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Murder in the Dean’s Office: Part 2

A few weeks ago I shared with you the first installment of a murder mystery by that well-known columnist Don Ramon. In that installment the Dean of the College of Science and Literature at Auburn University had been brutally murdered--found dead in his office with a black-bellied whistling duck lodged in his throat. Since the duck is/was protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Act (not much protection, you might say), the FBI claimed jurisdiction and began to investigate this fowl deed.

You should remember that this is a work of fiction and that no actual ducks were hurt or killed.

Installment 2

The bodies of the dean and the duck were sent to the state crime lab in Montgomery for analysis. The cause of death was not apparent in either case. Herbert Palmer, the director of the forensics lab, said it would take several weeks to come up with any answers. The lab was poorly funded by the Alabama Legislature, as was everything else in Alabama except the forestry industry, and there was no money to buy scalpels. All dissection was done with a set of 6 steak knives bought at Wal-Mart for $4.98.

Lamont Weinstein, the chief of the Auburn FBI office, was a short, handsome, highly intelligent, and very professional agent. His first order of business was to compile a list of people who might have a motive to do in the dean. He, along with his second in command Hogne Augland, interviewed Sarah Pinkston, the late dean’s secretary, at some length. Sarah was very forthcoming and conscientiously tried to think of anyone and everyone who might have been offended by the dean. By the end of the interview, Weinstein and Augland had compiled a list of 432 names. That was only three fewer people than the 435 on the faculty and staff of the college of Science and Literature. The three people that had been excluded included the dean’s wife, who was a university employee, and two other staff members who had been hired the previous week.

It seems the dean had managed to offend people on a wholesale basis—often alienating the entire faculty and staff of a department with a single stroke. For example, the dean sent very nasty letters to the department of Foreign Languages explaining to the department head and the faculty exactly how they should go about teaching German, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese although the dean didn’t speak any of these languages himself and, in fact, had difficulty carrying on a sustained sensible conversation in English. The department head pointed out in a memo to the dean that they had a highly qualified faculty who should be allowed to use their collective best judgment on the best way to teach the languages in question. The dean, who hated to have his judgment questioned, summarily fired the department head.

Investigation revealed that the dean had fired several people, mostly those who disagreed with him. The head of the physics department, a firee, told Weinstein that the dean had very low argumentative skills and when he got into an argument with almost anyone, including the custodial staff and small household appliances, he was outmatched and he knew it. He could recognize that he was losing the argument, but he didn’t know what to do about it. So he fired the arguer.

Weinstein realized that being fired could seriously impede, if not destroy, an academic’s career. In a society in which people might be killed for their cool tennis shoes, career destruction qualifies as adequate motive for murder.

Weinstein decided that the best way to wade through this mound of information was to divide the labor. Augland would talk to the “humanities” group while he, that would be Weinstein, would interview the science and mathematics folks.

Augland wasn’t the brightest bulb in the room. In fact, he was as dull as Weinstein was sharp. However, Augland had to do something so Weinstein gave him his assignment.

Lamont—“Hogne I want you to talk to all the humanities folks to see if can eliminate any of them and get this suspect list down to a manageable size.”
Hogne—“OK. I’ll try to find out if any of them noticed a strange duck on the premises.”
Lamont—“Forget about the damn duck. Find out how these people felt about Dean Chapford.”
Hogne—“What are humanities folks?”
Lamont—“People in the departments of English, Foreign Languages, History—you know, people who aren’t scientists.
Hogne—“OK, but how are we going to find out about the duck if I don’t ask?”

Lamont decided it was late in the afternoon and time to begin drinking. He went to Rusty’s Oyster Bar and tried to mingle unobtrusively with the university faculty who frequented the place. He ordered a beer and struck up a conversation with David King, a very friendly and somewhat inebriated member of the psychology faculty.

“Hi. I’m David King. I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before.” “I’m just passing through,” Lamont lied. “Is there anything exciting going on around here?” David hicced and said, “Our dean got murdered yesterday. How’s that for exciting?” “Really,” said Lamont. “How did that happen?” David hicced again and said, “He was apparently killed by a kamikaze suicidal terrorist duck. It just flew right down his throat.” David snorted and laughed at his own witticism. He laughed so hard he actually produced moisture in the front of his trousers.

Lamont thought this drunken psychologist might be a gold mine of information and in condition he might be likely share the information. “Do you think this duck had a grudge against the dean or was it just looking for a random person to terrorize?” “If the duck didn’t have it in for the dean, he would have been a minority duck. Everybody, including most species of waterfowl, hated the dean.” More snorting and laughing—more moisture.

Lamont decided it was going to be a long night. He was also beginning to hate ducks and was uncertain about psychologists.
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Time’s up and space exhausted for now. Keep watching for the next exciting installment.