“A Whodunit Committed by a Whole Classroom,” is how the New York Times described Naked Came the Post-Postmodernist: A Mystery (Arcade Publishing, November 2013), written collectively by the Sarah Lawrence Class WRIT – 3303 – R taught by Melvin Jules Bukiet. The students collaborated to create the mystery of who killed Eric Davenport, a senior mathematics professor at Underhill College who is found dead in his office. In this excerpt, Kate Steelford, a crime scene technician, has been asked by Detective Harsley to examine Eric Davenport’s body.
Naked Came the Post-Postmodernist: A Mystery
Sarah Lawrence Class WRIT – 3303 – R
Harsley now stood behind Kate as she prepared for the first incision. She lifted the scalpel but paused above the sternum.
“No,” she said.
“What do you mean, no?” Harsley said angrily, advancing. Kate turned to him and gestured at his chest with the scalpel.
“You dragged me in here. I have a right to know why I’m cutting this stiff open for you. At the very least so that I can protect my job if you’ve finally gone off the deep end.”
Harsley clamped his teeth for a moment, staring Kate down. She held her ground and returned his gaze. Eventually, he sighed, put the half cigarette behind his ear, and said, “Fine.”
“Talk,” Kate said.
Harsley cleared his throat and began walking back and forth across the morgue.
“I went back to Davenport’s office tonight. I wanted to give it another once-over.”
“Wasn’t it already searched? I heard they didn’t find anything suspicious. No poison or weapons of any kind.”
Harsley stopped in front of the row of metal drawers, seeming to contemplate them.
“That’s true. His computer was taken to the station for technological forensics. The only thing left was his bookshelves, some awards for excellence in teaching framed on the wall, and half a cup of coffee. But the desk did have a particular drawer on the bottom right side. It had a lock. It had of course been opened, and its contents were deemed unimportant. Just two books. I thought it was odd for a teacher to lock away some books, seeing as he had several miles of shelving in plain sight. So I took them home. One was a journal. Nothing weird there, just bullshit about advanced mathematics and students. Grace was mentioned a lot. Then I noticed that a few pages had been ripped out. I guess the first guys on the scene thought he’d used it for scratch paper. But the second book was really interesting.”
Harsley turned back to Kate. He reached into his coat pocket and produced a small folio bound in black leather. Nothing was written on the cover. Harsley had stuck a couple of Post-it notes between the pages. He handed it to Kate.
“Is this a Bible or something?” Kate asked.
“That’s what I thought at first,” Harsley said. “Open it.”
Kate opened the book and was stunned. The yellowed pages were inscribed with unintelligible black script. The characters of this unknown language rose and fell jaggedly across the page like waves during a storm. For some reason that Kate couldn’t explain, the thought that this language had been scrawled in blood skittered across her mind.
“What language is this?” she asked.
“No fucking clue.” Harsley answered walking around Davenport’s body with what seemed like a sense of trepidation.
“But look at the second page I marked.”
Kate flipped to the second Post-it and her stomach contracted. An illustration of a naked man was drawn over the entire left page. He was spread-eagled like the Vitruvian Man, except for his left hand. It was pointing with one finger. West, if his head was north. The skin on his chest had been pulled away on each side like a curtain. Emerging from the chest of this man, like some sort of cocoon, was a creature with many legs and bulbous eyes. Its two forearms looked like scythes reaching above the man’s head. Its sweeping wings spread across the entire page, and each wing displayed what looked like crescent moons. Kate looked up at Harsley across Davenport’s body. He stared back at her, his jaw hard-set.
“You can’t possibly think—” Kate began.
“Just open him up, Steelford. I hope this is all just a waste of time, but something tells me it isn’t. Just open the poor bastard up.”
Kate had never heard Harsley speak about a victim with pity before. His sudden sympathy scared her. She picked up her scalpel and hesitated above the sternum again. Harsley said, “Come on. You can do this.”