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By the time Jake Rodden got around to telling us about the murder, Doreen
Shipley was half drunk and Walt Feinman was telling the same bad jokes that got
him no laughs five years ago. Given the way things worked out, I would come to
wonder whether Jake had planned the whole evening, or just allowed events to
unfold according to their own course. Doreen told me later that she was pretty
sure he had calculated the entire conversation, because he had that kind of mind.
But she had always had a thing for Jake. Everybody knew that they had been an
item back in law school, notwithstanding that he was a married man. Now, at our
twentieth reunion dinner, she was gazing at him with the same doe-eyed
tenderness that we all remembered from the days when he broke her heart.
"Maybe you heard the one about the man who walks into the hotel lobby
with a little robot," began Walt, and everybody turned away in order to tune him
out. We were in the main campus banquet hall, fifty or sixty strong, seated
beneath the disapproving gazes of the dead white males who had founded the
university and built it into an Ivy League powerhouse, most of us preening
desperately, for a reunion presents an opportunity to impress your classmates by
pretending to be more successful than you really are. Because I teach at our alma
mater, they all seem to think I am something special. Actually, my career has
been rather ordinary, but college graduates tend to think like students, who
secretly believe all their professors to be geniuses.
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