At the night of the Lit Club Book Swap, books completely swathed in brown paper accumulated on a long table. The idea was that club members would bring a wrapped disguised book and would pick up another. They could broaden their exposure to literature, selecting something they might not ordinarily choose. Grace couldn't help trying to guess the contents of them. She picked up one paper-wrapped book and lifted it up and down. “This is a Bantam Classic.” She picked up another, studying its dimensions. “And this is a Penguin Classic.” Bantams and penguins. What was it with birds and books?
“Maybe,” said Angela, the club's president, “But which one?”
Grace turned to smile at her. She noticed Zach Olsen in the midst of her Lit Club students. It surprised her a little. Perhaps he came, as he had suggested earlier, for love advice. Mentally, she heard music from “Kiss Me Kate.” Brush up your Shakespeare. Start learning it now. Brush up your Shakespeare, and the women you will wow.
“I might be able to make an educated guess,” said Grace.
One book looked considerably larger than the rest. She lifted it, and it felt heavy in her arms which should not have surprised her but did, not so much that it was heavy but just how heavy it was. “This one must be 'War and Peace.' On second thought, it's the complete collection of Tolstoy. Ah! I have it. It's the Oxford English Dictionary, which is actually quite a useful choice,” said Grace. As she set it down, she felt like there was something odd about it, not the weight, but the balance.
Grace turned to face the students. “How shall we do this? We'll draw numbers from a hat to see who gets first chance at a book. The second person can choose a book from the table but has the option to either open the wrapped book or swap the wrapped book for one that is opened, and so on.”
Angela was the first to go, picking up the large and heavy book. Devin jumped up, handing her another option from the table. Angela shook her head at him. “I could really use a dictionary,” she said.
“I know for certain that this is a Jane Austen set, two in one,” said Devin of the package he indicated.
“Well, in that case,” she said. Angela dropped the “dictionary” and took the package he offered.
“Oh, come on, Devin,” said Michael, a member from the group. “You can't do that.”
“I'm just helping my neighbor make a good choice,” said Devin.
Somehow, Devin was next and made his claim of the “dictionary.”
“Gee, Devin, what's in there that you need it so much? Lady Chatterly's Lover? Lolita?” Michael teased.
Devin shrugged and smiled smugly. “Wouldn't you want to know?” Devin looked at his cell phone. “Hey, I've got to go. I totally forgot that I have something else scheduled tonight, a meeting with my Rubik's Cube coach.” He packed up his large heavy package and left the room, much to Michael's protests.
Grace felt uneasy. All of the clues she'd been chewing over for the past few days were starting to fit together, and she had a hunch. “Angela, I'm going to leave you in charge of the swap. I have to go too. I can't explain it right now.”
Grace drove her car over to the Phi Delta Nu fraternity house. She felt like a trespasser as she climbed the grass hill to the side of the property, but she knew she was on an important mission. She found Devin, as she expected she might, sitting on a tree stump about 15 feet from the building. He was drinking from a bottle, not vodka, not even beer, but a Boylan's root beer.
“Hi Devin.” She kept her voice calm, steady, gentle.
“I knew you'd come,” said Devin, without even turning his head to see her. “I knew you'd figure it out.”
“I think you wanted me to. You wanted someone to stop you. You even had second thoughts once or twice. 'Do not pick up articles,'” she said. “But you did pick up some articles. Well, no, you didn't personally. Your cousin did. He's the only one of you that has a car. He told me that.”
Devin stared ahead, drinking his Boylan's root beer.
“What are you going to do with that bottle?” asked Grace.
Devin didn't answer.
“I knew whoever was placing the messages in the books was a careful, fastidious person. The books were so carefully placed on the table. Then, when I knocked your pencil on the floor, it seemed so important to you to have it placed so perfectly on your desk, just like it was important for you to place the book so carefully on the table. And the Rubik's Cube. You weren't lying to me then.” She relaxed slightly, walking closer to him. “You weren't cheating. It was just something you had to do. It's a compulsion you have, isn't it?”
Devin looked at her this time. “You're good. I picked a good person.”
“I'm not sure when you picked me, but you knew I'd been snooping in your messages. Zach had seen me. You left the anagrams for me.”
Devin bent his head back and laughed, but it wasn't a joyful laugh. “I always see you solving the newspaper anagrams before class, and I know that's your corner at Beans.”
“Right,” said Grace. “Zach told me what happened, what happened with the boys here.” Her legs quavered slightly. She was treading in a sensitive area. “Nothing graphic. I feel for you, Devin. I want justice just like you do.” She paused. “The anagrams were a kind of shopping list. I see that now. And the Russian drink wasn't vodka like I thought at first. It makes perfect sense now. Molotov was a Russian, and a cocktail is a drink. Please, Devin, hand me the dooslebat … and the lighter.”
“I've been humiliated enough. What am I going to do? Tell my story to the police and to a judge? Jury?And what will happen to these guys? A whole lot of nothing.” He was getting agitated and started pouring the remaining soda on the grass. “Their lives will go on, but I'll never be the same.”
Grace mentally agreed that it often seemed justice was not executed.
“I got angry too when I heard. I dreamed up all sorts of punishments for these guys. Devin, you can rise above this pain, but your abusers have to live with what they did. Misery will find them one way or another. Let the police do their job. Let God do His job. You can have a good life again but not so easily if you carry out what you've been planning.”
He leaned forward, resting his head in his hands.
“You wanted me to stop you. Why else would you make a game of it? This sort of justice only appeals to one part of you. If you carry out your plan, you'll be the one in prison, and all those brains and talents of yours will be wasted. Put down the bottle and turn over the tape and the motor oil, the whole shebang. Let me take you to my brother's.”
“Who's your brother? I'm not going to a headshrinker.” He spoke with his face down, hands on either side of his head.
“He's not a headshrinker. He's something better. He's a minister.” Grace imagined the scene in her mind. “He lives a ways out from here, in the country, with his wife and kids. He has three dogs, four cats, rabbits and chickens, and if that atmosphere doesn't do you a world of good, I don't know what will.”
Devin rubbed down his face. “Well, Zach was right about one thing. You do care.” He paused. “You won't report me to the dean, the police, the school psychologist, somebody?”
“No. You haven't done anything, have you? Except sit on a stump and think terrible thoughts. You do have a problem though. Let's just address it the right way.”
Devin gathered his paper-wrapped bundle and walked down the hill towards her.
© 2016 Susan Joy Clark