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Authors: Bill Crider

Murder is an Art


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Title Page

Copyright Notice

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Also by Bill Crider



When Perry “A. B. D.” Johnson strode into the office of Sally Good, chair of the Division of Arts and Humanities at Hughes Community College, he was in a state of medium dudgeon.

His condition came as no surprise to Sally. With A. B. D. Johnson, as Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, it was always something.

A. B. D. arrived on campus at 7:30
every day, already in a state of low dudgeon. He worked his way up as the day went along, usually reaching high dudgeon somewhere between 2:30 and 3
, at which time he went home and took out his frustrations either by grading his students' papers or working on his doctoral dissertation.

His dissertation, or rather the fact of his dissertation's incompleteness, was the reason for his being known all over campus by the initials A. B. D. They stood for “All But Dissertation,” a condition that described exactly how far Johnson had advanced in graduate school. He had finished all his course work and passed both his minor and major oral examinations seventeen years previously. He had then left graduate school and accepted a job at Hughes.

Ever since his arrival on campus, A. B. D. had supposedly been working toward the completion of his dissertation in his spare time. The topic was rumored to be phallic imagery in the “Calamus” poems of Walt Whitman, though no one was certain. No one had ever seen a copy of the work in progress, and A. B. D. resolutely refused to discuss his ideas with anyone, possibly for fear that his listener might steal them and publish them to worldwide scholarly acclaim.

A. B. D. had gone through two wives, four dissertation directors, two division chairs, and three deans since arriving at Hughes, but as far as anyone knew, he had made little progress on his magnum opus.

He had, however, achieved what Sally believed to be the world record for pleading with, cajoling, wheedling, and outright begging graduate-school administrators to allow him to continue in the program without having to repeat his course work.

He was, in Sally's opinion, perfectly equipped for begging and pleading—baggy clothes, big sad eyes, longish black hair (going slightly gray) that flopped over his forehead, and a hang-dog face that reminded Sally of either Richard Nixon or Walter Matthau. She was never quite sure.

At any rate, A. B. D. had always been successful in his petitioning. Deadline after deadline had come and gone, and he had failed to meet a single one. Yet he persevered in his work, or claimed to, and Sally supposed she had to give him credit for doing that much.

She looked up at his red, cheerless face and resisted the impulse to say what she really wanted to say, which was “What is it
time, A. B. D.?”

Instead, she smiled as if she were actually glad to see him and said, “Good morning, Mr. Johnson. How are you today?”

He didn't bother to answer the question. He said, “Val Hurley has a new chair.”

Val Hurley was the chair of the Art Department, and it was true that he had a new chair. Sally acknowledged the fact.

A. B. D. looked at her accusingly. “It's an executive chair. It's all leather. It has a pneumatic seat. It has ball bearings in the rollers.”

Sally continued to smile, even though she was sure she knew where the conversation was heading. “That's right. It's a very nice chair.”

A. B. D. Johnson's face got redder. It seemed almost certain that today he was going to reach high dudgeon way ahead of schedule.

don't have a new chair,” he said. “I have the same old chair that I've been using for the last seventeen years, ever since I came to Hughes. The vinyl one that's practically held together with duct tape I bought myself. The one with the frozen rollers. The one that won't even lean back without tipping over.”

For just a moment, Sally felt a little guilty and self-conscious, sitting there in her own executive chair, which was actually a little nicer than the one Val Hurley had bought. The feeling passed quickly, however.

“You could have had a new chair if you'd wanted one,” she told Johnson. “When I was working on the departmental budget, I asked everyone to let me know what office equipment they needed. Val Hurley included a new chair in his departmental budget, and I would have been glad to include one for you in our budget if you'd asked.”

“I'm sure you would have.” A. B. D.'s voice began to rise, and his jowls shook just the tiniest bit. “I'm sure you would have, even though it's common knowledge that the faculty hasn't had a raise in two years and the enrollment is dropping and the whole school is going down the financial tubes. At least that's what Fieldstone keeps telling us.”

There was a sarcastic edge to the last sentence that indicated that A. B. D. Johnson was not merely a simpleton to be taken in by anything that Harold Fieldstone, the college president, might say about the school's finances. A. B. D. was much too shrewd a fellow to believe a scum administrator.

“You're exaggerating,” Sally said. “It's true that we haven't had a raise lately, and it's true that the enrollment is cause for concern, but that doesn't mean we can't have decent chairs for our faculty members.”

“Hah!” A. B. D.'s jowls shook even more, and Sally made a sudden realization: it was Nixon whom A. B. D. most resembled.

“What it means,” A. B. D. continued, “is that we can have whatever the president wants us to have around here. He likes things like fancy chairs and new cars. Did you know that Campus Security has two new cars?”

Sally knew. “They were bought with money brought in from the sale of parking permits.”

“Hah!” The jowls waggled. “That money could have gone into raises for the faculty just as easily as it could have gone into new cars for the cops.”

“We're getting away from the subject,” Sally said.

She couldn't fool A. B. D. He said, “It's all the same subject, as you very well know, but never mind that. I just wanted you to understand that I'm going to speak to Val, and I'm going to write a memo to the president about this matter. Fieldstone thinks he can get away with this, but he can't.”

“The president didn't have anything to do with getting Val a new chair,” Sally said. “As Val's supervisor, I approved his departmental budget. Then I sent it to Dean Naylor, who also approved it. The president probably doesn't even know about the chair.”

A. B. D. Johnson looked at her with pity. “That's what he'd
us to believe,” he said. Then he turned and stalked away.

Sally sighed and leaned back in her own executive chair. It was going to be one of those days. There might even be a repetition of the parking incident memo, which had been written after A. B. D. saw a student parking in a space reserved for the faculty.

A. B. D. had been furious, especially because when he had called the student's attention to the transgression, the young man had said, “What's it to ya?”

A. B. D. had reached high dudgeon in record time that day, storming into Sally's office to demand that the student be shot or, failing that, withdrawn from all his classes.

“Shooting him would teach the students a wonderful lesson,” A. B. D. insisted. “We should probably shoot one student at the beginning of each semester as an example to the others of what could happen if they don't toe the line. It would solve a world of problems around here.”

Sally was pretty sure that A. B. D. was kidding, but he sounded awfully serious.

“I'm not sure the Board would approve,” she said.

A. B. D. was ready for that one. “Let Fieldstone explain it to them. That's his job, isn't it?”

Sally had talked with A. B. D. a few minutes longer and persuaded him that the best thing to do, if he was still feeling vindictive, would be to report the student to Campus Security so someone could ticket the student's car.

A. B. D. had stalked away toward the Security Office, clearly disappointed in Sally's lack of initiative. Two days later, Sally had received a call from President Fieldstone.

“I have a memo here from one of your faculty members,” Fieldstone said. “What do you know about it?”

It was an ominous question since Fieldstone didn't like to receive memos from faculty members, and it was doubly ominous since Sally had no idea what he was talking about. If there was anything Fieldstone liked less than receiving memos, it was a division chair who didn't know what was going on in her own division.

So instead of answering the question, Sally asked, “Which faculty member?”

“Perry Johnson,” Fieldstone said. He never called him A. B. D.

Sally remembered the parking incident at once. “Complaining about the student car in the faculty parking spot?”

“Indeed. He seems quite upset. Do you think his idea has any merit?”

Sally didn't believe that even A. B. D. would be stupid enough to suggest shooting a student in a written memo. Still, she thought she'd better be cautious.

“What idea?” she asked.

“The idea of putting something called ‘the boot' on cars that are parked illegally.”

Sally had heard about the boot before. Big-city police sometimes used it to immobilize the cars of parking violators. She told Fieldstone that she didn't think it was something that was needed on a college campus.

“My thought exactly. We don't want to antagonize our students; they're our bread and butter.” Fieldstone paused and then said, “Is there anything … wrong with Johnson? You aren't pressuring him to finish his dissertation, are you?”

A year or so earlier, Johnson had written a memo to complain that he felt under tremendous pressure from “certain administrators and department chairs” to complete his dissertation so as to “make the faculty look better” when accreditation agencies visited the school. Sally had never figured out who had been pressuring Johnson, and no one had ever admitted it.

“I haven't been pressuring anyone,” she said. “Mr. Johnson's just excitable.”

“Try to calm him down, then. I don't like having to reply to memos like this one.”

Sally started to tell Fieldstone that he didn't have to reply, but she thought better of it. It wouldn't do any good. Fieldstone never let anything go without a reply. So she assured him that A. B. D. wouldn't be writing any more memos for a while.

And now Val Hurley's new chair was going to make a liar out of her. Maybe A. B. D.'s idea about having a student shot could be revised somewhat, Sally thought. Instead of shooting a student, the division chairs could draw straws, with the winner getting to shoot one faculty member.

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