Limp – Episode 3
Morning in the Library
Link settled in and switched on his computer. His screen saver was a spectacular view of the Pacific Coast Highway. He clicked on the college news website. The headline made him sit up…Stoughton College Flasher Strikes for Twentieth Time. The Flasher was reportedly seen by 18 eyewitnesses at 10:00 p.m. in the main stairway window in McElvaney Hall….illuminated himself by flashlight. Witnesses remarked on the eeriness of the scene. All appeared normal, except a solitary light, like a Christmas candle in the center of the window. When security arrived, the Flasher had escaped.
The library director stuck her head into Link’s cubicle. “Ready to get started? We’ve got a busy day ahead.”
“Sure…did you see the news?”
“I did. A twisted soul who needs help.”
“That’s for sure,” Link chuckled.
The director, Miriam Trimblett, reminded him of his mom whom he hadn’t seen in months. Both were pretty, slim and high energy, but there the similarity ended. His mom wore loads of makeup and was into clothes, while the director opted for practicality and comfort, white blouse, blue skirt and flats with no socks. The simplicity made her chestnut hair, pale skin and dark eyes particularly striking, though she was all business, and didn’t seem to notice guys at all. “Here are 10 research projects,” she said balancing a pile of manuscripts, “everything from 16th century fashion to the Boer War. Did you finish everything from yesterday?”
“Pretty much, except one on Florida reptiles. It’ll only take a half hour.”
“Great. Also, when you have the time, there are a lot of books on the cart that need to be put back.”
“I’ll get to it. No problem.”
“I’ll check in later.”
The email icon popped up on Link’s computer. It surprised him, because he usually didn’t get anything except college communications. He was so curious, he interrupted his research to check. It was from Paige:
Link, I really enjoyed chatting with you. Let’s try and do something later. I’ll stop by after class.
Why did she talk to him? There were a lot of normal guys around, and she was too pretty to be desperate…girls were a mystery. He couldn’t stop looking, but when they caught him, he was ashamed. Over the years, one or two had developed crushes on him, but when they started acting strange, Link got flustered. Paige was a breath of fresh air. At least she seemed normal…well not really normal. She was too hot for that.
Nobody said he was ugly, in spite of the bum leg. Most people agreed he looked presentable, but unexpected compliments made him suspicious…convinced him they were psychos or perverts out to get something. His mom told him he photographed well, but he figured it was like guys in fashion magazines…great in ads, but weird in person…not that he’d met any models. Like most people, he had good points…his eyes were unusual, pale green, and his features were symmetrical, but that didn’t make up for the limp…everybody noticed it before anything else….and there was a nagging fear of subtle deformities he was unaware of.
Just before noon, Link’s mind was wandering and he scanned the sunny quad. It was busy, but he noticed a threesome hurrying toward the library, the head of campus security and two uniformed cops…very serious and determined. Something was up. He wondered if it was about the Flasher.
It was the first “attack” since Walter Joy had been hired to run security, and he was eager to follow up while the clues were fresh. He’d spent 40 years with the Boston Police and one of his mantras was move fast…get to witnesses before distractions distorted their thinking. Even before accepting the Stoughton job, he’d been curious about the Flasher case…was certain it was a member of the permanent staff.
After the attack, Walt interviewed eyewitnesses, students and faculty. Everyone’s first reaction was to label it a prank, but it’d gone on too long for that, and there were striking inconsistencies in the sightings. Of the few eyewitnesses who’d gotten a glimpse of the Flasher, some said he was tall, while others said he was short. Further, the student body tended to be orderly and conservative. There were few troublemakers and no rumors that the Flasher was a student…at least none in the recent past. One witness said the Flasher looked too old to be a student…had a pot belly and wore outdated clothes.
As he reviewed the facts, Walt walked up the library steps to follow up a lead from three students who’d approached him in one of the jock dorms, but he was skeptical. Jocks tended to jump to conclusions based on stereotypes…those who played sports versus those who didn’t. They were “90 percent sure” who the flasher was. Described a “weird” kid who worked in the library named Link something, a loner who “probably has brain damage.” What tipped them off was the way he flirted with girls from his library window. One of the jocks was particularly incensed because he was talking to Paige Allen, “a beautiful socialite.” They said he faked a limp to avoid suspicion but could ride a bike perfectly. “Everyone knows the biggest losers are horny as shit,” one said sarcastically. His buddies laughed and elbowed him. “No, seriously,” he insisted. “If you can’t get it normally, you do weird stuff, right?”
In the library, Walt introduced himself to Miriam Trimblett, explained he was conducting routine interviews and asked about Link. She said he’d been working there full time for four months, and on and off for a year before that. It turned out he was young, only 18. Apparently, he worked hard and there was no problem with him.
“Is he suspected of something?” Ms. Trimblett asked.
“No, we’re just checking a couple of things,” Walt said. Based on her testimony, it seemed impossible the kid was the Flasher.
She escorted them back to the cubicle where Link was glued to his computer.
“Link,” she said. He jumped up, startled. Walt was surprised how handsome the kid was. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but it was nothing like the guy in front of him.
“Yeah. What’s up?” Link asked, scanning the hovering faces.
“Mr. Joy is here as part of the Flasher investigation,” Ms. Trimblett said. “Could you spend some time with him?”
“Sure…I guess so,” Link said uncertainly.
“Do you need me any longer?” Ms. Trimblett asked. “I’ve got a full plate today.”
“No, we’ll be fine,” Walt said.
“Let me know if you need anything,” she added hurriedly. “I’ll be in my office.”
“Thanks,” Walt said, turning to Link. “Step out here, son.”
“Do you want to frisk me or something?” He scrambled out of his cubicle.
“No, just following up a few things.” The kid had terrible posture and stooped like a hunchback. “Can you stand up straight?” The boy straightened and was surprisingly tall, at least six feet.
“Do you mind if I ask why you stoop like that?” Walk asked. He didn’t see anything wrong. In fact, the boy looked very fit.
“A birth defect,” he said. “One of my legs is shorter than the other. I can’t walk
“You’ve heard about the Flasher?”
“Sure, who hasn’t?”
“Where were you last night?”
“At home. I rent a room in town. My mom and dad don’t live together. My dad was a student…Mom lives in Farmington.”
“May I ask you a very personal question.” Walt waved the officers away. “Excuse us a second.”
“Yeah?” Link looked concerned.
Link’s eyes widened. “No…why?”
“Just corroborating information.”
“You think I’m the Flasher?”
“No, but your name came up and I wanted to rule you out.”
“So, am I ruled out…that’s it?”
“How has he gotten away with it so long?” Link asked.
“Good question. He’s clever and orchestrates things so he can get away fast.”
“But it’s amazing nobody’s seen him at clearly. You’d think somebody would have bumped into him during the past three years. Makes you think he knows this place like the back of his hand and has a foolproof escape plan. It’s weird…he’s so persistent, he must have a grudge or something.”
The thoughts made sense. The kid was no slouch.
“So what makes you think you’ll do better than the previous guy?” Link asked boldly.
Walt glanced at him. It was a ballsy question.
“Hey, give me a chance,” Walt protested. He’d expected Link to be a plodding paper shuffler…he was anything but.
“If I were you,” Link said, “I’d take the date of the first attack and interview everybody hired within six months of that, whether they’re faculty, administration or whatever.”
“We’re doing exactly that. Listen, I’ve only been here a month.”
“I know, but it makes the college look really stupid with this psycho running around. I hear applications are off 50 percent.”
“It’s true. The investigation needs to be accelerated. They should be conducting mass interviews and weeding out anyone who seems even slightly suspicious, but right now I’m the only game in town. The college doesn’t want this blown out of proportion.”
The boy frowned. “The ‘hands off’ policy regarding ‘important people’ is total bullshit. They think only low class people would do it.”
Walt couldn’t deny it. The president, Cecil Warner, was a snob who thought every delivery man and/or maintenance worker was a sex pervert. In fact, Warner himself was peculiar. Surrounded himself with “arty” students who he invited to spend the night from time to time.
Walt had a sudden idea. “You do research here, right?”
“Yeah, that’s part of my job.”
“How would you like to help me with the investigation? I need somebody to organize information and pull stats.”
“Sure. As long as it’s okay with Ms. Trimblett. She keeps me pretty busy.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Walt left the library feeling better about the investigation. He needed resources, and the kid Link seemed smart and had the right skills. He’d check him out, of course, but it was amazing how shallow the jocks were. They gave the impression he’d be meeting some grotesque pervert, but the kid was the opposite…still one thing bothered him. Was there really a birth defect? One leg didn’t look shorter than the other, but the kid moved like Quasimodo. It was odd, a clue that needed to be resolved.
At four o’clock, Paige found Link in his cubicle, oblivious to the world. She smiled. He was quirky, but with loads of potential.
“Hey, Link,” she said.
He looked up in confusion. “Oh, hi,” he said, regaining his bearings. “I’ve been thinking about the Flasher. Looking over faculty bios. That seems like a taboo subject.”
“Why are you so obsessed with the Flasher? Are you envious?”
Link frowned. “No way…but the police came by and questioned me this morning.”
“They did? Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“No!” he exclaimed. “You think I’d do that?”
“Not publicly,” Paige said with a grin. “What did they want?”
“You won’t believe it. They asked if I was circumcised.”
“Come on,” Paige said, taken aback.
Paige studied Link. He looked harmless, but she didn’t know anything about him. What if he had a police record a mile long and really was the Flasher?
He seemed to be reading her thoughts. “Look, I’m not the Flasher, okay, and I admit it’s gross to be talking about circumcision, but I was shocked they even asked. Am I crazy or is it a totally weird question?”
“It’s totally weird.”
“I mean, I’m not circumcised, so it’s a touchy issue.”
“It seems like wealthy kids are and poor kids aren’t.”
“I don’t think it’s that simple. It’s more a cultural thing.”
“Maybe. It’s just that all the town kids are like me.”
Paige smirked. “You’ve made a study?”
“No…no way. I’ve just noticed. I took gym with a lot of them. It’s not like I’m blind, right?
“Whatever. It’s not important.”
“I was thinking the Flasher could be a faculty member.”
“Seriously?” Paige asked.
“It could be…take that English professor, Luther Karl. His specialty is children’s literature, authors like Lewis Carroll who wrote Alice in Wonderland and J.M. Barrie who wrote Peter Pan. Those guys were serious pedophiles, but nobody noticed because of all the Victorian sugar coating.”
“Is that fact or theory?”
“Well…theory, but read their bios…Barrie especially. It’s pretty obvious.”
“How’d you get into them?”
“I’m not ‘into them.’ It was just research for term papers,” Link said, blushing, “for students.”
“It doesn’t really prove anything. Professor Karl must know the same stuff and I hear his classes are great…everybody likes him. I doubt he’s the Flasher.”
“I’m not saying he is, but you have to look closely at a guy like that.”
“But everybody probably has some Achilles heel, and we have no idea what people look at on the internet. The whole thing could become a witch hunt.”
“True, but the investigation’s gone nowhere. They need to tackle some new areas. The guy’s too clever for a half-assed effort.”
“How can you be so sure it’s a guy?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“You’d think so, but what if it’s a dildo or something. Maybe it’s an indignant feminist out to embarrass the college.”
“Twisted, but interesting point.”
Paige tugged on his shirt. “Come on. It’s late. I’ll treat you to dinner at Ernesto’s.”
“That’s a student hangout. You wanna be seen with a townie?”
“Of course. You’re a hoot.”
“A hoot? Is that supposed to be a compliment?”
“Yeah, you want an official definition? ‘Hoot,’ noun, eccentric, but cool.’”
“Okay. I’ll accept that,” Link said… ready to follow Paige anywhere.
Next Time: Skirmish at Ernesto’s. Link and his landlord. Read episode 4!