I had not seen Walter in twenty years, since when we were both undergraduates at a southern military college. We had been roommates for two years when, after posting stellar grades and being offered early acceptance into the Alpha Zeta fraternity, he moved in with the rest of the rising stars in the agriculture school while I roomed with a number of undistinguished laggards all of us just putting in time until we got our bachelor's degrees so we could get jobs in agribusiness.
When I called him recently I found him still passionate about the same subjects that we both studied in college, biology, biochemistry and their application to animal science. Although I had ended up as a USDA meat inspector he went on to do primary research in animal endocrinology, a subject which kept him in demand at conferences here and abroad. Since I would be in Atlanta on business we agreed to a long overdue reunion.
He and his wife Pamela met me at the airport and after some twenty three years there was an understandable awkwardness about the proper degree of affection to be displayed by two old friends who were reared in the tradition of the southern military school. It was a tradition where men would not dare to embrace or even shake hands, the proper greeting being a military salute. But Pamela's warm southern charm immediately resolved the issue as she threw her arms around me thereby giving Walter and I license to engage in a quick man-hug, one where the head is tilted away from the opposing head to ensure they will not come into contact.
On the way home from the airport Walter suggested we stop by the University to check on his projects. It was a long weekend and he had charitably given his grad students some free time by taking on the daily lab minding chores himself. But I really think he just couldn't wait to show me the empire he had established for himself and begin the process of rubbing my nose in his numerous and multifarious life achievements.
Since Walter's doctorate was in animal science I was surprised to find a human among the subjects of his research. When he opened the door to his laboratory we were immediately greeted by a nurse who accompanied us to a sickbed where a female cancer patient was watching "Love Boat" reruns on a small ceiling mounted TV set. The patient was an indigent middle-aged African-American woman everybody called Miss Bessie.
"Terminal. Sadly terminal," Walter confided later, although at three hundred pounds Miss Bessie didn't look like your typical end stage cancer case.
Walter made some small talk with Miss Bessie then stuck a needle into the flab of her elbow and drew out a 250 cc blood sample into a syringe that was almost as large as a caulking gun. It was the kind we used on large animals and worked just fine on humans as long as you didn't top it off at its 1000 cc (1 liter) capacity. I couldn't help wondering if Walt was trying to impress me with how far he had come from our college days when we only worked on mice and hamsters. I felt proud of his accomplishments and even though I was only a civil servant in the Department of Agriculture I'm sure my blasé indifference to the sight of human blood was enough to show them that I too was, for the moment at least, one of them-- a professional in the biological sciences.
Of course, that evening, Pamela and Walter had to take me out to dinner at a charming little restaurant in their charming little college downtown which was not all that far from the University and Walter's lab.
Walter and I were big drinkers and twenty-three years had done nothing to dim our love of a good bender. We drank and drank, putting down two bottles of Chard and then got into an argument after dinner about what it means to be human which led to a discussion about immune system compatibility among animals and whether human T-cells can be manufactured in lower forms of life.
Walter became distant and aloof when I didn't buy his position on the matter. I knew that he was irritated that I wasn't accepting his argument as if it had been handed down from the Almighty. It was, after all, his subject, a subject he knew so well that he was on the short list to head up the new department of animal endocrinology at Princeton. But this was the Walt I knew, the one who loved you dearly but who would never let you make him look bad. But then he got a gleam in his eye and chuckled to himself.
"We can actually settle this right now," he said, conspiratorially.
I shook my head in amazement. It's the old resourceful, enterprising Walt. The old never-back-down, never-give-em-an-inch Walt.
"I can inject tissue from my cancer patient into a steer. Then we just see if it makes any antibodies to her cancerous lymphocytes."
He then did a quick appraisal of whether a mere meat inspector was taking in all the technical gobbledygook.
"I don't think it'll work," I said confidently, challenging him. "You'll find antibodies but they won't look like Miss Bessie's."
Pamela gaped in astonishment.
"You actually understand all this?" she laughed.
"I don't look like I would understand it, do I?" I said humbly.
"I didn't mean it that way," she said, squirming in discomfort.
"I don't look the part. I admit it," I shrugged. "But I keep up with the Joneses in my own way. I read the journals, pick up a text book once in awhile. Get the stuff I should’ve picked up in graduate school." I put a hard challenging stare on Walt. "But they wouldn't let me in, would they Walt?"
Walt seemed to want out of this subject badly, which alerted his wife that there was some kind of unpleasant subtext from the past that would need airing. Walt was not being much help, looking down his nose through his reading specs at the check.
"I didn't get into the right honor society," I explained to Pamela. She seemed bemused that Walt was ill at ease over this subject and seemed determined to wait him out. But Walter soon finally owned up.
"You would never have gotten into graduate school even if you had been an Alpha Zeta," said Walt dismissively, not even bothering to look up from the check.
"What an impolite thing to say," stammered Pamela.
Walt stood up and slipped into his jacket.
"Let's go," he said. "The lab's right across the street."
"What?" cried Pamela looking over the table in shock.
"We're going to settle this right now," said Walt. "Tonight!"
She looked at me pleadingly as if it was now up to me to put the brakes on such a radical proposal. But her look said more than that; it said that she was powerless to stop it herself, powerless to stop Walt when his reputation had been questioned, especially after a few drinks.
"We'll be right back, honey," he said applying the obligatory kiss to the top of the head.
Pamela pulled me down to whisper range by the sleeve of my blazer and pleaded. "Keep an eye on my husband, please."
It was the look in the woman's eye that unsettled me. It was not as if we were just going across the street. It was as if we were about to climb K-2.
"You know Walt," I tittered nervously. "He won't quit until I say uncle."
"We're getting ready for a big career change," she whispered. "I've got him on a very short leash to make sure it happens. Just play along with him."
Pamela was from the Boston area, so a move from the deep south to a northern metropolitan area like Princeton, N.J. was welcome indeed.
"Don't worry," I said with comforting smile. "I'll keep Walt on the straight and narrow."
"Come on," said Walter, pulling my other arm with enough force so my blazer sleeve slid out of his wife's grip.
We took a quick detour to Walter's SUV to "get fortified" he said, fetching a six pack of Chardonnay miniatures from its hiding place in the rear hatch of the vehicle. We finished them by the time we arrived at the Hospital Annex.
Walter's clinic/lab was in the basement of the University Student Activity Center which was in constant use by not only university students but also local high schools which rented the ballroom for Senior Proms and commencement ceremonies. Such was the case this Friday evening since when we arrived in the lab we found two high school age boys dressed in Tuxedos chatting with the subject of Walt's research, Miss Bessie, the terminal cancer patient.
Walter froze in the door way slack-jawed in utter disbelief.
"Are you kids lost?" he demanded, in shock.
"Dese young'uns has been keeping me company," said Miss Bessie, sweetly. "Dis Ronald and, and dis Braden."
"Really?" replied Walter reeking with his own special brand of sarcasm.
"We were supposed to pick up some corsages in room 1106," said Ronald, the tall one, nervously, exhibiting an invoice for us to see. Walt ignored it.
"Well this is the hospital annex," replied Walter, trying to be as patient as possible under the circumstances. "I suggest you return to the main floor immediately."
"What kind of hospital is this?" said Braden, the one that looked like a surfer dude. "There's a cow in one of the rooms down the hall."
"You didn't go in there, did you?!" snapped Walter with alarm.
The boys seemed taken aback by Walt's sudden urgency.
"N-no," said the tall one haltingly, checking his pal Braden for corroboration.
"Then how did you know there was a cow there?" asked Walter.
The kids seemed to sense that they were having a prom night which was not turning out like the one advertised in the promotional material.
"We . . ." mumbled Ronald with a cracking voice. "We heard it."
"Yeah, we heard it," echoed Braden.
Walter, with all the authority of a high school principal, sternly seized each boy by the elbow and with one in each hand, marched them out of the lab, down the corridor, through a set of double doors labeled 'ANIMAL LAB', finally coming to a halt at a closed door on which was stenciled in large block letters--
DR. WALTER DREEL
DEAN PRENTICE SKINNER
NO UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS
It was a time of reckoning. Walter dramatically seized the doorknob and, while keeping his eye on the boys' reactions, hesitated then slowly twisted the handle as if it was a knife embedded in their abdomens. The knob turned. The door cracked opened. The boys were caught.
At that very moment the band began playing "Sweet Home Alabama" on the main floor ballroom. Long bass waves traveled unhindered down heating ducts and stairwells, bounced off of walls and resonated in tiled acoustically live corridors announcing the prom was now underway. The boys were rescued.
"Could we go now, sir?" asked the tallest boy, plaintively.
"Get out of here," said Walter in disgust. "And spread the word up there that this floor is off limits."
The boys quietly slunk off, silent and chastened for the moment, but as soon as they closed the stairwell fire door they screamed to high heaven and howled out something that sounded like "Fucking cows! Can you believe it!?"
"Little jerks," said Walter in disappointment, pushing into the lab. "I knew they were in here. One of the grad students left it open, probably Jeffery."
Sure enough, the kids were right. There was a cow, in fact three of them, Walt's and two others belonging to another experimenter, Dr. Skinner, the Dean of School of Agriculture.
I immediately spotted a lot of cautionary signage and realized Walter was perfectly justified to be impatient with the young prom goers. 'NO SMOKING', 'NO OPEN FLAMES', 'SMOKE DETECTOR INSTALLED' and 'AN ALARM WILL SOUND'. 'NO CELL PHONE USAGE'
"You guys really mean business on the smoking," I tittered.
"Yeah, that's because of Dean Skinner's experiment," said Walter, gesturing at two cows that were wired up to an array of stainless steel pipes and tanks.
Dr. Skinner, the Dr. Skinner emphasized Walt, was not only the Dean of the School Agriculture but also a world-class researcher in biochemistry.
"He's breeding a variety of cattle that will manufacture natural gas that can be sold directly into the marketplace. Come over here. It's pretty interesting," said Walter enthusiastically.
Each cow had a rubber tube going into its ass which was connected to a plumbing array which in turn fed a stack of propane tanks each of which proudly bore a 'GO GREEN' and 'ECO-FRIENDLY' bumper sticker.
"Right now all the gas is being vented out of the building but when Dean Skinner is down here he can collect it in these bottles and you can cook with it or even heat your home."
"Pretty amazing stuff," I said as Walter held the animal syringe up to the light. The syringe contained 250 cc's of Miss Bessie's blood complete with all her cancerous lymphocytes but Walter wanted only 200 so he squirted 50 into the sink then turned toward his cow, the cow in the stall under the sign--
DR. WALTER DREEL
Excelses Deo let out a moan as if to protest what was coming but Walter plunged the needle deep into the haunch and injected the contents of the syringe.
With the experiment now underway we could return to the restaurant but Walt had other plans. As we left the lab he closed the door while dialing his cell phone.
"Hi, honey," he said into the phone then paused as he took an earful of abuse, no doubt, about why we were taking so long. "We're going to be a little longer. There's a high school prom going on in the building tonight. I'm kind of uneasy having all these kids running around. We caught two of them in the lab."
Walt kind of rolled his eyes impatiently as Pamela expressed more displeasure.
"I wouldn't worry about that," said Walt. "Why don't you just go on home and Hal and I are going to wait around and get the results tonight instead of coming in tomorrow?"
Walt flinched at the tongue-lashing he was getting from the other end.
"Don't worry about that! Everything is under control! See you in about an hour. Okay? Bye honey." He folded up the phone giving me a look that said "Women!"
"All she thinks about is Princeton, Princeton, Princeton," he complained.
There was then the ethereal sound of a woman's voice, high pitched, mournful, too near and too soulful to have come from an event as lighthearted as a prom.
"What's that?" I asked as I cocked an ear toward its source.
"That's Miss Bessie," said Walter. "She always starts singing when she sees an angel."
The tones were ephemeral, the intervals spiritual, reshaped by the basement corridor acoustics, it summoned up a vision of a lone distant soul at the gates of heaven.
"I's crossin' t' the other side.
I's crossin' t' the other side.
I's crossin' t' the other side.
Don't need this worry no mo'"
It was indeed a moving sight-- Miss Bessie, facing certain death but singing the old gospel with joy, confronting her fate with the strength and courage that only a belief in the Lord God Almighty can inspire. The cardiac monitoring equipment seemed to keep time with the song as it annunciated each contraction of her ventricle with a chirp on the backbeat.
"I's (chirp) crossin' (chirp) t' the (chirp) other side.(chirp)
Don't need (chirp) this worry no (chirp) mo'_____" (chirp)
But Walt was about to put on some entertainment of his own. He struck a confrontational pose-- knuckles on hips, one shoulder turned outward, scowling in displeasure like an urban sister with all her buttons pushed.
"Girl! Wa' fo' you be singin' dat?" said Walter in a falsetto. "Wa' fo' you be singin' dat? You ain't goin' no place! You hear me?"
Well Miss Bessie guffawed so hard she almost kicked the covers off her bed.
"You is right on wit dat girl you be doin'!" she cried in between coughs.
The more Miss Bessie laughed the more Walter poured it on. The giggling turned to gasping and heaving and the heartbeat chirps from the cardiac monitor became irregular and alarming. Walt eyed the trace with concern as her respiratory difficulties mounted.
"You take it easy, honey," said Walt. "Don'chu you be checking out on me, girl. You hear? I need you for another couple of weeks.”
Well the old roommate certainly had a bedside manner that any physician would envy. Miss Bessie finally calmed down, caught her breath and was so pleased with our company that she insisted we sit down in her guest chairs and watch a "Different Strokes" episode while we waited for the cow to produce the anticipated antibody clones to her lymphatic tissue. The period of time for this to happen, said Walter, would be no more than an hour.
I remember that I was standing at a railroad crossing in Europe waiting for a train to pass. It must have been Europe because the train had one of those high pitched whistles. But there was something amiss, something logically inconsistent. As the train whizzed by the crossing its whistle did not change pitch as it would have in the real world. It was then I realized that I must be dreaming. My eyes popped open but the high pitched monotone persisted. Maybe I was actually on the train rather than standing at a grade crossing watching it pass. A distant voice kept intruding, a voice that was urgent and demanding.
"How long has this woman been dead?" said a voice in the distance.
"Clear!" called a woman's voice. Zap!
I quickly sat up and spun around.
"How long has this woman been dead?" said a man, shaking Walt's shoulder. The man was elderly, with the distinguished face of an administrator.
I was still in the hospital annex. Walt and I had fallen asleep. The steady tone was coming from the cardiac monitor.
"Clear!" called the resident. Zap went the defibrillator machine as a spike of current surged through the conducting paddles into Miss Bessie's thoracic cavity. The Chinese American resident physician stepped back as she watched Miss Bessie buckle, stiffen then fall limp.
The high pitched monotone sputtered then continued its one note drone.
The trace on the video monitor was flat.
"Wake up, Walter!" insisted Dean Skinner.
Walt, groggy and little hung over, opened his eyes to find his boss, the Dean of the School of Agriculture, Dr. Prentice Skinner staring him sternly in the face. Walt sat up and looked around at his surroundings in utter confusion.
"Clear!" called the Chinese woman. Zap went the machine.
Walt spun toward Miss Bessie.
"Oh my God!" he yelled, jumping to his feet.
"What the hell is going on?" asked Dr. Skinner following Walt's every move with the intensity of a psychologist who had just discovered a new mode of human behavior. Walt slowly got his bearings and went to Miss Bessie's bedside.
"How long?" asked Dean Skinner, impatiently.
"I don't know," said Walt sadly as the resident pulled the sheet over Miss Bessie's face. "I'm going to need all her urine and the blood work-up from the autopsy."
Everyone seemed to have forgotten I was there.
"I'll wait outside," I announced. I'm not even sure Walt or the others heard me. I just went out into the corridor and closed the door while the prom orchestra played what I thought was some ballad from the 1980's. Then I heard raised voices from inside the lab. I edged closer to the door and mischievously pressed my ear on its metal surface.
"What are you doing here in the middle of the night?" cried the Dean.
"I can explain everything," said Walt.
"Have you been drinking?" demanded Skinner.
"I'm not going to dignify that with an answer," Walt replied.
Someone touched the door handle. I jumped back about three feet and posed nonchalantly as the door swung open. Walt came barging through it, slammed it closed and set off alone down the corridor. I soon caught up with him.
"Are you in trouble?" I asked as we walked down the corridor.
"No. Miss Bessie only had a couple days left. She could have gone anytime."
"I guess we were just too much excitement for her," I said penitently.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean!?" cried Walt, stopping in his tracks and confronting me face to face. "You think I had something to do with that?"
"You know, 'Mammy, wa' fo' you be doin' dat!", I said in a high pitched bad imitation of Walt's on the money urban sister.
"It was her time to go," he snapped, cutting me off. "She gave her last weeks to science so the family could have something to bury her with and maybe have a little left over to leave to the kids. Her time came and she crossed over to the other side, just like in the song."
Walt was laying it on thick and heavy but soon realized that he was putting me in an uncomfortable place, a place completely inappropriate for that of a houseguest. He put an arm around my shoulder.
"Come on," he said, affectionately. "Let's go check on the cow."
When we opened the bovine lab door I could tell immediately that something wasn't right. Walt's cow, Excelses Deo, was laying on her back with her legs extending vertically in the air as if rigor mortis had already set in.
"Oh my God!" cried Walt, stumbling backwards and fortunately finding the wall for support.
He had this look of terror in his eyes as if he had become suddenly aware that all the bad luck in his life was being delivered on this one night. He knelt down in the straw and placed a stethoscope over the beast's jugular.
"Is it . . .?" I couldn't even get out the "d" word at this point.
Walter nodded then removed the stethoscope from his ears.
"Two years worth of work down the drain."
"Maybe there was an anaphylactic reaction to the woman's cancer cells," I offered.
"Please, I do not need the opinion of a meat inspector at this point," he retorted testily.
Whatever it was it sure looked like something from Miss Bessie's injection killed the cow. Possibly Walter was just not ready to face it. He became quiet and distant. He looked quite pathetic sitting there in the straw stroking the fur of his dead cow his face screwed up in intense concentration as if trying to figure out what he had overlooked. He then seemed to be having that moment, that moment that even the ancient Greeks knew about, that moment when you discover that much of what you know is wrong and you realize you are a fraud and always have been. I made a move to put a comforting hand on his shoulder but before I made contact he suddenly leapt to his feet.
"Holy shit!" he cried, gripping his head with both hands.
I followed his sight line to the other side of the lab. It terminated on Dean Skinner's stalls. But where one of the gas-producing cows once stood there was now just a gas collection tube dangling from a stainless steel valve.
"How could it have gotten out?" I cried indignantly as I watched what was supposed to be just a harmless experiment to settle an argument over dinner turn into a career altering fiasco that I couldn't help feeling partly responsible for. I was just trying to show some solidarity with his predicament but my concern came out forced and superficial.
"It's those fuckin' kids!" bellowed Walter almost in tears.
It suddenly occurred to me that it may have been Walter who had left the bovine lab door unlocked. I didn't know whether it was appropriate to mention it now with so much on his mind but I thought it better to look like I was working with him on the problem.
"Does the door lock automatically when you close it or do you have to use the key?" I asked, remembering that Walt did not use the key when he last closed it because he was busy calling his wife.
Walt must have come to this same conclusion because he put a laser glare on me like I hadn't seen in twenty years. It was the glare he used to try to intimidate anyone who overstepped their bounds, the glare that reminded us that although we were in the same class year we weren't really peers.
"You think I'm responsible for all this, don't you?" he said darkly. "I'm not going to take the blame for this! Do you understand?"
It was pitiful. Walt seemed to forget that I was a bystander, just a weekend houseguest that dropped in on a lark.
"I'm just trying to help you figure out how the cow got out, Walt," I replied.
Walt lifted a clipboard off its nail on the wall. He studied the numbers on the page then sighed in agony.
"Is everything going to go wrong tonight?" he cried hanging the clipboard up but missing the nail then throwing it against the wall in disgust.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"That cow was just fed a dose of Dean Skinner's experimental enzymes," he said grimly. "It's going to be full of gas. We've got to find it. It'll stink up the place so bad they'll have to call off their fucking dance!"
"Don't you think we should tell . . ." I offered meekly ". . . Dean Skinner?"
"Are you crazy?!" he snapped. "If we do that it will be all over campus tomorrow. It will be a national news item. It will turn Pamela into a raging banshee. I can handle this myself," he said, closing the lab door, then sheepishly using the key to lock it. Then he brushed by me and stomped down the corridor. He didn't invite me along but I had no choice but to follow. By the time he had opened the fire door to the stairwell I had caught up to him.
It was easy to find the prom. We just followed the music, first just the bass wave then as we came closer the guitars and vocals. We could finally see the ballroom entrance with coming and going teens in their ball gowns and ill fitting Tuxedos but blocking our path was a security checkpoint manned by two Tux clad bouncers wearing badges that said 'SECURITY'. The sign on the table said--
ALCOHOL FREE EVENT
Walt gave me a brief glance of uncertainty then dutifully stepped forward and blew into the Breathalizer. The big baldheaded bouncer looked at Walter's numbers and frowned.
"I'm going to have to deny you entrance, sir," he said.
Walter looked at me then became apoplectic.
"I have reason to believe," Walt stated with simmering rage, "that students attending this event stole a cow from the University. The cow is bred to be, what we call in the business, hyper-flatulent. It is producing methane and hydrogen sulfide gas. When a big bubble forms in its gut it vents it out all at once kind of like you do when you fart. If the cow has one of these episodes the smell will propagate through the entire building and ruin the prom experience for a lot of kids. I must be allowed in to put a plug in the cow's ass then remove it from the premises. If not I will be forced to take measures to clear the building myself."
Walter was blowing it. The two bouncers looked at each other in astonishment. With his lame and meandering explanation they must have thought their breathalizer was reading low. The biggest one stepped in front of Walt and drew himself up to his full height so Walt was forced to consider his sizable bulk in any plans he might have for escalating the situation.
"I'm sorry, sir," said the bouncer, "Nobody gets in above the legal limit."
"Can we speak to the chaperone?" I blurted out trying to salvage the situation.
The bouncer reluctantly dialed his cellphone. Walt said he was going to the bathroom but I eventually found out he was doing an end run around the sobriety cordon leaving me to wait for the chaperone.
The following is an excerpt from a story in the Atlanta Constitution which was based on the field notes recorded by a reporter who was on the scene that night. It describes the events that I wasn't a witness to because I was denied entrance to the ballroom.
With the May Queen not yet announced they were all just Ladies in Waiting anyone of whom were pretty enough to be the May Queen but only one of whom would be crowned. As the orchestra played "My Reverie" University High School's twelve most eligible young ladies paraded up on stage in white ball gowns and flashed peroxide brightened smiles as they were introduced by the master of ceremonies, WUYT disk jockey Nathan Skibbe.
Uni High largely serves the children of the University faculty so the students are unusually gifted and culturally hip, just the kind who are apt to take something like a high school prom with a few grains of salt. This was apparent as Mr. Skibbe began announcing the winners of a series of tongue-in-cheek, whimsically conceived titles for the May Court personalities. There was Miss Cranium, the Lady in Waiting with the best grades. There was Miss Congenital Congeniality, the Lady in Waiting who "over the past school year consistently exhibited a superior level of inherited congenial-ness". There was Miss SAT Scores. Finally there was the Maid of Honor.
Then the moment everyone had been waiting for, the crowning of the Queen of the May Court. Mr. Skibbe paused as a hush fell over the ballroom, prolonging the tension as long as possible. A sixth grader dressed as a medieval squire balanced a glittering crown on a satin pillow he held precariously on two outstretched palms .
Then someone screamed.
It was Miss Cranium. Something backstage had caused her to spin around with alarm. Suddenly the entire May Court broke ranks and scattered to the wings of the stage as if fleeing from some unseen threat emerging from behind the stage décor. What happened next can only be described as "udderly" fantastic.
From out of the chaos emerged a cow at center stage with a handsome Tux clad escort on each arm …uh make that front leg. Miss Cow wore a white gown by Versace, wore in the sense that the gown had been strapped to her neck and front legs with bungee cords. Her banner read 'MAY QUEEN'.
Were the Uni students taking the satirizing of high school life to a new level? Or was this an improvised event? It didn't seem to matter to the prom guests as they roared their appreciation with raucous laughter.
Suddenly a man rushed the stage and announced that the cow belonged to the University and had been wrongfully appropriated. He chased Miss Cow's escorts off with a raised bottle of imitation Champagne then rushed around behind the Miss Cow and forced the Champagne bottle into her behind. Ignoring the shouts and laughter from the ballroom and fending off security personnel he turned the beast around by its horns presumably to begin its grand exit through the rear of the stage. But this positioned it so that the cow's ass was now pointed directly at the audience.
The cow then let out a painful moan. The man desperately tugged at the cow's horns then backed away in horror and ran from the scene. The Champagne bottle shot out of the cow's ass all the way across the ballroom and disappeared into the lobby.
It was at this point that the recording ends.
I was still waiting for the chaperone at the sobriety checkpoint when I heard the sound of a bottle bouncing off the lobby's tiled floor and crashing into the outside doors. Then there was an eerie silence. It would only take a single spark from an old worn out cell phone to ruin an evening. As it was, all the students were at that moment texting at once.
I felt a rush of air, turned toward its source and saw a blue-green fireball rolling down the corridor. I must have out ran it because I ended up with just all the hair singed off the back of my head, not enough to be even treated.
The death toll was now up to six. Walt was downwind of the cow and had escaped with superficial burns. They tried to charge him with second-degree manslaughter but could only make criminal negligence stick. Mercifully they let him off with time served.
When I saw the fireball I ran and just kept on running, out of the building, through the charming little downtown, past the charming little restaurant where we had dinner, all the way to Walt's house where I jumped in my car and drove away. I was reluctant to face Pamela after my vow to keep Walt out of trouble. I had brought enough bad luck already.
It was shame, a real shame. I had wanted to use the opportunity of our reunion to tell Walter that I had forgiven him completely for blackballing me from Alpha Zeta but that would have to wait for another time.