record his thoughts about the struggles he was facing at his current university in Ohio. Initially he thought it was a silly idea, but over time he had grown to appreciate the outlet. He knew that Kat appreciated him having an outlet, instead of coming home at the end of nearly every day and using her as the sounding board for each new story of frustration.

As he flipped through the pages, he quickly skimmed his entries. He paused at the first entry that really caught his eye and he read it thoroughly to himself:

I’m really getting excited about this position at Tequesta University! So many things I’m interested in... plus a new doctoral program. At the same time, I don’t want to get too excited. I think I’m ready for a change. I do worry about Kat and Atticus―I need for them to be happy, too. I just really believe that there’s more for all 3 of us out there.

He paused and smiled a bit, trying to focus on the good and exciting things that hopefully lay ahead of them. Flipping to the next page of his journal served as a quick reminder of what had gotten him to this point in his career:

Things at the university are really screwed up right now. Started a year or so ago. Financial problems, budget cuts, fewer faculty. But, at the same time, we’re being pressured to increase enrollments. Very top-down decision making. Too many decisions that are only made public after-the-fact. NOT GOOD! Could all institutions of higher ed be this messed up? AARRGGHH!

After reading that entry, Cameron quickly decided that he had had enough reminiscing for one morning. Besides, Kat was beginning to stir next to him, and she would likely be a little upset that he had let her sleep past the alarm, although it had only been about five minutes. He crawled out of bed and proceeded to the bathroom for a quick shave before jumping in the shower, while Kat prepared to go outside for her morning run. There was no time for a workout for him this morning; he had to get to campus to finish packing up his office. It would be easier to finish packing now, since spring semester had ended last week and summer term didn’t start until next week. There would be very few faculty and nearly no students around to interrupt him.

The McClellans had been married for twenty-three years. They met when both were students at the Ohio State University. Cameron was finishing his Masters degree and Kat her undergraduate degree, both in Education. After graduation, they had made a pact to relocate to wherever one of them secured a job first. Cameron got an offer from an educational research company in north Florida, so they moved to Tallahassee. In addition to getting married while they were there, they had made a decision that this might be the best time for him to earn his doctorate, if he ever wanted to do so, before they started a family. After three years―and some seriously lean times―Cameron completed his PhD. They had survived on the combination of his $10,000 a year graduate assistant salary and her $18,000 teaching salary. To this day, the couple affectionately referred to this period in their lives as the ‘spaghetti years’, although they eventually found a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant not far from the house they rented that served huge burritos with refried beans... all for $5! Occasionally, Kat would even find a coupon for $1 off of that in the local newspaper. In those years, that was splurging! Over the years, they hardly ever ate spaghetti, and now would only do so when feeling nostalgic.

Cameron was now in his early 50s and had been a professor at Kent State University for the past nineteen years. His area of expertise was educational research and he had taught courses in that area throughout his career in higher education. He was only now beginning to show any signs of aging in the form of wrinkles and gray hair. He liked to think that all of this was due to his healthy eating and his exercise regimen but knew deep down that it was likely due to genetics, more than anything. Whenever he would begin to complain about seeing gray hair, Kat would simply tell him that he should be thankful that, at his age, he even had hair. Cameron enjoyed running as his primary form of exercise, although it was becoming more difficult with aging knees. He had also played a lot of competitive volleyball back in his 20’s, which had also contributed to the recurring knee problems. Golf was an early love of his; he took to the game as a young teen and continued to play it now. He wasn’t especially good at it, but loved the mental aspect of constantly trying to better himself on the course.

Kat was several years younger and was often mistaken for being several years younger than that. The years had been very kind to her; she still looked very much like she did back in college. She took very good care of herself, ate well, and had always believed in regular exercise. She had long, very curly hair that she always complained she didn’t like and that it was just too much to take care of every day. However, Cameron believed that she secretly liked her hair and always enjoyed the numerous compliments she would receive virtually any time they were out in public from women of any age... who usually had perfectly straight hair. Kat was a teacher, and a damned good one. She started her career teaching preschool but had spent most of her years teaching 4th grade. Throughout her career, she was most passionate about trying to ensure that all of her students could read fluently and at an appropriate level for their grade and age. About four years ago, she had decided to turn that passion into her focused, full-time work when she changed positions and moved to a different school to work as a reading specialist. She really felt that this was her true calling and was even contemplating writing her own children’s book.

They had been blessed with the birth of their son, Atticus, sixteen years ago. He was always an energetic and bright kid, and had fully embraced the fact that he was an only child. With the move to South Florida, he was getting ready to begin his junior year in high school. He had always been a good student and worked hard in school. While he was bright, he sometimes had to work a little harder than he wanted to, in order to be successful. Growing up, he liked sports and had tried his hand at several. He played soccer for a couple of years, baseball for a few more, and even sandwiched a try at gymnastics in there somewhere. He had learned to play the piano, as well. But none of these activities inspired him, motivated him, or challenged him. About a year ago, he had been talking to Cameron one day, and they got on the topic of sports, and ultimately volleyball. Atticus asked Cameron about his playing days in college and beyond, which Cameron was all too willing to relive and reminisce with him. For the first time that afternoon, Atticus expressed an interest in trying to practice and learn more about the sport. He began playing informally―first with Cameron in their front yard, then at open gyms at the high school―and quickly showed signs of having a high degree of natural ability, but there wasn’t much hope of him continuing to play competitively since boys’ volleyball was not a sanctioned high school sport in Ohio. Fast forward to the move to South Florida, and to Atticus’s new-found excitement about relocating―Florida high schools offered boys’ volleyball as an interscholastic sport! Atticus simply couldn’t wait to move there... for many reasons, but competitive volleyball was at the top of his list.

Cameron’s personality was both a curse and a blessing. Ever since he was a child, he had exhibited substantial Type A personality traits. Generally speaking, he was outgoing, ambitious, rigidly-organized ―sometimes to a fault―sensitive, status-conscious, detail-oriented, often impatient and anxious, and tended to be overly-concerned with time management. He always felt that these traits helped him to be successful in his work, but Kat often told him that he needed to relax more and to find ways to stop creating his own stress, before it resulted in a self-induced heart attack or stroke.

Cameron tended to see his world as black or white. It’s not that he couldn’t see gray, but he would typically side with either the black side or the white side. He liked clear-cut solutions to problems. He seldom liked to hash things out over months of discussions with faculty and administrators. That didn’t mean that he didn’t value alternative solutions to problems, but rather preferred to evaluate them in an efficient time frame and then come to a decision... and move forward.

He wasn’t a bad person, in any sense of the word. However, his rigidity often made him appear as if he wasn’t easy to get along with or easy to work with. Kat often observed that Cameron’s colleagues either loved to work with him―likely because their personalities aligned with his―or didn’t appreciate working with him―possibly due to a lack of perceived flexibility on his part. Over the years, he had come to the self-realization that he had a difficult time getting along with others who didn’t share his outlook on work and life. He had lots of friends whose personalities differed from his, and that seemed to be much more acceptable to him. However, being able to work successfully with colleagues who differed in that sense was far more difficult. After nearly twenty years of working as a professor in higher education, Cameron had grown to love his work, as well as the vast majority of students who studied under him, but he honestly could not say the same about the majority of adults with whom he had worked over the years.

Kat also believed that much of this stemmed from the fact that Cameron was a rule-oriented person. He believed that societal rules existed for reasons... and usually good reasons. Not only was it important that they existed, but it was also critical―in Cameron’s mind―that they be followed... by everyone. If a right turn lane at an intersection was marked ‘No Turn On Red’, then Cameron would sit there until the light turned green, even if there was no oncoming traffic, or if the person behind him was honking repeatedly. That didn’t mean that he agreed with every rule that he encountered, but he viewed them as rules that were deemed by someone, somewhere, to be important, and therefore should be followed. On many more than one occasion, Kat had heard Cameron mutter, “Well, that’s a stupid rule, but it IS a rule,” as well as “Why is it that some people think that the rules don’t apply to them, that they’re somehow ‘special’?” One of his favorite rule-violators to cite was when people insisted on parking in the fire lane right in front of the grocery store or WalMart or Target (etc.), directly up against the red-painted curb and adjacent to the sign that clearly states ‘No Parking. Fire Lane’. It didn’t matter how often he encountered this occurrence, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to comment. “What makes these people think they’re so special?” And, you would never want to get him started on people who likely shouldn’t be parking in handicapped spots.

Both Cameron and Kat were hoping that the move to South Florida and to Tequesta University could be a fresh start―from a professional perspective―for Cameron. He would meet and work with an entirely new set of colleagues, ones who didn’t know his personality. They had agreed that this was an opportunity for Cameron to try to be more flexible, especially when it came to working with others, seeing their individual perspectives, and both considering and valuing what might be best for a given problem at hand. This was a new lease on his professional life, a chance to break free―at least, to a small extent―from his hard-driving, overly-organized, Type A personality, and to make friends―both professional and personal.

The McClellans had about a week before the official moving date, and all three were getting more and more excited each day, albeit for various reasons. Cameron was very excited about the faculty position, not just because of what he’d be teaching, but because he had also been hired to lead the creation of a new doctoral program at Tequesta University. This would be the first doctoral program at the small, private university, so lots of eyes would be watching the developmental process. He was also excited because it was a private institution. He had only worked at a state university prior to this, and had seen repeated problems arise in the form of poor decision making, substantial budget cuts each year, and increasing class sizes as a result of the push to grow enrollments. Many of these problems supposedly stemmed from the limited financial resources being passed down from the state level. This was a main reason that Cameron was excited to be part of a private school―no funding was received from the state level, so cuts from those sources would not be an issue. On top of that, the creation of a new academic program would not be limited in scope by state mandates, so they could be free to create a program that was truly innovative and would hopefully attract top students. He was also very hopeful that the move would lead to great experiences for both Kat and Atticus.

Kat’s excitement stemmed mainly from the fact that they were moving somewhere warmer. She had begun to grow very tired of Midwest winters and gray skies from late-October through mid-April. She was excited for Cameron and hoped that this change of venue might renew his optimism in higher education, where his attention would not consistently focus on the negative things around him, many of which were completely outside of his control. She was also operating under the assumption that this was a mid-life crisis, of sorts, for Cameron and that he was hoping that the grass would be greener on the private education, South Florida side of things. Honestly, she was hoping for the same thing. She was also excited about the fact that three weeks ago, she had been offered a position as a reading specialist in a K-8 school located only a few miles north of Tequesta University and about a block and a half away from the Atlantic Ocean in Hillsboro Beach. She was already looking forward to being ‘forced’ to drive by the ocean and the beach every day on her way to work at the school. That just might be some of the best winter-aversion therapy available.

Atticus was already growing nervous at the thought of entering a new high school mid-way through his four years. However, the anticipation of being able to play high school volleyball was enough to turn that uncomfortable thought into anxious anticipation. He too was excited about living near the beach. They had spent family vacation time near Clearwater a few years ago and Jacksonville Beach a few years before that and had loved every minute of it.

Cameron burst into Atticus’s bedroom and announced, “Let’s go, son! Time to get up and head to campus. I know this is your first week of summer vacation, but I’m enlisting your help with my office packing.”

“C’mon, Dad... I’m sleeping.”

“I’ll make you a deal. You get up and go with me in the next thirty minutes, and I’ll take you to Starbucks on the way to campus. And, we can talk volleyball all day, if you want?”

“Alright, deal,” Atticus said reluctantly. Cameron wasn’t sure if it was the Starbucks or the promise of volleyball talk that convinced Atticus to go; he imagined it was a bit of both.

~ Chapter 2 ~

Gabe Emerson had been a Chemistry professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University for nearly thirteen years. It was his first academic position right out of his doctoral program at the University of Florida in 1967. He loved the institution and had decided long ago that he would be happy if he spent his entire career at PBAU. Unlike so many others in academia, he had no plans of using his first academic position as a stepping stone to someplace bigger or better, or with a higher salary. He wasn’t married and didn’t believe that he needed a partner in his life; his research became his life, spending long days―and, sometimes, days on end―holed up in his lab. He was well respected on campus, at least by the majority of his colleagues. He wasn’t viewed as much of a teacher, at least as evidenced by his routinely-mediocre student evaluations, but the notoriety that he brought to the institution in the form of research recognition, awards, and grant funding made him worth the investment in the eyes of the administration.

While driving to the party, he fumbled with the radio stations in the car. He preferred top-40 stations, but his favorite had made the switch to full-time holiday music, which Gabe didn’t really appreciate. He turned the dial until he found another top-40 station, one that was playing the top-10 hit ‘Hungry Heart’ by Bruce Springsteen; this would be the perfect station to guide him to the party. Gabe made a point of attending only one faculty-related social event every year, and this was it. It was Saturday, December 13th, and the fall semester had just ended. For years, a large faculty gathering was held to celebrate the end of the first semester and all of the upcoming holidays in a combined manner. For that reason, this party was typically very well attended by faculty and administrators across PBAU. Since it was the only one that he attended, he liked to get his money’s worth, so to speak. He typically arrived early and stayed late. He wasn’t much of a partier, and didn’t really enjoy the PBAU faculty and administrators in social contexts. This was his annual exception to that personal rule.

Gabe’s tactical approach to this party was the same as it was every year. He tried to arrive early, socialize a bit, but be sure to get first dibs at the food and glorious desserts that were always provided by the faculty member who was hosting the party. This year’s party was at the home of Thomas Erickson and Hailey Brantley. He was an associate professor in Humanities and she was a professor in Computer Science. They had both been working at PBAU for many years. They owned a beautiful home in Lighthouse Point on A1A in the narrow stretch of land bordered to the west by the inter-coastal waterway and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. They literally had waterfront views out of both the front and back windows in their home. Gabe was always a little jealous of the beautiful location of their home, but he constantly worried about the dangers associated with tropical storms and hurricanes far too much to live that close to the water. He entered the house to an eclectic mix of holiday and top-40 music―Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ was just ending and was overlapping with the intro to Pat Benatar’s ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot’. Nice people, but weird taste in party music, he thought to himself.

After arriving and exchanging pleasantries with the host, hostess, and others who arrived early, Gabe filled his plate, got a drink, and headed outside to join some other faculty members who had already begun to assemble on the veranda overlooking the beach and the Atlantic Ocean. There were several members from his own department―including two Biology professors, a Physics lecturer, and another Chemistry professor. Over the years, he had established good working relationships with other faculty, both inside and outside of his department, but typically only those with whom he wanted to work. Since socializing was not important to Gabe, you were either on his good side as far as a working relationship or he didn’t really care if you existed or not. Interestingly, most people who work in academia for many years tended to adopt similar approaches to developing and sustaining friendships among colleagues. Faculty tended to feel the same way toward Gabe―they either liked him or didn’t know who he was.

Recently, however, he had begun butting heads with a professor who came to PBAU about two years earlier. Both were serving on a committee charged with the development of new university policies. Due to his long-standing tenure at the university, Gabe was serving as chairperson of the committee. The contentious relationship between Gabe and the new Math professor began earlier this year in September during bi-weekly committee meetings. The new Math professor had drafted some language for the new policy statement regarding dismissals of students from the university for both academic and non-academic reasons. Many people on the committee felt that the language was much too harsh, but the new professor would not back down and was insistent that the language remain as he had written it. As chair of the committee, Gabe reminded everyone that revisions of policy language had to be approved by unanimous vote of the committee. Since there was already dissension about this language, he insisted that it be rewritten by its original author. These discussions went on for nearly two months―becoming more and more contentious at each meeting―to the dismay of Gabe and the rest of the committee members.

At the second meeting in November, just before Thanksgiving, the contentiousness of the meetings was raised to a more serious level when the dialogue amongst committee members became confrontational. The Math professor was insistent that his language remain as originally written and that this was the only way to demonstrate to students the serious nature of the consequences of their actions and potential dismissals from the university. For the first time, other committee members began vocalizing their strong refusal to go along with the proposed language. They turned to Gabe for his leadership and, for the first time since the ugliness began, he pounded his fist on the conference table.

Seriously, this has got to stop! This committee is making no progress and we’ve been charged by the President to complete this task by May. We’re already behind our timeline.”

The Math professor interrupted. “Do not try to tell me what to do or how to do it! This language is fine. We need strong, firm language to ensure that our students know that we’re serious about this!”

Many of the faculty participants in the committee began to murmur at the Math professor’s outburst and anger directed toward Gabe. An uncomfortable tension began to fill the room. Sensing that this could really get out of hand very quickly, Gabe forcefully pushed his chair away from the conference table and stood.

That’s enough!” Gabe shouted. “If you can’t effectively lead your sub-committee on drafting reasonable language that we can all support, then I’ll find someone who can. Effective immediately, you are no longer in charge of drafting this portion of the policy statement. I’m placing someone else in charge of that task. We’ve wasted enough time on this foolishness!”

A frightening shade of red quickly filled the face of the Math professor. As he clenched both fists, other faculty members pushed themselves away from the table and away from him. Everyone was preparing for the worst, when the professor stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind him. Gabe tried to calm the rest of the room, stating that he’d never been a part of―or even a witness to―an exchange like that, and hoped he never would again. He then looked to the opposite end of the table and asked Stephanie Lyman, an Education professor, to assume the lead on rewriting the language for student dismissals. She agreed, and the appointment was unanimously agreed upon by the entire committee.

It was now nearing 11:00 PM, and the party was beginning to die down a bit. Gabe left the veranda and went back inside to get one more drink. A couple of hours earlier, he noticed that the Math professor had arrived at the party. He had made a conscious decision to simply avoid him at all costs for the remainder of the party, and had been successful to this point. However, the professor was standing near the bar as Gabe approached to fill his wine glass. The two made eye contact with one another, and Gabe simply nodded in his direction. The Math professor returned the nod with a condescending grin and then turned away. After refilling his glass, Gabe made quick small talk with Hailey, the hostess, then retrieved his glass from the counter and went back out to the veranda.

Within about twenty minutes, Gabe began to feel lightheaded and groggy. He thought to himself that he hadn’t had that much to drink, so why was he feeling so tired all of a sudden? He immediately chalked it up to the long hours he had been working earlier in the week. He decided to move over to a cushioned lounge chair and relax hoping that the feeling would soon pass and he could head home. Within minutes, he was asleep.

A huge bump in the road startled Gabe out of his slumber. He was still feeling very groggy and quickly realized that he was unable to move. He was lying in the back of what appeared to be a van. He had a terrible headache and assumed that he had either passed out or was knocked out. As he tried to rub his forehead, he realized that he couldn’t because his hands were tied together at his wrists, as were his ankles, and he had a gag in his mouth. He could tell that they were moving very fast in the van and, based on the rapid succession of light entering the van through the windows―likely from street lights―he assumed that they were traveling on I-95, although he couldn’t be sure if they were traveling north or south. He had no memory of how he got there, or of what had happened leading up to that point. The last thing he remembered was talking with some friends on the veranda. There was not enough constant light coming into the van in order for Gabe to make out the face of the van driver.

Gabe tried to struggle to get free of the binds on his wrists and ankles. They were wrapped and tied so tightly that every time he tried to move them, they cut into his wrists. He tried to scream, but the gag prevented any real volume in his voice.

Shut up!” the driver yelled.

Even in the dark, he could tell that his wrists were bleeding just from the smell of blood. He had no idea how long they had been driving, but suddenly the lights began to illuminate the van for longer periods of time. Gabe realized that the speed of the van was decreasing. They had exited the highway.

The van turned left and continued on that road for about twenty minutes. Gabe continued to try to work on the binds and was finally able to work the gag loose from his mouth, but kept quiet so he didn’t alert the driver to that fact. The longer they drove, the darker it became. Gabe figured that they were now heading west, away from the coast and from city lights. As they drove under an overpass, Gabe saw a street sign out of one of the van windows. He was still groggy, but thought it said ‘Southern Blvd’.

That’s impossible, he thought―that would put them at least thirty-five miles north of Lighthouse Point and the party. In fact, that would place them only a few miles from the West Palm Beach airport and from PBAU. Where the hell was the driver taking him?

Suddenly, the van came to a screeching stop and the driver exited the driver’s seat and opened the back doors. Wherever they had stopped, it was pretty dark―perhaps, even rural, Gabe thought―but thanks to the taillights he finally got a good look at the face of the driver.

He figured he had nothing to lose by speaking up at this point. “What are you doing?”

Using both hands, the driver grabbed Gabe by his shirt and pulled him closer. “Shut up! You’ve ridiculed and insulted me in public for the last time. It ends tonight, Emerson!”

Wait...You’re upset with me because I embarrassed you at that meeting a few weeks ago?”

I said shut up! This’ll all be over before you know it.”

The driver released the handfuls of shirt and threw Gabe back into the van. He grabbed Gabe by his feet and ankles, which inflicted a good deal of pain on Gabe due to the tight restraints. As Gabe screamed, the driver pulled Gabe from the back of the van. Gabe was jolted and his body made a ‘thud’ sound as it hit the ground behind the van. The driver dragged Gabe to a spot about fifteen yards away from the van, where it was much darker now. The driver flipped the switch on a light that he had strapped around his head. The light shone directly in Gabe’s eyes and blinded him momentarily. The driver directed one quick punch to Gabe’s stomach in order to shut him up.

You’re gonna listen to me now. You disrespected me and shut me down in that meeting! You humiliated me in front of a bunch of other faculty, and took away my authority on that part of the project. That was my work, no one else’s! I can’t believe that you’ve now turned it over to that Education bitch! I know that you’ll eventually take credit for my work on those draft policies. I won’t tolerate anyone who disrespects me that way! You die tonight, Emerson!”

Gabe managed to let out a blood-curdling scream, but his efforts to be heard by anyone who might be nearby were quickly drowned out by the sound of the cleaver piercing and cutting through his legs. He was quickly and efficiently quieted.

The driver tied off the last of the black garbage bags and threw them into the back of the van. There were now six bags laying in the van where Gabe had been bound and gagged only forty-five minutes earlier. The driver knew his location well and that it was just a short drive to the water’s edge. He knew that he could quickly dump the bags in the water and then get out of there as quickly as he could. At the party a mere three hours ago, he had been incredibly nervous and his heart had been racing from the anxiety. However, now his heart was still pounding, but the nerves were gone. The driver had just experienced the thrill of a lifetime.

~ Chapter 3 ~

June 30th marked the official moving day for the McClellans. They had arrived a few days earlier, making the eighteen-hour drive in the Jeep Cherokee from Kent, Ohio in two days. They had used the extra time prior to the arrival of their belongings to do some exploring of the local area. They were able to find several of the essentials, like the closest grocery storea Publix less than a ten-minute drive from their new homeas well as the nearest Starbucks, Target, and Walmart. Cameron and Kat knew that there would likely be several trips to each of these establishments over the next week or so in order to restock the refrigerator and all of the other necessities for a new home. Of course, they also made time to hit the beach a couple of times.

All three of the McClellans loved the beach and the ocean. They loved the feel of the sand between their toes, the smell of the salt air, and the sound of the waves, regardless of whether they were calm and subdued, or if they were crashing into the shoreline. They all had an affinity for the ocean, appreciating its calming and peaceful effects. Cameron had grown up near Lake Erie and had always had a love of all things water. He had always been intrigued by the numerous Great Lakes’ shipwrecks. Kat was born and raised in southern California and had spent time as a kid with her family on the SoCal beaches. Atticus was more enamored with the science of the ocean. He was fascinated by marine life, especially sharks, and had always loved searching for sharks’ teeth that had washed ashore.

The moving van was set to arrive on the morning of the 30th at 7:00 AM. All three were excited, but not looking forward to all of the unpacking. Kat ran out to a nearby Starbucks to pick up coffees and breakfast for everyone, and she had just returned when the moving van pulled up in front of the house at 7:10.

Atticus groaned, with just a hint of teenage sarcasm, “Yay, here we go…”

Kat was quick to respond to him. “Go outside and eat your breakfast. We’ll be out in a minute, after we talk with the movers. There won’t be much for the three of us to do for a while.”

The truck was completely unloaded by about 4:00 that afternoon. Now, the real unpacking work began. Cameron and Kat had moved themselves several times during their relationship together, and had gotten accustomed to packing and unpacking. Within three days, all of the critical stuff―furniture, bedding, clothes, pots and pans and the rest of the kitchen supplies, TV, and Wi-fi modem―were unpacked, and either set up or put away. There was a bit more to do inside the house, and they kept avoiding the temptation to visit the garage that was filled with boxes belonging to both Cameron and Kat, mostly containing work and office supplies. Cameron’s boxes contained mostly academic books, either ones that he used as resources for his teaching or research, or ones he’d written himself. He had become fairly prolific over the past fifteen years or so, being given wonderful opportunities to author books on research methods and other related topics for several different publishers around the country. Kat’s boxes also contained mainly books, but hers were children’s literature books that supported her work as a reading specialist. Her collection included hundreds of books that spanned reading levels from pre-Kindergarten to grade 8. Something for everyone, as they say. Her collection included classics like Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, The Snowy Day, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Are You My Mother? And, there were so very many more. Sometimes Kat had a hard time remembering exactly what she had in her collection of book boxes. As the couple stood in the doorway, staring ominously at the stacks of boxes, they sighed in unison, and decided that they needed to turn their attention to moving these boxes to Cameron’s office on campus and Kat’s office/classroom at her new school. The development of their plan for tomorrow was interrupted by an announcement coming from Atticus’s new bedroom, “Hey, guys, I’m starving! Let’s order pizza! I vote for Mellow Mushroom!”

The next morning began with the ritualistic loading of boxes into Cameron’s Jeep Cherokee and Kat’s Buick Rendezvous. It was probably a good thing that they both drove SUVs, since it would reduce the number of back-and-forth trips that each would have to make. Kat enlisted Atticus’s help to assist her in moving and unpacking her boxes in her classroom. At first, he was reluctant―as many 16-year-olds might be―until she promised him a new pair of volleyball shoes for this labor. At that point, he was all in.

Cameron made the short drive from their new home to Tequesta University’s campus. Although he had seen the campus when he came for his interview months ago, he had a very different appreciation for it this time. As much of South Florida is, the campus was beautifully landscaped, with towering coconut and Carpentaria palm trees, lush vegetation, the greenest of grasses, and numerous picturesque lakes complete with fountains. The sight and sound of ocean breezes gently blowing through the palm fronds created a peaceful feeling for Cameron, who was feeling even more excitement about starting this next stage of his career.

He pulled into a parking spot in a guest lot near the academic building that housed the College of Education. He lifted the back hatch, took out one of the many boxes, and made his way into the building. Upon entering the office suite, he was immediately greeted by June Gellar, the college’s office manager. June was in her late-50s, although she looked much older. She either was, or at one time had been, a smoker, as indicated by the wrinkles surrounding her mouth from years of puckering her lips around a cigarette. She jumped up from behind her desk, minus any footwear, and greeted Cameron with great enthusiasm. She was immediately joined from around the corner by Dr. Cicely Perry, Dean of the College of Education.

June announced, “Dr. McClellan! Welcome! It’s so good to see you. We didn’t know you were coming today.” She tried to give him a hug, which was a bit awkward for Cameron.

“I knew he was coming,” interrupted Dr. Perry. “He sent me an email last night and I forgot to mention it when I came in this morning. Welcome to Tequesta, Cameron! I honestly can’t tell you how happy we are to have you here!” She reached out her right hand and offered it to Cameron. “And, June... what have I told you about wearing shoes around the office, even when you’re just sitting behind your desk?”

“My apologies, I was just excited and wasn’t thinking.”

“Thanks for the warm welcome,” Cameron replied, as he shook Cicely’s hand. “I’m pretty excited to be here too. I hope I’m not creating any problems by showing up early. I was just hoping to get my office set up before my first official day of work in a couple of weeks.”

“Not at all,” replied Cicely. “Why don’t you step into my office and June can open yours for you while we chat for a few minutes. June, can you take that box in for Cameron?”

June grabbed her keys and the box and headed down the hallway to open Cameron’s new office.

Cameron nodded in agreement. “Absolutely, and thank you.”

They stepped into Cicely’s office and both sat. “I apologize for June’s behavior. She’s just a mediocre assistant, but she’s been at Tequesta University forever. What can you do?”

“No worries, I completely understand and it’s perfectly fine.”

They chatted for about ten minutes, with Cicely asking about the family, Kat’s new job, the move, and how they were settling in. Cicely glanced out of her interior office window into the reception area to notice that several other Education faculty had just returned from getting coffee. “Hey, everyone! Come in and say ‘Hi!’ to Cameron.”

The College of Education at Tequesta University was rather small, with the Dean and six total faculty, counting Cameron and another new hire who, like Cameron, had decided to move into her office one day earlier. The four returning faculty included Daniel Lupo, Monica Spriggs, Luke Burton, and Penelope Bergman. Daniel and Monica both held doctorates in leadership and would likely be valuable contributors to the new doctoral program. Daniel also had expertise in educational psychology and assessment. Monica was a former special education teacher, and most of her research focused on that area. Luke and Penelope were both former teachers―Luke had taught at the middle school level and Penelope, at the elementary level. All of the education faculty routinely taught both undergraduate and graduate students, with the exception of Penelope, who taught strictly in the undergraduate program. All four of the faculty members were younger than Cameron, as well as less experienced. They ranged in age from their early-30s to mid-40s, and each had only five or six years of experience―at the most―working in higher education settings and being professors.

“Hey, Cameron, welcome!” they all seemed to say in broken unison. “We are so happy to have you here,” said Daniel. “We’re very excited about what you’re bringing into our college and to our new doctoral program.”

“Thanks, I’m very excited to be here.”

Monica joined the conversation. “I know that I’m very excited to be able to learn from your expertise and experiences. I’m looking forward to working with you.”

“That’s very kind of you to say. I hope I can live up to everyone’s expectations,” Cameron stated very sincerely.

Cicely chimed in, “I don’t think that will be a problem.”

“Hey, Cameron, this is our other new faculty member, Lacey Kidd,” said Daniel, who had been fairly quiet up to this point.

“Nice to meet you, Cameron. I’m looking forward to working with you too, but I have to admit... I’m a little overwhelmed by everything.” The others chuckled a bit. Lacey had just received her doctorate from an out-of-state online doctoral program a few months earlier, and this was her first position in higher education. Cameron couldn’t help but notice a certain ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look about her.

“Well, Lacey, it’s nice to meet you. I’ve been around a while, so I understand how a lot of this works, but we’ll help each other maneuver the Tequesta U. culture. Sound good?”

“I’ll take you up on that,” she replied, smiling.

Cameron noticed that Penelope was the only one missing from the group of faculty. “Where’s Penelope? She didn’t join the morning coffee run?”

They all hesitated a little and glanced at each other, when Luke finally spoke up. “I think she’s in her office, working behind closed doors.” His voice lowered. “She doesn’t socialize with us too often; she pretty much just keeps to herself and does her own thing. We’ve all tried to get her to collaborate and socialize a bit more, but she’s pretty reluctant, so we just leave her to be herself.”

“I’ve worked with that type over my career. It takes all kinds to make an institution into what it is.” Cameron sensed that the others really didn’t want to or like to talk about Penelope, so he changed the subject. “Well, thanks for the incredibly warm welcome, everyone, but I really need to start bringing those boxes in from my car.”

“We get that,” Monica agreed. “Don’t want to keep you from getting settled. I need to get back to working on my syllabi for my fall classes.”

“Same here.”


“Me too!”

There seemed to be general agreement that social time was over and everyone needed to go about their business.

“Count me in on the next coffee run!” declared Cameron.

“Will do,” said Luke. With that, everyone returned to their respective offices.

Cicely looked at Cameron and raised her eyebrows. “I hope you can tell how glad everyone is that you’re joining us. We’re counting on you to do some good work for Tequesta. Are you interested in lunch a bit later? We can just stay on campus, so you don’t lose too much time setting up your office, if that would be okay?”

“That’s what I’m here for,” Cameron said, “and lunch sounds great.” He shook Cicely’s hand again and headed to the parking lot to begin bringing in the rest of the boxes.

After a few hours of unpacking books, Cameron was ready for a break. Just then, Cicely entered his doorway and said, “Ready for lunch?”

“Absolutely. I was just thinking how I was growing tired of carrying in boxes.”

“Great! Let’s walk across campus to the Tequesta Pub. Nice place for a sandwich or a salad. The students refer to it as the ‘TP’. Actually, they call it the ‘TeePee’, which is highly politically incorrect considering the origins of this place, but they’re 18 and 19 years old, so...”

Cameron snickered a bit. “I get that.”

They were just about to enter the doors to the Pub, when they heard a voice behind them. “Well, welcome to Tequesta, Dr. McClellan!”

Cameron turned quickly to see the President of Tequesta University, Dr. Andrew Goldsmith, a distinguished-looking man wearing a blazer and tie, which he thought odd in the South Florida sun and humidity of late July. He was in his mid-tolate-60s and in surprisingly good shape for his age. He was shadowed by the Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Wilfred White. “Hello, Dr. Goldsmith, Dr. White,” Cameron replied.

“We cannot tell you how happy and excited we are to have you here.” Although he was very flattered, Cameron was almost getting tired of hearing people say that to him. “We have a lot riding on this new doctoral program―it’ll be a huge feather in our cap and a new hallmark for Tequesta University―so we’re really counting on you to create something truly phenomenal and innovative.”

“Well, I’m certainly going to try, Dr. Goldsmith.”

“I hope you’re going to do more than just try. Am I right, Dr. Perry? We didn’t hire you just to ‘try’.” The welcoming smile and look on the President’s face turned to sternness. There was a modicum of nervous laughter in the air.

“Absolutely, sir,” Cameron managed to muster.

“Good. Enjoy your lunch.” With that, the President turned and was on his way.

That evening, at dinner, Cameron talked through his day with Kat and Atticus. He told them about the bizarre hug, the receptionist with no shoes, how welcoming everyone seemed to be, how one faculty member seemed to keep to herself and the strange shift in attitude displayed by the President when Cameron said he would “try” to do a good job.

Kat pulled Cameron next to her on the couch, and put her hand on his shoulder. “Cameron, you know I love you, but you always do this. You read way too much into people’s actions, almost like they aren’t sincere or they have ulterior motives.”

Cameron looked at Kat and rolled his eyes.

“Seriously, hear me out. They were just being nice. They wanted to welcome you as a new faculty member into their environment and culture. Just try to enjoy the fact that they all seem really happy that you’re here.”

“I guess you’re right, Kat. It’s just that everyone was saying how incredibly happy they were that I was there, almost to the point of being creepy.” Then, with a sheepish grin, Cameron said, “I mean, I’m good, but I don’t know if I’m that good.” He winked at Atticus, who could only roll his eyes at this father, in a way that only a teenager can do. They all had a good laugh and finished their dinners.

After dinner, Cameron decided to do a little research on Tequesta University and some of the people he met earlier in the day. He retrieved his laptop, logged into their new home Wi-fi network, and opened Google Chrome. As a researcher, Cameron had been taught to rely on hard-core, empirical evidence when trying to learn about or make judgments about virtually anything. However, he deemed that tonight would be different. He was just looking for general, ‘surface-level’ information about Tequesta and its people, nothing necessarily reliable, but rather just quick and easily-accessible information. He opened two tabs in the browser―one for Google and one for Wikipedia. He would share with no one that he relied on these two sources for his insights into Tequesta University and its faculty, lest he be judged negatively by any of his past, present, or future academic peers.

He learned from multiple sources that the general description of the location of Tequesta University is slightly north of midway between Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale, between I-95 and the Atlantic coast, not far from Lighthouse Point. The name ‘Tequesta University’ came from the ancient tribe of Native Americans who inhabited the coastal areas of South Florida, including the present day locations of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.

Numerous tribes of Native Americans inhabited the areas of South Florida for centuries, prior to the development of European settlements. When Ponce de Léon landed in what is now Florida in 1513, he encountered the Calusa Indians, who had established more than 30 villages in the Everglades, and had successfully resisted European colonization over many years. Other tribes in Florida at that time included the Ais, Jaega, Mayaimi, Tocobaga, and the Tequesta, who inhabited the southeast coast of the Everglades, specifically in and around the present day site of Biscayne Bay and Miami. The Tequesta were a small, peaceful tribe who thrived for many years, and by 1650, it was estimated that there were more than 1,000 Tequesta living in the southeastern coastal areas. The Tequesta were hunter-gatherers who sometimes lived in villages, but tended to spend most of the year living in the open. Their villages were always accessible by water and were usually located on a river, near its mouth, on inlets from the Atlantic Ocean, or on a cay. They fed on deer, fish, alligator, turtles, shellfish, and plants. They would sometimes travel great distances to find a manatee or other large marine animal. They wore very little clothing. The men wore only loincloths, likely made from deer hide or palmetto fronds and the women wore skirts made from Spanish moss that hung from a belt, of sorts.

However, like so many Native American tribes, the Tequesta were devastated by Europeans who invaded their homelands. There were settlement battles that often ended in members of the Tequesta tribe being taken away to be sold as slaves. In addition, their villages were overrun by European diseases brought over by exploration ships. Some of the surviving Tequesta were relocated to Cuba by the Spanish settlers, while others may have merged with other Floridian tribes and eventually joined the Seminole tribes. By the late 1700s, the Tequesta tribe had only a few survivors remaining.

The name adopted by the university also reflected the name of an underground freshwater river, the Tequesta River that runs from Lake Okeechobee in the middle of the state to the Biscayne Aquifer. There are two major aquifers in Florida, responsible for supplying the majority of the state’s water: the Floridan Aquifer (which underlies the majority of the entire state, as well as parts of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina) and the Biscayne Aquifer (which underlies South Florida). The Biscayne Aquifer covers the areas including southern Palm Beach County, all of Broward County, and much of Miami-Dade County. It is considered a surficial aquifer, comprised of a shallow layer of highly permeable limestone.

Cameron’s Google search also revealed that recent research had documented that the freshwater supply in the underground aquifers in Florida were becoming contaminated with pesticide runoff from farms, as well as with trash, sewage, litter, oil, and other chemicals, all being caused by the activities of humans. Scientists had discovered that the Tequesta River had at least 13 ‘mouths’―points where it empties into the Biscayne Aquifer, including two locations beneath Delray Beach, at least three points in Boca Raton, as well as points in Coral Springs, Sunrise, Plantation, Hollywood, Miami Gardens, Hialeah, Coral Gables, and Homestead. There were also an unknown number of points in the eastern Everglades, between I-75 (‘Alligator Alley’) and State Route 41, where the Tequesta River may also empty, although scientists have had difficulty in verifying those actual locations.

The Wikipedia entry for ‘Tequesta University’ also included limited information about its President and Vice President for Academic Affairs. President Andrew Goldsmith had been the top administrator at Tequesta University for nearly two decades. The brief mention of him also cited the fact that all of his work in higher education since the late 1970s had taken place at various institutions in Florida, including several years at Florida Atlantic University, as both a faculty member and an administrator, in the years preceding his arrival at Tequesta. Cameron mumbled to himself, “Typical. Stay at a university for five or six years, then move on to something bigger and better.” There was even less information about Wilfred White, Tequesta’s Vice President for Academic Affairs. It seemed that he had moved around a bit too―not as much as Goldsmith―but also seemingly not enough to make much of a name for himself. Apparently, he also spent some time at Florida Atlantic University. Perhaps that’s where the two men met, Cameron thought. Regardless, additional searches had revealed next to no information about White; he had done almost nothing to earn much of a reputation in higher education circles. Maybe he was just a ‘follower’―couldn’t think for himself―and perhaps that’s why he was just lurking over the President’s shoulder, not saying anything, during their impromptu meeting on campus earlier that day.

Within a few days, both Cameron and Kat had their respective work spaces set up and ready to go. For Kat and Atticus, there wasn’t much time to spare, as their school years were scheduled to start the next day. With the rest of the family off to school and another week until his official start date at the university, Cameron decided to take some time to relax before the real work would begin. He loved to play golf and had been playing for years. One of the things that had really excited him about moving to South Florida was that he could now play golf twelve months out of the year―something he could certainly never come close to doing in Ohio. In fact, with the snowy, cold winters and the potentially rainy spring and fall seasons, he was lucky if he was able to play golf six months out of each year there. He truly loved the sport, not just for the physical aspect, but also for the mental challenge that golf offered him. He wasn’t an ultra-serious competitor, but when he was on the course, he was there to play golf.

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