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“Such a naughty subject. Who knew he had it in him, eh?”
Mary Portman was the head of the psychology department at Princeton. Her office was startlingly cold. Laura felt icicles forming on the back of her neck as the tiny old lady burrowed through a file cabinet.
“How would you describe Sebastian?” Laura said.
“He was a good professor,” Portman said. “Very intelligent, well respected. It’s so strange that his book has been caught up in one of those viral things. Outbreaks? Waves? Here we go.” She took a folder out of the cabinet, tottered back to her desk and settled into her chair, pulling her sweater more tightly around her shoulders.
“So at the time, you weren’t aware of what he was working on?” Laura said.
“No, not at all. But that’s not unusual, everybody has their personal projects that I don’t always know about. If I had known about it—well, personally I would have been fine with it, but we’d probably have to make sure nobody else found out, we can’t let the school get dragged through this mess. Thankfully we’ve managed to distance ourselves from Sebastian and his work and have avoided any bad publicity so far. But I think his research was successful, I greatly enjoyed his book.”
Karl said, “Did you know Sebastian very well?”
“Not that well,” Portman said. “He was a bit reserved. I knew he had a passion for psychology. A little surprising where his particular passions truly were, yes? But sometimes diving into the mind, you end up in a peculiar corner.” An impish expression came over her as a she looked at Laura and Karl each in turn. “A reporter and a psychologist, a sister and brother team, investigating a controversy about incest. How did this happen? Do newspapers normally have such a sense of humor?”
“I like to think that their lack of sense of humor made them unaware of the humor of the situation,” Karl said.
Laura sensed that the ‘brother-sister team-up’ topic of discussion was going to be a popular one. They managed to avoid talking about it on the drive down, along with anything else about Sebastian and his weird book. If people were going to keep bringing it up, she really needed to come up with a good response.
“It is funny, isn’t it?” she said lamely. “So is there anybody still at the university that worked with Sebastian and would be willing to talk to us?”
Portman gave a chirpy little laugh as she looked through her folder. She also typed a bit on her keyboard. “I think I can give you a few names. Former colleagues in the department. Yes, they would be the place to start, I think. They might know more than I do. Whether or not they’ll open up to you, I can’t be certain.”
“I totally appreciate any help you can give us,” ataşehir escort bayan Laura said.
The professor printed out the names and handed the paper to Karl, only to pull it back as he reached for it. “Now, Karl, when are you coming to another conference?” she said. “Everybody misses you.”
“I wasn’t kidding when I said the last one nearly killed me.”
“You really have to learn how to pace yourself. You have to take breaks between the drinking and the fucking. Next time stick with me, I’ll show you how it’s done.”
Portman handed over the paper and hugged Karl goodbye. Laura gave him a long look as they walked out of the office and down the hall.
“What?” Karl said. “You should realize that psychologists can get pretty crazy sometimes.”
“I don’t know anything about Sebastian and his work, and I have a family, I have kids, I can’t be associated with this, even remotely.”
That was the typical response. Laura thought it was a reasonable position. As they meandered through the campus, bouncing from one closed door to another, she wished she had a list of names of his former students, especially ones who might have helped him with his research. But even if she had that list, and even if she could track them all down, how many would talk to her? She supposed they had plenty of secrets they’d rather keep.
She couldn’t really count on anyone coming forward and opening up about Sebastian. She wondered if she could just punt this assignment and still keep her job. But it was a little early to think that way. She had a week to dig around, maybe she’ll stumble onto something. Who knows, maybe she’ll crack this story wide open and it will turn into her big break. Yeah, keep dreaming.
So Princeton was a long shot, as she expected. What surprised her was how well Karl was doing—not only was he at ease talking to people, he also let her take the lead, sitting back and listening and rarely interrupting. Maybe their partnership would work out after all.
“I think going back to New York is the next step,” Laura told him over dinner that night. They were in the motel restaurant, a poorly lit and crowded place. “That was his base of operations after Princeton. If other therapists were referring certain cases to him, like he says, we can poke around, see if someone will talk to us.”
“Maybe,” Karl said. “I have to say, I’m not optimistic. We’re going to bump into a lot of confidentiality issues. Also, there’s really no reason why anyone would want to talk to us about this.”
“We need just one person to open up. A single break. One lead. Talk to enough people and it will happen.”
“All right. I’ll defer to you on that.”
So neither escort kadıöy of them were that hopeful about finding someone talkative about Sebastian’s past, Laura thought as she picked at her dinner. But they still had a job to do. “What do you think of the assignment so far?” she said.
Karl shrugged. “A little more boring than I thought it would be.”
“What you were expecting? No, don’t answer that.”
“Would you like to hear my preliminary thoughts on Sebastian?”
“Sure,” Laura said. “Is it a profile? Are you profiling him?”
“Profiling is for criminal behavior. This is just unusual behavior,” Karl said. “I don’t know if he’s the simple researcher he presents himself to be. How much do you know about fetishes?”
“I know what they are. Are you saying that ince…” She stopped, looked at the full tables around them, and dropped her voice. “Are you saying that incest is a fetish?”
Karl chuckled and dropped his voice too. “I guess you don’t read much erotic fiction. Actually, there is not a lot of consensus on the subject, whether it’s a sexual fetish or not, but it does have a certain popularity. It seems that people just like to hear about others doing it, not necessarily doing it themselves. It’s a voyeuristic fetish. It’s projection and fantasy.”
“Does that mean… wait, are you saying that his book is fake?”
“That would be something, wouldn’t it? I wonder. The book seems real, his research seems legitimate. Fabricating everything he’s written about? It’s hard to imagine he could pull off something like that. But distorting his research, feeding a fetish? It’s something to consider. I have so many questions about his methods, and yet I hate to question his motives. He could be what he appears to be.”
Laura considered this new information. “If he wasn’t, that would make a great angle. Nice.”
“If it’s true,” Karl said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Laura said, waving her hand. “Don’t worry, the story will reveal itself. But you keep an eye on things, see if anything seems fishy. This is good. I’m getting a good feeling. This dumb assignment could actually amount to something.”
“First we have to get somebody to talk to us.”
“We just got started. It might take a while, but we’ll get a break.”
“Hello, I’m trying to reach Laura Miller? I’m Gavin Sebastian.”
Laura had been sitting on her bed in her hotel room watching the local news when her phone rang. She froze for a moment at the sound of his voice, then she threw down the remote, rolled out of bed, grabbed her purse and dug for her notepad and pen. “Yes, that’s me. Hello, Dr. Sebastian. This is a surprise,” she said, hopefully sounding casual.
“I really maltepe escort hope this isn’t an imposition. You talked to an ex-colleague of mine today, I won’t say who, and they passed on your information to me.”
Having found her notepad, she scooped up the remote and killed the volume on the television. “That’s… that’s perfectly fine. Of course you can talk to me.”
“Good. I’m not actually prepared to give an interview at this time, but perhaps in the future? For now, if you’d like, and I know this is unusual, but I can direct you to a former student of mine who is willing to talk to you. I spoke to her earlier today, so she’s expecting you. Her name is Amanda, she lives in Trenton.”
He gave her the details on when and where to find her. “Great,” Laura said, writing it down. “Can I ask you…”
“No. Please, no questions. Maybe some other time.”
“No, right, that’s fine. That’s perfectly fine. I’m willing to work with you in whatever way you… but seriously, why on earth are you talking to me?”
“Ah. Well, I understand you’re working with your brother?”
“Are you kidding me?” she said a little too loudly. “I mean, sorry. Yes, I am.”
“So you can imagine my reaction when I heard that. It’s funny, isn’t it?”
“Oh, it’s a laugh a minute. Yes, my brother’s a psychologist, he’s a professor, he’s worked with the newspaper before, I haven’t worked with him before, not professionally, but…” Laura took a deep breath. “I sound really uncomfortable, don’t I?”
Sebastian laughed. “Yes. Don’t be. It’s fine. Plenty of awkwardness to go around. I never thought I would contact a reporter, and yet I’ve found myself in a position where I could benefit from cooperating and making myself available for the article you’re writing. But this is all tentative, you understand.”
“Yes, of course. Um, I just want to say, I didn’t choose to be assigned this story, I don’t have an agenda, other than to do the best I can, and if you’re looking for someone to accurately report on your life and your work, maybe I’m the best person to do that? Me and my brother.” Laura winced—more than enough awkwardness to go around.
“We’ll see. Perhaps I can call you tomorrow? After you’ve talked to Amanda?”
“Good night, Ms. Miller.”
“Good night, Dr. Sebastian. Thank you.”
Laura stood in her room and stared at her phone. What should she be feeling? Elated? Suspicious? Of course it was going to be a test, this interview tomorrow, and her whole assignment could depend on how well she performs. But getting direct and possibly exclusive access to Sebastian? It was almost too good to be true.
She decided to go over the files she’d been given, try to absorb as much as she could before sleep hit her. She should also take a crack at reading the book, something she had been avoiding. She decided to wait until morning to tell Karl about the phone call—running over to his room this late didn’t seem like a good idea.
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