Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Lit Club Mystery: A Grace Darby Mystery (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1 ...

Grace did go get coffee at Beatnik Beans, a hangout for the artsy and Bohemian students, where the walls were covered in poetic graffiti. She also fixed her hair so that it was halfway between Gibson girl and uptight librarian.

She took a sip of her Kerouac kaffee and pondered the mystery of the message in the book. She sat alone in her favorite spot, the right rear corner near the wall, with a small leather-bound journal and pen, alternating between doodling roses, notes on the Brownings, and, on the flip side of the page, notes on the mystery of the book. Was that really intended to be a message? Why, in this modern world of emails, text messages and social media, would it be necessary to communicate by this strange method? Maybe the careful person was simply fond of puzzles. Then again, perhaps, pencil marks are more easily erased than electronic files. Perhaps the careful person didn't intend the message for a specific person but for anyone able to decipher the puzzle. That didn't make sense though. “Do not pick up articles,” was not a sensible message to give to a random person. She'd seen how well that went. The only way that made sense is that there was a former plan to pick up the something, and this new message canceled it. Why did she allow this to distract her? It might still be a whole lot of nonsense, and she was reading something into nothing. Maybe she was the one who was simply fond of puzzles.

She tried to put it out of her mind and was mostly successful until she passed the same private study room at the library once more later that week. It was not a red book this time but a small coverless paperback, still carefully centered on the table with almost mathematical precision. The room was empty of students. Grace entered. Again, she hated to stir the position of the book. She sat down at the table and leaned in on her elbows. The little book was a Bantam Classics copy of “Crime and Punishment.” Would there be underlines in this one?

She flipped past the book's introduction since this seemed to fit the pattern from last time. She saw it then on page three, towards the bottom of the page, the single word “go” underlined. On page four, in the second paragraph, two words were underlined, “do it.” Go do it. On page six, towards the very bottom, “get” was underlined. On page seven, single letters were underlined, the R in Raskolnikov, and the U in confusion. She scanned the paragraph for underlined letters and wrote them down. R-U-S-S-I-A-N. Russian. The underlined letters spelled out “Russian,” which was fitting considering the book they were found in. It couldn't be considered coincidental any longer, could it? Then, towards the bottom of page seven, she saw another underlined word, “drink.” Go do it. Get Russian drink. She didn't find any more underlines after that. It seemed to end there.

What sort of Russian drinks were there? Vodka was the first drink to come to mind. That's what this was about? A college drinking party? College binge drinking? Why such an elaborate method to going about getting liquor? Was it some sort of wacky fraternity stunt? She thought of Zachary and his fraternity pin. Maybe she should tell the dean about a potential upcoming party, only she felt half insane explaining how she got her information. What could she do about it? What could she ever do about it? She'd seen a lot of students half ruin themselves this way. A couple of years ago, one of her students died from binge drinking. He'd had so much potential. He was a sensitive poet and a promising trombone player. She sighed and tried to push that memory from her mind.

Later, that morning, Grace quizzed her poetry class students. As her students were all quietly marking their Scantron sheets, she noticed something odd, some movement under the tablet arm of one of the chairs. She walked the aisle between the chairs. It was her student, Devin, a baby-faced thing with dark thick-framed glasses who could pass for a high school sophomore rather than a college sophomore. He had a Rubik's Cube in his left hand held under the desk. He'd mark his paper, twist the Rubik's Cube, mark the paper again, twist the Rubik's Cube, in an alternating pattern. Grace had seen many methods of cheating in her career, but this was the first time she'd seen cheating by Rubik's Cube.

“Let me see that Rubik's Cube, Devin.” As she approached his desk chair, she brushed it and knocked a pencil to the floor, an extra pencil. He already had the pencil he was using in his hand.

He handed it to her, and she rotated it in her hand, examining it for notes or markings. She found nothing unusual.

“I'm not cheating, Ms. Darby. I know the material.” He bent down to retrieve the fallen pencil off the floor and arranged it next to a Pink Pearl eraser at the top of his desk. He kept tweaking their positions so that the eraser and pencil were completely flush and evenly spaced from each other.

Normally, she would assume it was true that he knew the material. Devin seemed to be clever, a diligent student and a Lit Club member. Maybe it was really another student he was helping, and his method had nothing to do with markings on the cube but some sort of signal with the number of twists or the placement of his fingers on the squares.

“I hope that's true, Devin, but I think I'll hang onto it for now. You can get it after class.”

“I swear it's not cheating, Ms. Darby. It's just something I need to do.”

Devin's neighbor turned to her and whispered, “He's a whiz at the Rubik's Cube. He goes to conventions and races to solve them. He's really good too.” Grace simply nodded and put a finger over her mouth.

As she passed his desk a second time, again, she brushed too close and knocked a pencil to the ground. Once more, Devin retrieved it from the floor and tweaked its position on the desk to his liking. After she'd returned to the front of the class, she noticed Devin's hand fiddling under the desk as if with a phantom cube.

To Be Continued ...

© 2016 Susan Joy Clark


  1. You are a really talented writer Susan! I love the name Devin. :) Awesome part two, cannot wait for the next section!!
    If you have chance, would you be able to have a look at my blog?
    Thank you!! Keep smiling. :)
    Lauren xx

    1. Thank you. :) It's funny about the name Devin. The first name that came to mind for the character didn't seem like a name that would be popular for someone his age. So, I calculated his birth year for his current age and looked up popular boys' names for that year. When I saw the name "Devin" on the list, I knew that should be his name. Thanks for the encouragement. I'm juggling lots of things today, but I hope to check out what you've been up to on your blog lately. :)