While I was busy with The Grover Cleveland Detective Agency, Julian had continued accompanying Daniel to rush events, and both had gotten bids to the house of the late Jason Baxter.
Daniel was ecstatic. He was one of the only Jewish guys in that — or any — pledge class.
Julian was less enthused for a variety of reasons. For one, he did not place such a premium on being a trailblazing minority. And for another:
“I’m afraid we’ll lose touch.”
“Well, then, I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” I tried, but failed, to be dismissive.
Actually, I was pissed Julian had continued rushing because it was a pride-swallowing process we had both agreed was beneath us weeks before.
“Be serious. You’ve been so busy with work and your ‘detective agency,’ what was I supposed to do?”
That was it. Emotions that had been seething erupted.
In retrospect: It wasn’t his argumentation that set me off. Julian was right in saying I had been busy. Nor was it his mockery of my private investigations. We had both rolled our eyes at what rich kids would pay for the return of prized possessions they didn’t bother keeping track of in the first place. It was his use of air quotes.
“What is that about? If you’re going to criticize, stay on point. I’m busy, I admit, but don’t ridicule my activities. I need the money I get, and the people I help are glad to have me around.”
“When you’re around,” Julian said.
He should have stopped there. He didn’t.
“You’re a platonic prostitute and not just with the finding stuff. You stop by, help out for an amount of time dictated by you, get the reward, praise, whatever, and leave. You get all the benefits of friendship without any of the hassles and think that because that works for you, it works for everybody.”
I was beginning to feel self-conscious that this was going on in the main lounge of Anderson Complex-South with The Price Is Right on the television. Our dorm-mates were rushing through the room to get to the main exit. I was embarrassed, and my ritual of eating Cup-a-Soup while watching the Showcase Showdown was ruined.
“Whatever, Julian. This is stupid. Join Tri-Lamb or don’t. I’ll see you when I see you.”
I left Julian and my soup in the lounge and instantly regretted it. I wasn’t sure which I regretted leaving more, but at that moment it was probably the Cup-a-Soup because my stomach rumbled.
I passed Candace beyond the door to the lounge. She had been eavesdropping.
“Trouble in paradise?”
“Shut up,” I said as I pushed past her.
* * * * *
Julian did pledge, and for a while his life was a blur of keg parties, secret rituals, public degradations, and sex with sorority sisters eager to sleep with a Black guy because, while they were “open-minded and not at all concerned about race,” it was exactly the kind of experimentation their parents would neither understand nor approve of.
We saw each other in class and at the occasional meal when Candace could persuade him not to eat at The Den. But all three of our lives had gone in different directions, and we no longer had much to say to one another.
* * * * *
After a Greek event at a Thai restaurant without qualms about serving minors, Julian hooked up with a girl he thought he might want to date. He thought their connection was one that would overcome the embarrassment of having gotten too familiar too quickly. But his pledge dad, Michael, told him she was no good. She was — in the vernacular — a “slam pig.”
“She used to say she was Jason’s girlfriend. She’s a total psycho.”
“Jason Baxter’s? What do you mean?” Julian asked.
“Jason hooked up with her freshman year. They dated for a few weeks but he broke it off, and she never really got the message. He’d sleep around, and she’d always say she forgave him.”
“Yeah, it became a whole mess at the end of last year. She got kind of predatory, lurking around the house, hooking up with guys so they’d take her back there, and leaving Jason things.”
“Did he get a restraining order?”
“We told him to, like, two years ago, but he finally did when she threatened him. She said she’d kill him and the girl he was getting serious with.”
“She seemed so normal, I can’t believe I slept with someone so bonkers.”
“It’s kind of a right of passage. We’ve literally all been there,” Michael said.
* * * * *
At our next Sunday brunch Julian broke our standoff. I added “Julian is the bigger man” to the list of grievances I kept in preparation for our next argument.
“Candace, what’s the story on the investigation of Jason Baxter’s death?”
“It’s been officially ruled a suicide.”
“Really?” Julian asked.
“Why do you want to know?”
“It’s just that I learned something about a girl he used to see that, maybe not saying murder, suggests there was something more going on than Jason suddenly deciding Hanscom College and being a Baxter was too much for him.”
I perked up and added, “I also have reason to believe he was a drug dealer. Actually, someone with an interest in missing, uh, merchandise has retained my services.”
My joke was lost on Julian and Candace.
“Interesting,” Candace said. “The whole thing seemed to go away rather quickly, and the files were sealed. His dad’s a state senator eying a run for mayor next election, so he wouldn’t push for a protracted investigation. Anyway, the whole situation plays to his narrative of a dutiful father emboldened by personal tragedy to rid Chicago of society’s ills.”
While these motives were interesting, I thought it more notable that this information had been discovered accidentally by three non-law enforcement professionals. As far as we knew no one but the coroner had examined the facts of the case.
“Already a cynic, and you’ve been at the student newspaper less than a semester. They’ll have you writing editorials comparing dorm life to the conditions at Auschwitz in no time,” I said.
Candace rolled her eyes.
Julian kept us on track, saying no one at the house had been asked about Jason Baxter.
And my client didn’t seem concerned that the police would discover he and Jason’s, uh, business.
The whole incident had been ruled a suicide. It was a tragedy that had been swept under a rug.
The wounds were raw but somehow forgotten. Hanscom College had more-or-less moved on, and it behooved the administration, state senator Malcolm Baxter, and local law enforcement to keep it that way.