“Chinese restaurant… Malaysian student… ”
Cheryl Stewart raised the volume on her cell phone and pushed it closer to her ear to decipher the intermittent mumbling. “What’s wrong, Doc?”
“Heart…stomach… ” A pause amplified the labored breathing of her mentor.
She connected the hardly audible words. “You’ve been to a Chinese restaurant with a Malaysian student when you felt sick?” Leaning forward, she tightened her grasp on the phone. “Where are you now?”
“Am…Amb… ” The strident wail of an ambulance siren interrupted his effort and Cheryl’s pulse raced at the sound.
“Which hospital are you going to?” God, she should have insisted he take better care of his health.
“ER… Cam…bridge Hos…pital… “
“I’m coming.” It made sense that the paramedics had rushed him to the closest medical center to Harvard School of Architecture.
“Don’t. I need… ” Doc’s voice suddenly forceful filled the line and then collapsed as if he’d lost his last shred of energy.
“Yes, what do you need?” Her throat constricted in anguish. She’d do anything to help the man she’d considered a surrogate father for the last eight years.
Her question must have triggered some awareness. “Go to France… My plane ticket in my office...left drawer... Take my laptop...password statue.” His voice shattered, then came back. She didn’t know if she’d missed something. “Go. Careful. Watch… ” His panting reached her across the line, louder than his words. “Tell François…tell… ”
“Yes?” She probed, her heart drumming in the deafening silence.
“Go…tomorrow.”
“What about you?”
“Maybe food poisoning… Better soon.” He grunted and gasped. “Go.” The connection was cut. Cheryl checked the calling phone number. His cell phone. Had Doc closed the line because a new surge of pain assailed him?
Professor Howard sick? He hadn’t missed a day of work since she’d sat in his class for the first time eight years ago. Should she disobey his orders and rush to the hospital to reassure herself he wasn’t in danger? She bit her lip, hesitating. No, she couldn’t do that. If he’d taken the trouble to call her on his cell phone while in the ambulance writhing in pain, she’d better do exactly as he said.
Her briefcase under her arm, she left the graduate students’ studio at Harvard School of Architecture and strode down the hallway to Professor Stanley Howard’s office. He’d given her a key two months ago when she worked with him on the statue’s project as part of her Ph.D. thesis. She unlocked his office, closed the door behind her and went straight to his desk.
In the first drawer she found a plane ticket and Doc’s passport. She took the ticket as instructed and left the passport. Now, the laptop, his most precious possession, where he saved his plans, research, and discoveries. She scanned the well-organized but cluttered office, the double rows of books in the bookcase, the paper-covered credenza and the big computer sitting on a cart.
Where had he hidden it? And why? She unlocked the closet and sighed with relief when she found it under a pile of journals. Sliding both the airfare ticket and the laptop in her briefcase, she left the sanctuary where Professor Howard spent his days and most of his nights. She locked the door behind her and strolled down the Friday-evening-deserted hallway to the graduate students’ studio where she had a desk.
An hour later, as she left the studio, she glanced down the hallway and gasped. A man just stepped out of Doc’s office. What the hell was he doing there? Except for Cheryl and security, no one else had a key to her mentor’s office.
“Hey, you,” she shouted, but the intruder had already disappeared around the corner.

2 comments

  1. Sandra Cox // November 18, 2007 at 10:46 AM  

    This is a great read!
    Sandra

  2. Mary Marvella // November 24, 2007 at 10:18 PM  

    A great gotcha last sentence.