The Readers, part 3

(Click here to read part 2.)

"So what's your impression so far?" my partner asked earnestly.

"Bartram's an odd duck for sure." I thought about the case against him. "There are some suspicious things about him. He seemed very sure about the poison diagnosis and the black tongue, which we hadn't seen yet. When a bystander knows more than you do, you have to raise your eyebrows a little. His spurned manuscript gives him plenty of motive for revenge, and his nearby office gives him decent opportunity. And anyway, he was trying to give us evidence about other people who were supposedly guilty, which is exactly what a guilty person does."

"It's also exactly what an innocent person does." My partner didn't miss a beat.

"You're right about that," I acknowledged. The inversion problem of detective work was just as hard as the inversion problem of mathematics. Multiple inputs could lead to the same output, so recovering an input given an output can be a fool's errand. A man who is seen tossing a bloody bag the size of a human body into the dumpster in the middle of the night could easily be a murderer, or could just as easily by working hard to make his beef packaging startup profitable. The stories we conjure in our imaginations to explain things are rarely sufficient for the complexity of the universe, and truth has more danger than fiction.

"Of course I'm not ready to finger Bartram yet," I explained. "That's why we're going to talk to these students."

It was very considerate of Mislavsky and Edelman to live together and therefore expedite our investigation process. Their apartment was in a dingy brick building with an overly ambitious sign in front labelling it "The Westover," as if it were a gentleman's country estate or ever needed to be referred to as anything other than "that eyesore over there."

They were on the fourth floor. Their elevator had one of those accordion-style doors that I didn't know anyone had built since the 1920's and it rattled as if it hadn't been serviced since then. Writing dissertations about medieval history apparently wasn't getting its due recognition from the free market.

They stood together at the door to open it for us. They were expecting us to some degree, since they had heard on the social media/text messaging grapevine that something had happened to Gardner.

Their apartment was about what you might expect from a couple of bachelor graduate students. There were few decorations, many books, old furniture, and not many signs of visitors. I noticed that their kitchen was pretty well stocked.

We sat alone with Edelman first, in their shared bedroom. He was tall and lanky, shifty-eyed and solemn. I thought about the inversion function again. Shifty eyes, I reminded myself, could be caused by guilt, or they could be caused simply by garden-variety social dysfunction. Something about Edelman seemed to fit the stereotypical idea of a social outcast-turned-murderer, but then again the universe had a way of playing against stereotypes.

"what was the topic of your dissertation?" Just like with Bartram, I wanted to get straight to the point, and in a murder related to publishing dissertations, this seemed like the fastest way there.

"Well uh, I guess," Edelman started. For a guy who had been working on one doctoral dissertation for years, it seemed pretty hard for him to describe what its topic was. He didn't have Bartram's professorial glibness, or at least not yet. He finally managed to spit it out. "It's about family life during Charlemagne's time. How did husbands and wives relate to each other and split up their tasks, how did they raise kids, what food they ate, what did their houses look like, and that sort of thing."

"Pretty interesting," I said sincerely. "Were you hopeful about Gardner helping you get it published as a book?"

"Of course. He had made what I thought were some promises about getting it out there. But I guess he didn't mean them because he told me a couple weeks ago that it wouldn't work out. I couldn't believe that he had strung me along like that." His face shoed anger and frustration. I had noticed before that graduate school was a peculiar experience for students who live completely at the mercy of their professors. To have that kind of power over a student and to provoke their ire could be a recipe for murder, I reflected.

"You mentioned that some of your dissertation is about medieval food. Is that why your kitchen has so many tools and spices and interesting smells?" I wanted to start to explore the poison angle.

He seemed surprised by the question. "Well, yes, that's true. I cook sometimes as a hobby and to be healthy and to distract from things at school. Of course I'm interested in medieval things, so I try to recreate medieval food sometimes. I've learned about how they ate and how they poisoned each other."

My ears and eyebrows perked up upon hearing that. "Excuse me?" I asked. "Did you say something about poison?"

He blushed furiously. "What I mean is, they often didn't follow good food preparation practices back then. They didn't wash their hands. They tried to keep meat for too long. They weren't able to refrigerate eggs. Foodborne diseases were very common, and diarrhea was a leading cause of death for centuries. They weren't aware of the negative effects of certain herbs. They were trying to cook for each other, but sometimes they ended up just poisoning each other."

"I see..." I didn't know quite how to respond to that so I just went for it. "Mr. Edelman, did you do anything to harm Professor Gardner?"

"What? No of course not. What? How could you? No way." He stammered out a response and I could tell we had flustered him badly. "I can't talk about this anymore." And with that he simply walked out of the room, leaving me and my partner there alone, mildly shocked.

We heard voices from the other room, but I couldn't make out what was being said. Clearly Edelman and Mislavsky were talking about us. I was willing to let them talk, and anyway it gave me some time to chat with partner a little in hushed tones to be sure they couldn't hear us.

"What do ya think of that?" I asked, smiling.

"It's strange that he would mention poison." My partner was thinking hard about it. "He has motive and I suppose his medieval kitchen must have something that could poison someone, as he pointed out himself. He doesn't seem particularly innocent, but we don't really have any evidence yet. Let's see what Mislavsky has to say."

"Yes let's." I had a feeling we were making progress. I loved how investigations could grow like that: you start with a little worm on a hook, and a few conversations later you were reeling in a shark.


(Click here to read part 4.)

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