He’d been feeling lousy all day. He felt drugged when he woke up and didn’t seem to get better for the hour he lay in bed, trying to feel less out of it. It seemed like a combination jaw, ear, sinus ache. Eventually, he got dressed, fully, since it was November, in flannel-lined pants, a long-sleeved business shirt, a crew neck sweater, and wool socks and work boots. Then he topped that with a knee-length overcoat. No hat – he hated the baseball caps that so many guys wore, and those tweed Irish anything caps seemed too affected. But lined gloves and a long scarf were fine. So he put them on and walked to the library.
He wasn’t about to sit in his dorm room. He was too old to be in a be living in a dorm anyhow, forty-three. He’d gone back to college – done a year of it years ago, dropped out, enlisted, did ten years in the Army, came back to the States, and worked in a related field. He’d mainly done computer work in the Army, on various bases around the world, and was never near a rifle or gun after basic training. Then, still single, and somewhat lonely and unfocused, he decided to go back to school and become a minister.
He couldn’t figure out why a minister, except that he liked helping people and figured he could do that more than with computers. Plus, his parents had been light-weight missionaries in China, years before. He was born in some tiny village west of Chengdu and lived in China and then for a shorter time Africa till he was nine and his parents came back to what they called “better paying civilian work.” But, suddenly, at forty-two, he started going to church again and a year later decided he could be as good a religious leader as anyone else. So there he was, back at his undergrad school, since that was the easiest way to reclaim his year of credits, and living in a single room in a dorm, because it was cheapest, simple, and prepared him for the modest life he was planning to have.
Not that he’d been living extravagantly. He’d preferred single, furnished rooms since the Army, since he was never much in them – he was always at work. He liked fixing programs and showing people how to understand them, just as he hoped to help people understand how God worked and maybe understand a bit more about himself in the process. He’d never thought a lot about himself.
It was already mid-morning. He’d set an alarm then ignored it, missed breakfast and instead, picked up a cup of coffee and a blueberry muffin on the way to the library. He ate in his study cubicle on the quiet seventh floor where he did most of his work. Having a reserved cubicle was a grad student privilege, but the library staff deferred to him because of his age. Also, he’d fixed a bug they’d been having trouble with that even their excellent IT staff had no luck with, and they wanted to keep him nearby. Done eating, though still sipping coffee, he blocked out his fuzziness enough to catch up on his reading and note taking, through he’d accidentally worked, through an eleven o’clock group meeting, and when he headed to his noon science class, he suddenly couldn’t remember where it was.
He went to one building, but then thought, “No, this is where my history class is,” and checked his book bag. But, of course, he’d long thrown out the piece of paper his schedule was written on – after all, he’d been going to his classes for several months. “I’m more out of it than I think,” he thought, “so it’s probably best if I don’t go to classes and get everyone sick.” Instead, he figured he’d go back to his dorm, get some more sleep, but first hit the dining hall for something soft to eat for lunch. Then he’d head to the health center after dinner. Even before all that, he stopped by his room to drop off his overcoat, books, and laptop.
Standing in the hall, half in the doorway of his own room, was his neighbor, Tim, a good-looking, light-skinned Black man in his mid-20s. As usual, his head was neatly shaved, and he was slickly dressed. He was also coming back to college though he’s only done what he jokingly called “two high weeks at a dumb community college” before he went into the Marines.
“Why the Marines?” John had asked.
“I thought it would put hair on my balls,” Tim said, laughing, and John knew there was a come on in there, and he was interested but not ready to get involved with a guy maybe twenty years younger.
That afternoon, Tim was standing with a friend – a kind of thug-like looking guy – in the narrow, brick-lined, fluorescent lit hallway, and as John reached into his overcoat pocket for his keys, the guy seemed to make a move toward him.
“You’re not really gonna rob me,” John joked. “I’ve got all of fourteen dollars – the change left from my breakfast – and a couple of credit cards. You’re welcome to take them if you’re that hard up.”
“Well, that’s stereotyping,” Tim said, laughing. And just as John smiled, he caught a knock-out punch in the jaw from what it seemed was Tim’s more easily angered friend.
When he woke up – or came to, what turned out to be several hours later – it was already dark out, and he was naked on his bed. He’d been in a couple of fights in his life, mainly defending himself, coming out of questionable bars, so he knew what it felt like to rough handled. Though when he looked at himself in the built-in mirror above his built-in dresser next to his built-in desk, he couldn’t see any bruises. He also couldn’t feel any damage. His clothes were scattered on the floor, and as he dressed, he noticed his wallet was still in his pants and still held the fourteen bucks and his credit cards.
“I should go to the police,” he thought, “the campus police, maybe first.” He’d never been near them but had never heard anything bad about them – not in the online daily paper or by word of mouth. Still, he first knocked on Tim’s door, since he might have been part of whatever had happened. Then again, since they were friends, he might just have walked away, embarrassed by what had happened. When there was no answer to John’s knock, he simply left the dorm and walked halfway across campus to the police.
He had to dodge students along the way, mixed with bicycles, especially – for no probable reason – girls on bikes, and he kept saying, as nicely as he could, “Please get off the sidewalk. Please. There’s a bike path.” As he neared the seemingly new, glass-and-brick police station, the crowd thinned, and after he entered the building and walked past a long, empty, maybe teak counter, he found a short desk and – surprising himself – told the Latina officer, “I’d like to report a rape. A beating and a rape.”
The officer looked at him and then seemed to look around, as if expecting someone to be with him. Then she asked, “Whose?”
John said, “Improbably, mine.”
He hadn’t thought of it before, not when he’d come to and not when he’d begun to walk. Mostly, he felt stiff. But the further he walked, the more he realized there was an ache near the back of his jockey shorts, though no wetness. He knew what it was – it’s not like he didn’t have experience. So the younger officer got an older one, perhaps originally from India, who introduced himself as “Officer Rodney,” and then led John into his office to start his report. That ended with him being given a rape kit and led to a small private room.
Before that happened – actually, before the interview began – John almost nervously commented on a picture – a small, old, newspaper photo – hanging framed behind the officer’s desk. It showed a younger version of the man, maybe in his early twenties, in uniform but with a noose – more like a lariat – around his upper arms.
“A joke?” John asked. It seemed more serious.
“Hardly,” Officer Rodney said. “It was taken during a student protest almost forty years ago.”
John nodded. That was practically before his time.
“I don’t think they would’ve lynched me,” the officer went on. “They were just making a point.”
“Which was?” John asked, curious.
“That we could’ve handled things better – the police.” He paused. “And we could have. So we’ve learned.”
“By going back to classes?”
The officer grinned. “Nah – I’ve had all the education I want – and some of the officers skipped that. I was a Soc major – like my parents – they met in the States as grad students. But they went on, and I stayed with what was supposed to be a part-time college job.”
“You got it.”
When John came out of the private room with the questionnaire and swabbing complete, the friendly officer was nowhere to be seen. So he handed the package to the young woman.
“I don’t think you’re gonna find anything,” he mentioned. “The guy was safe.”
“There might be bleeding,” she pointed out, then added, “Officer Rodney will be with you in a minute. He’s getting a few things – and another officer.”
“For what?” John asked.
“They’ll need to go to your dorm room and take some prints. And maybe interview your neighbor.”
“I said I’m not sure he’s involved.”
“If he was there,” said the officer, “he was involved – even if he walked away the moment that punch was thrown.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” John thought. He liked Tim and didn’t want to get him in trouble. But he also knew that, at very least, Tim should have called the campus police. Unless he was afraid of his friend.
Officer Rodney soon reappeared with a young Asian officer, probably Korean, and said, “Let’s go to the car.”
“Are we really going to question Tim?” John asked.
“And check for prints.”
“I didn’t even turn on the lights,” John admitted. “There’s a street light outside my window, and the light comes through the blinds. I often dress by that.”
“It’s not like you would’ve seen fingerprints,” the Korean officer pointed out.
“No. But what I meant is the room didn’t seem like a mess. It looked like he’d just pulled off my clothes and thrown me on the bed.”
“Or ‘they,’” Officer Rodney corrected. “And they didn’t need to do more than pull down your pants if they wanted to rape you. So it seems they wanted to see your body – or leave you embarrassed.”
“I didn’t think about that,” John conceded. “But as I said, I didn’t even think about being raped until I started talking at the desk.”
“No... you might not have,” Officer Rodney allowed, and there was just the trace of a smirk on his and his colleague’s faces. Still, John got into the police car comfortably, and they drove to his dorm.
Passing Tim’s door, Officer Rodney knocked, as if not expecting an answer. Then they were all surprised when the door opened.
“Can I help you?” Tim asked.
“Yes. We’d like to talk with you and your friend.”
“What about?” Tim asked, gazing past the two officers and landing on John’s face.
“What happened this afternoon.”
“What happened?” Tim asked.
“Well, we’ve heard this gentleman’s version and now would like to hear yours. We can do it here or back at the station – whatever’s more comfortable.”
It seemed the officers had learned a lot of manners over forty years, John thought. But at the same time, Officer Rodney and his partner weren’t giving Tim much room, since they continued to stand in his doorway.
When Tim said, “Come in,” they did, but John quickly asked, “Do you need me?” He was suddenly feeling dizzy again, and with all that had happened, had forgotten he’d been sick that morning. It didn’t matter that he might have slept some of that off.
“Your choice,” Officer Rodney offered. Then, looking at him, added, “If you want to lie down, that’d be fine, too.
John said, “I think I better – I’ll just be next door.”
“Don’t mess up any prints,” the Korean officer seemed to joke.
“I’ll lie down carefully.”
The next thing he could hear was quiet arguing on the other side of Tim’s wall and then things went quiet, and he must have drifted into sleep.
What seemed like an especially loud knock woke him, and once he realized where he was, he went to the door without turning on the lights. The florescents from the hallway made him squint, and Officer Rodney and his pal came in.
“Print time,” the younger officer announced, though the older, more politely added, “Why don’t you wait in the hall?”
John agreed, but when he got there, he realized Tim’s door was still open. and Tim was sitting on his bed, hands behind him as if they’d been cuffed. Though seeing John, he smiled, and scratched his nose. So his hands were free.
“Why did you do this to me?” he asked.
“Do what?” John half repeated, realizing he was still even less awake than he thought.
“You know I wasn’t involved,” Tim went on.
“Whatever happened between you and Larch.”
“My friend you picked a fight with.”
“Yeah... he said you were calling him some kind of low n... well, some kind of thug.”
“I doubt I’ve ever used that other word.”
“You’re a White guy – you’ve at least thought it.”
John smiled. He still liked Tim. “I’m a very polite White guy. Maybe not.”
Tim grinned back. “Now you’re just lying, and I thought we were friends – both growing up in China and all.”
Tim’s parents were there as theme park designers, maybe twenty years after John and his family had left. Though Tim had only spent three years in Shanghai.
“We’re good neighbors,” John gently corrected.
“And whose fault is that?”
And John suddenly began to realize why he may have been naked.
“And you got me back for that,” Tim went on. “Those officers asked me to come to the station for a strip search.”
“Will you go?” John asked, wondering if Tim’s body was as smooth as his head – though he’d wondered that before.
“All done,” Tim said, laughing. “I asked, ‘Why wait?’ and pulled off my clothes. Kind of surprised the Asian boy, but that was the point. You’ve got to admit he’s cute.”
John almost imperceptibly nodded.
“Then I flopped back on my bed, swung my feet up in the air, and let them swab away.”
“The Asian boy ran out to the car for a rape kit. Seems they didn’t have one with them.”
“They think I had sex with you?”
“That’s a polite way to put it.”
“I was out cold.”
“Or so you said.”
“Did I say anything?”
“In my room.”
“I wasn’t there – at least never in your room. I may have watched from the door... may.... So my ass is clean.”
“Yeah... Larch is careful.”
And John suddenly realize why he’d been naked.
“What do they think happened?” he asked.
Tim grinned. “They think this is personal – completely between us.”
“Yeah. That’s why they wanted to make sure we didn’t have sex.”
“I never told them...”
“You didn’t have to... they saw it all over me... that I wanted to.” He smiled again. “At least, so they claimed.”
John was still putting it together. At least one way, it made sense.
Except it didn’t
At that point, Officer Rodney interrupted, followed by the Korean officer.
“I think we’ve got some usable prints,” he told John. Then he turned to Tim. “We’ll still need yours – as I’ve mentioned. Whenever you have time.”
“No rush,” said the Korean officer.
Officer Rodney turned back to John. “And those of any other men who’ve come to your room.”
“It’s just been me – since August.”
“Well, we’ll have the proof.” He pointed to the bag in his partner’s hand. “Just stop by the station when you’re interested in the results. Meanwhile, get some rest – you look beat.”
“Maybe just beaten,” John corrected.
They all laughed.
Then Officer Rodney went down the narrow brick-lined hall. Kind of badly whistling, “All You Need Is Love.”