His left hand had failed him.
It was expected for one’s heart to react violently to the sight of blood, though his brain, logical as ever, managed to maintain its cool, calm façade. Clinging tightly onto it, Heat struggled to release his hold on the scalpel he had impulsively grabbed moments earlier. However, he found that his fingers were stiff, refusing to open and release it. Professor Harris had dropped to the floor in a heap; the maiming blade, forged of a rigid molybdenum-vanadium alloy, was lodged in Harris’ chest up to the hilt. It was an instrument intended only for skilled hands, easily capable of slicing off a finger with the slightest swing.
Maybe because he clenched the knife so tightly in his fist, or perhaps because of the fresh blood that clung to its handle, the metal that was supposed to be cool to the very touch radiated the slightest warmth. To an extent, it was almost as if he were absorbing the very life of his former professor. Disgusted and afraid, Heat squeezed his eyes shut.
Still, as much as he’d try to deny, there were claws extended from that clenched red fist in the most primal, twisted satisfaction, for caught in the beast’s hands was the fleeting pulse of prey.
“Lend me your strength, sis.”
Heat whispered to himself under his breath. Ever since he stopped believing in God, his prayers were now made exclusively to his sister.
With much effort, he finally uncurled his fingers. Panting, he directed his attention back to Professor Harris.
Looking back upon the man he had once known, the bosom of his tailor-made suit had not yet been stained with blood; that familiar, confident face of the professor, a charming man at the age of 48, was now pale like the sky before dawn. Now, his hair is mussed, his face bearing little to no resemblance to that of the sophisticated gentleman doctor he once was. Little by little, he struggled to take the slightest breaths, desperately sputtering and babbling blood all the while.
Heat could only make out one thing that he had said—a pained, laboured “Why did you do this?”. The professor strained himself to look at Heat, with both his sight and judgement alike hindered by his wounds. He had likely intended the question for whoever had injured him in the first place. However, there was no doubt in Heat’s mind that the delusion of him having been the one to cause this in the first place was what the professor was lead to believe.
The professor’s limbs were cool to the touch; his blood pressure had plummeted dramatically. The symptoms lined up perfectly with cardiac tamponade. Perhaps the aorta or pulmonary artery had been damaged. Such would entail an accumulation of hemorrhaged blood in the pericardium, constricting the heart and impeding circulation.
Cardiac injuries, however severe, rarely limit their victim to certain death. However, a fair amount of ignorant people are lead to their untimely demise thanks to this misunderstanding. As a result of blood circulation failure, vital organs can no longer receive fresh oxygen, resulting in rapid necrosis. This is necessary knowledge for any student aiming for a doctorate in medical science or a career in the medical field.
Still panicking, Heat grabbed the knife once more. Taking the professor’s condition into account, he realized that if he were to move the scalpel at all, it would only speed up his death by allowing more blood to be lost. For a brief, triumphant moment, Heat was satisfied with his diagnosis. However, there was a large gap between knowing symptoms and knowing what can be done.
Heat watched closely, kneeling down at the professor’s side, whose breaths threatened to cease.
As the left brain neared borderline hysterics, the right cortex instead prickled with sensitivity, stimulated by the surrounding environment. Heat’s eyes darted to and fro, hurriedly scanning through the pages of a thick textbook.
The Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine, the office of which was maintained by Professor Harris, is a relatively new addition to Yale University’s Sterling Hall of Medicine, given his specialization for cutting-edge genetics. The furniture inside was modern and functional.
The shelves, fashioned of elegant American black cherry, are tailored to the wall, all meticulously lined up together; the desk by which the professor lay is constructed of the same material. Outside the window beyond the desk, he could see some of the gleaming lights of the Cushing-Whitney medical library. Despite the time being barely past 10 P.M., such archives never seem to sleep.
Returning his gaze to the area of the scene, Heat noticed that a series of brand-new medical instruments were scattered at the feet of the podium by his side.
Shooting a quick glance at the wiring on the floor, Heat reached out to one of the instruments. Bleeding in the pericardium is considered fatal if it exceeds around 3 cubic centimeters. It’d be impossible to determine how long ago the wound was inflicted, though no matter what, the situation at hand is a definite emergency. Even if he were to be taken to an area in the medical center where he could receive proper medical attention, the fact of the matter is that the professor simply wouldn’t be able to make it to the surgical ward in time
Various surgical knives and syringes reflected the light of the fluorescent lamps, such as articulating linear cutters, myringotomy knives, micro picks for lifting retinal membranes, and so on. It’s likely that they were requested for inspection as teaching material samples for this semester under the professor, who had been named a member of the undergraduate budget committee. The weapon he was murdered with may have been chosen from among these tools.
Acute tamponade by means of penetrating chest trauma requires an urgent thoracotomy operation. But even though he was already enrolled in the medical school admissions process for next year, Heat wasn’t even a medical student yet. His biggest goal was to study in the Genetics department; additionally, to get into med school, he’d need to have basic knowledge of common surgical procedures as well. Any sort of technological experience wasn’t necessary. And yet, he couldn’t ignore the impending death on his hands.
“Come on, what did I come here for? I have to prove my purpose here.”
Scolding himself, he sorted through the equipment with quivering hands. It would be impossible to perform surgery without the right tools. If it came down to it, emergency measures would need to be taken; the surface of the heart would be punctured to prepare for a thoracotomy, merely piercing the heart with the puncture needle, collecting the blood with a syringe, and draining the excess. It would seem simple enough, though in all actuality, it’s a detailed procedure and a tremendously demanding task. Multiple factors, however, determine the circumstances of the procedure, such as the patient’s posture, which may in turn influence the process of disinfection from the clavicle to the navel and anesthesia, delivered directly to the heart as a lidocaine solution through a catheter needle. The procedure is so rigorous that even professionals must sign a liability contract before operating.
No matter what, though, the professor’s office simply wasn’t a fit environment to be operated in. Not even the most basic antiseptic solution was present; nor was anaesthesia. Heat was lucky enough to have found a puncture kit to use for the procedure under a basin tray; however, nothing could change the fact that he was still an amateur.
Even if the draining procedure were to succeed, despite the likelihood of which being equal to winning the state lottery, there’s no guarantee that the situation won’t be further exacerbated by overlapping conditions such as arrhythmia and infectious diseases. He didn’t want to so much as consider whether or not this would violate basic medical laws.
Rolling up the long sleeves of his plain, grey t-shirt, printed with the orange “Y” insignia of his college, Heat gently held the puncture needle in his mouth. Holding out his right hand, he silently pled for his sister’s help once again, before baring the professor’s chest. The unmistakable sound of trickling liquid suddenly came from behind him, making him jump in surprise.
At the entrance, a male student—likely in a doctoral course—stood rigid; the paper cup he had held fell to the floor. With eyes as wide as his glasses, his gaze darted back and forth between Heat and the professor.
At the other side of the entrance lay a private medical secretary office. Individual rooms assigned to doctoral students were connected by doors that sandwiched the corridors just ahead. When Heat had first come to the lecture hall, the secretary had also just arrived; he hadn’t seen anyone else nearby. The secretary had probably returned just after buying his coffee. Its bitter stench told Heat that his suspicions were right.
The student secretary was the first to take immediate action. Taking a few steps to the secretary’s desk, he dropped his paper bag and ran out into the corridor. Moments later, the secretary returned to the carnage, crying out as he ran for someone to call an ambulance. Given his current state, he couldn’t be sure if his voice made so much as a single sound. Stretching the neck of his t-shirt to scrape at the outside of his dry throat, he raised his voice again, only to be met with the gradually approaching sound of sneakers.
“His artery’s been damaged—someone, please! Call an ambulance!”
Although he wasn’t sure whether an ambulance was already on the way, Heat knew that he could leave the professor in the secretary’s care, for he was an accomplished senior, majoring in medicine. Now unoccupied, Heat had decided to take matters into his own hands, dialing the emergency hotline before the authorities would be alerted. Observing the student secretary skillfully applying emergency care, Heat realized that he should’ve initiated immediate mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but what had already been done couldn’t be changed.
Gingerly, he returned to remove the professor’s tangled necktie. The black-and-white material was thick with the man’s own blood. As he did so, the professor’s breaths seemed to sputter out weakly, wheezing and struggling to inhale. It was almost impossible to ignore his hoarse, ragged breaths.
After hastily undoing the last button of the victim’s shirt, Heat brushed off the front of his own. He gently dabbed at the blood pooling in the professor’s gaping wound with a handkerchief, then picked up a needle that had fell to the ground in the struggle. As before, there was nothing in the room he could use to heat and sterilize the instrument, making for an even riskier procedure. Nonetheless, he thoroughly licked the needle, wiping the tip thoroughly several times with the front of his “Y”-printed shirt.
Sweeping his sweaty blonde hair back out of his eyes, he laid his hand on the professor’s stomach. Tracing with his finger, he felt along the bow of the left rib and around the sternum until the xiphoid process intersected with his fingertip. Then, as the unmistakable noise of distant footsteps travelled through the corridor then burst through the entrance, Heat inserted the needle a single centimeter deep.
Heat stared at the New Haven Municipal Police Inspector, who busily shuffled back and forth before him. The Yale police force had requested outside support. The campus police, who are responsible for maintaining safety and security within school boundaries, lacked proper forensic equipment and personnel. The professor’s body had long been carried away.
The damp rag he held to his left temple was sopping wet with cold water, pressed so tightly against his temple that it threatened to squeeze itself dry. His lip had since stopped bleeding, though it seemed to be slightly swollen.
Ultimately, Heat had been unable to perform necessary resuscitative measures on the professor. Other students were called to the scene by the student secretary who had first discovered him, assaulting Heat and giving him a minor concussion in the process.
When they had first came rushing in, Heat was relieved that his prayer had managed to meet his sister up in Heaven. However, he quickly came to realize that he was terribly mistaken. The students were eager to pin his arms behind his back and violently tear him away from the professor’s body in order to apprehend him. He hadn’t been able to waste time given the professor’s condition; drawing out the excess blood was imperative, but on top of dealing with the presence of three new people trying to stop him, there was simply nothing more that he could’ve done. He ended up being brutalized by the secretary, then fainting from the sudden trauma.
One may picture thin, lanky intellectuals when one mentions medical students, but the inclusion of extracurricular activities is an important condition to be met in order to take Yale’s entrance exam. In fact, many students choose to focus on sports during their days away at college. Thanks to Heat’s personal dedication to boxing, his abdomen was finely toned, and he’d even finally mastered the hook technique as well.
Now, this would mark the second time he had witnessed someone’s death. However, this was the first time he had been assaulted. He had tried so hard to prevent the loss of yet another life, but his efforts had proved to be in vain.
But from the heavens above came God’s divine decree, to which He called for a savior who had manifested in perhaps the most unlikely form. Heat felt as if he were being ridiculed by the hardships he had come to be faced with, tormented by an impending sense of anger and helplessness.
“Holding up well?”
Heat looked up, glancing at the person who had spoken. There was another man other than the officer standing before the secretary’s desk that Heat sat in front of, looking to be about 50 or so and dressed in the standard campus police uniform. The first officer, a young black man, had briefly spoken to Heat earlier. He, too, gave him the towel. Gingerly, he stroked a finger against Heat’s temple, motioning to let him see the wound. When Heat pulled it away to show him his concussion, the young officer nodded, then stepped aside to let the accompanying officer introduce himself.
“I’d like to have a word with you, O’Brien,” the unfamiliar man growled.
His breath was tinged with the sickly-sweet stench of nicotine, distracting Heat from the brassy badge upon his chest. The assistant inspector had referred to him by his last name.
Heat slammed the rag onto the desk, exhausted, then began his third recount of the events that had taken place that day.
“I already told you—He’d been stabbed before I walked in. I don’t know who did it,” Heat snapped.
He steered his attention back to the gossipping he’d heard coming from the corridor. As of now, it had already been 2 hours since it all began. In addition to the police and officials who had been called to the scene, students were already becoming aware of what had occurred. Rumors were spreading already.
The new semester had just begun, but midterm exams were just on the horizon, being only four weeks away.
Those students who with no hope of succeeding on their own, having to resort to copying and plagiarizing the work of their friends, and those who hold an unshakable sense of crisis pertaining to the upcoming exams are encouraged by the school to stay late after class hours for preparatory training.
There are eight private, prestigious schools located in the eastern United States known commonly as the Ivy League. All are elite schools dedicated to producing material for and supporting those who seek to guide and carry the nation.
Entering American universities is often said to be a relatively simple task, though such is only true for state universities and community colleges. In America, the bare minimum for finishing concluding one’s education often equates to completing graduate school. Specialized fields such as medicine, law, and business can’t even be pursued, lest one graduates from a four-year university and enters postgraduate or professional school with a full pursuit of education. Thus, Ivy League students and similarly prestigious learners vying for those finite opportunities to lead the future world compete with unrivaled ferocity. In order to raise entrance exam scores by even the slightest amount, students are encouraged to coach their own studies after class, not to mention weaving in in volunteer hours and extracurricular activities within their schedules to enrich their resumes.
A good example of such ferocity in action would be taking a pen to the Ivy League entrance exam. If you were to drop it, rather than handing it back to you, a neighboring student would likely kick the pen and subject you to a humiliating scene recounted time and time again. Moreover, that same student isn’t your only competitor. Those who have already made accomplishments in other fields are known to come back to college, eager to improve their other skills. In these cases, it’s simply a dog-eat-dog world—by all means, many students aren’t lucky enough to make it to graduation.
“‘Lend me your strength,’ huh?”
The assistant inspector’s booming voice shook the room, rendering Heat silent. He returned his gaze to the pair of people standing by the doorway to the hall.
“Yes, that’s what I said.”
Perplexed, Heat wondered what the officer meant by repeating his words. Even the pair by the door seemed to share the same sentiment, they themselves exchanging idle glances with one another.
“Are you still talking to him?” the assistant inspector turned to the black police officer.
“No, not yet. We haven’t had any other success with him so far, but we’re still continuing to hear him out.”
It was evident from the younger officer’s answer that Heat was the prime suspect. When he was questioned earlier, he had been asked if he or anyone else had heard the professor screaming, or if he had witnessed any suspicious individuals. If there were any others who had, their testimony was capable of clearing the suspicion away from Heat. Though on the bright side, it seemed as though the mounted units still hadn’t arrived to the scene.
“So, what business does an 18 year old pre-med have at a medical school at these hours?”
The assistant inspector had assumed Heat’s age right off the bat. A pre-med is a college student taking courses necessary to enter medical school. As many pre-med students have yet to be specialized in the field, there’s few probable excuses for them to be trespassing on such areas, never mind the time.
As per rumor, Heat had been anticipating a special lecture to be held by Professor Harris and a renowned guest to the university. He had informed the assistant inspector of such, as he had before with the younger policeman.
“I was told that Dr. Margot Cuvier of the World Health Organization would be lecturing here at campus in the coming weeks. I’ve been following the news regarding Cuvier Syndrome, so I want to learn as much about it as I possibly can. I only came here to ask Professor Harris if he had any extra bookings,” Heat explained.
But it was a lie. He had come for a different reason, only to find the professor dead at his feet.
“I heard you had already seen the professor regarding that matter last week.”
Perhaps it was just a gut feeling of his, but Heat had a nagging suspicion that he may not be able to return tonight. He had been expecting this.
“—And at that time, you were arguing with him.”
There had been a mandatory lecture on molecular biology scheduled for tomorrow. Today, Heat had attended three lectures alone; after that, he paid a visit to go volunteer at the Pediatrics department, then settled down at home with a bite of delivery pizza. He still had the imminent deadline for an important paper looming over his head, but he was already exhausted. Heat figured he should’ve thrown in the towel when he had the chance.
“Actually, I came to apologize,” Heat corrected himself.
With a little critical thinking, even outsiders could guess what had happened between Heat and the professor. However, he continued to remain silent, for fear of being accused of having an ulterior motive. When it came to why he decided to pay the visit, though, Heat decided to keep quiet about the exact details of the argument last week.
His peers’ testimonies were his last hope of being freed from immediate accusations. The doubt regarding him would clear, should the investigation proceed in his favor; however, the authorities still held the jurisdiction to keep him detained for an unforeseeably long time. Thus, Heat looked somewhat forward to hearing his testimonials. Even if the criminal who had fled from the scene been witnessed or even caught, they’d surely be detained then released without the burden of serving so much time. However, Heat’s fleeting hope merely painted an even more pitiful image in the officers’ minds.
By mistake, Heat had explained the details and circumstances of the day, including what caused the conflict between he and the professor.
Cuvier Syndrome is a little known, recently discovered disease with no currently known cure. It was named after Ms. Margot Cuvier, the researcher who had discovered it. Unique symptoms of which include the crystallization of somatic cells and the resulting complications. Affected limbs and appendages harden like rock, spreading along the rest of the body. Even with all the added benefits of modern day medicine, the disease is impossible to cure.
Moreover, every applicable cause of which was suspected, be it a new bacterial strain or virus, genetic mutations, or even environmental pollution caused by endocrine disrupting agents, though neither origin nor treatment have yet been determined. As a result, WHO—the World Health Organization—, has called for universities and research institutions around the globe to begin looking into the affliction.
Heat was intrigued. From the moment he found out that the first reported victim of Cuvier syndrome was a 7 year old girl, he had aspired to become a gene therapy researcher. She was the same age as his sister when she died nine years ago.
He had asked Professor Harris for his permission to attend the lecture, which was based on his latest research subject. According to the professor, a perceived lack of seats was to blame for medical students and graduate students involved in biotechnic studies alike being declined entry. Still, his discriminatory attitude towards Heat left a bitter aftertaste in his mouth.
Heat enrolled in college a year early thanks to him taking advantage of the grading system. Currently, as a sophomore, next year he planned to complete a typically four year long course. He was at the top of his class. If there was something about himself to be proud of, then it’d certainly be his dedication as an excellent student. In the professor’s words, it didn’t mean that he should be expected to to be treated uniquely, though Heat often came to disregard what he had to say. But he was right. Heat couldn’t force himself to go on.
“Irish students don’t know themselves,” the professor muttered.
Even today the northeastern states maintain a conservative political attitude, despite it being the year 2014. Today, one in five Caucasians is of Irish heritage, though their numbers are still lower than that of British immigrants. In the United States, equality is commonly treated as its founding spirit, though the roots of prejudice run ever deep. O’Brien is a typical Irish surname. Heat’s father carried the blood of a centuries-old line of British immigrants, though he opted to instead use his mother’s last name. His father’s heritage seemed to disgust his mother, who simply could not abide.
The place in which he had arrived was managed by the student medical secretary, though Heat knew he had to make do. Knowing his professor’s iron-hard will, he was told that trying to convince him was an impossible feat. He wondered whether or not this would impede the probability of him continuing in the field that he was so passionate for. In order to avoid leaving a lasting scar in his future, it would be best if he were to attempt to get the secretary on his side. Heat felt bad about what had transpired during the time with the lecture, though there was no need to let it distract him now.
By this time in the next two years, he hoped to be able to touch these instruments in more welcoming circumstances. Then, as he set foot into the office, he kept his mind fresh with feigned optimism.
“What did you talk to the professor about that night?”
“Well, you see…”
When he inserted the puncture needle at the degree and measure he had deemed were appropriate, he recalled just how much he had desired to save and help his professor, though at last, he was interrupted as he heard the blaring of sirens in the distance.
Back at the murder scene, yet another police officer came in, leading a young man looking to be within the age range of that of a typical Boy Scout. Less than six feet tall, he was nearly half as tall as Heat, though his stature was almost identical to that of the accompanying officer’s. However, he seemed to look taller than he really was, perhaps due to the tautly stretched chest of his blazer, or his exaggerated gait. Despite having just entered a murder scene, he showed no signs of fear whatsoever. Still, a wide smile was spread across his youthful face, almost as if in praise for some unclear reason.
Heat recognized his jet black hair and androgynous visage. Though they didn’t share any common courses, he’d seen him several times during lectures on basic psychology and psychological statistics. By being the youngest student in the school, there was something oddly eye-catching and mysterious about him. As rumor said, he was two years younger than Heat; by that logic, he would be sixteen this year. Heat struggled to recall his name.
“That’s the suspect, alright. We’ve been questioning him.”
One of the officers attempted to brief the young man as he approached Heat, but was quickly met with dismissal. Something about his gaze had changed, for his grey-black eyes were now washed over with sympathy.
“It seems like it was quite a spectacle, Heat.”
They had never spoken to one another. It was surprising enough that he knew Heat by name, though even more surprising was the sheer introspective prowess the young man seemed to possess. It was as if he were a former friend.
“There’s no need to be afraid. Are you alright?”
Despite Heat’s temperament, the young man continued to speak with kind, gentle words. He brought himself in closer to examine the concussion. Heat reflexively flinched.
The young man gazed straight into his eyes, his own taking on an enigmatic sheen, and whispered under his breath.
“I can tell you want to get back soon. So, what would you say about bringing along some company?”
Shocked, Heat was convinced that he could read his mind. The young man winked back, almost in response.
“You’re on my side, right?” Heat managed to sputter, having already long lost his composure.
“I’m Sheffield—Serph Sheffield. But please, just ‘Serph’ is fine. I’m here with the police,” the young man greeted, ignoring Heat’s unsightly outburst. The assistant inspector had no qualms about his claim.
Serph then thrust his hand directly out to the policeman, level with his chest, briefly perplexing him.
With a deep breath, the assistant investigator returned the gesture, offering his hand to him, palm up. Naturally, Serph’s faced the opposite direction, overlapping upwards with his. Shaking with such force, the officer was slightly pulled forward. Heat watched from the sidelines, thinking to himself as if the officer were a businessman of a microenterprise, finally agreeing to a large contract with Serph—a fresh, young businessman. The assistant inspector bent slightly at the waist for the duration of the awkwardly long handshake.
“Sir, Heat is my best friend. I assure you that he’s not who you’re after.”
“No, really. The kids and I saw him today when he was volunteering at Pediatrics. The children there always look forward to his visits,” Serph explained.
He had implied that, thanks to his hobbies, Heat was simply incapable of killing another person. Suddenly, he whipped around and asked for Heat’s consent to press further, receiving an instinctive, almost forced nod in return. But truly, how much had Serph known about him? The thought sent a shiver down Heat’s spine.
“We already beat you to the punch,” the young policeman began.
Serph twisted his face into a contemptuous frown, to which the officer hurried to correct himself.
“We’re not accusing him of anything. An incident’s an incident—a student had been reported to be running away from the scene, so it seems as though this young man’s just been caught up in a little misunderstanding, that’s all.”
“Is that so?”
Serph’s gaze shot back again at Heat, who nodded in affirmation.
“Oh, don’t worry. They won’t be doing anything to you,” Serph reassured, his demeanor visibly softening.
“I apologize for doubting you. Surely, though, have you considered that the lot of you have been questioning him past his limit? I hear it’s a common issue in your department,” he asked, expressing his tone in a seemingly nagging manner.
“We think he might’ve seen the criminal.”
Now, the “suspicious individual” was being treated as the one responsible for everything that had transpired. The assistant inspector seemed keen to change the subject, though; perhaps the topic at hand was far too cliché to be so much as considered by the authorities.
Thanks to Serph’s presence, the once dreadful atmosphere of the office had somehow been exacerbated. It was difficult to describe, though the assistant inspector’s expression was certainly indicative of such. The mood could’ve been tainted by anything—anything except for a pathetic, cowardly heart.
“I’ll explain everything, don’t get me wrong, but…” Heat stammered.
Serph looked back over at Heat, shattering his train of thought. Try as he might, he couldn’t recall what he had planned to say next. There was something exceedingly disquieting about him.
“Now, we need to pick this up sometime later. Would tomorrow be too early for you? You ought to get up early if you’d like to be on time for the kids. You should rest,” Serph recommended, still looking in Heat’s direction.
The officials hadn’t decided to delay the interrogation yet. Not even the assistant inspector had mentioned what was planned for the following day. Heat knew, however, that he must attend a mandatory lecture early next morning.
There was something exaggerated—unnatural, even—about the way Serph spoke and about his face, something that told Heat that he knew a great deal more than he should.
But by some miracle, Heat indeed felt motivated to attend the lecture. He nodded once more. He couldn’t make sense of Serph’s true intentions, though it seemed almost certain that he was trying to rescue him from what was to come.
Of course, Heat was uncertain as to whether or not he should trust someone whom he had just met to defend him, but the paper he had due weighed far more importantly in his mind. One should seldom reject an outstretched hand in times of need. Finally, he had realized what Serph’s words had meant.
Helpless, Heat cupped his head in his hands and let out a long, exhausted sigh.
“If we look just a bit further, I’m sure that everything will soon become clear. True, this is an unusual matter, but our friends and I fear for Heat’s safety. Please, officer, I implore you not to jump to conclusions so quickly,” Serph urged the assistant inspector.
Heat wondered if his witness—if Serph could be called that—was toying with him. People knew he had no friends. Since he entered the school, Heat gave his all in order to finish the admissions process on a strong note, leaving him with no time to warm up to his colleagues. At most, there was only a small handful of people to whom he had held face-to-face conversations with.
The assistant inspector had not seemed to take Serph’s words to heart. He left the room, disappearing from sight as he checked the worn-out watch on his wrist. Then, stretching his neck as he considered what Serph had to say, Heat watched the young black policeman.
“You should get going now. Thank you for your time.”
The young policeman nodded as he spoke, then turned around to direct the assistant inspector to gather more men.
“However, O’Brien is a vital witness. He will be prohibited from leaving the bounds of campus.”
“Much obliged, officer.”
Serph thanked him in a lively manner, his voice carrying notes of exaggeration. He flashed Heat a thumbs-up from behind, hidden so as not to be seen by any of the inspectors. Though it was only a modest, meagre victory, Serph’s plan was certainly a success; Heat wanted to cry out with joy. He wasn’t entirely sure as to how he would fare later, though he figured that he shouldn’t mull over what had yet to take place for the rest of the night. As the young policeman lead him out of the room, Head turned to look at Serph.
“Can you tell me what’s really going on when I see you tomorrow?”
“We’ll deal with that later. Sweet dreams, my friend.”
Serph waved his hand with a carefree smile. Heat, too, returned the gesture, bidding Serph a good night. Finally, thanks to Serph’s keen wit, the two could return and rest.
The corridor past the hall was capped with a flight of stairs leading to the next floor down. A photographer stood idly beside the stairs, likely contributing to the school newspaper—without warning, Heat was bathed in a flash of light two to three times. He was used to being treated with such disregard. The light was tinged with a foreign scent, to which his eyes drifted over to a small group of people nearby.
The acrid fruity-floral aroma stung his nose, even as it dissipated in the warmth of the light. The onlookers’ faces were obscured by fuzzy blurs of black, white, and yellow, burning deep into Heat’s retinas; even his shoulder-length blonde hair was distorted to the crowd.
Yawning, Heat bit into the angel hair pasta piled high on his dish. The smell of the rich, turkey-based sauce failed to sate his appetite. Staring at his plate, Heat recalled the bloodshed he had witnessed last night, causing him to drop his fork.
The students gathered at nearby tables stopped dead in their tracks in response to the shrill sound. They turned to whisper among themselves, gawking at Heat’s predicament. Thanks to the incident, both it and he had quickly gained notoriety among the student body, with the news having had risen to the top of the university’s news site. The articles had stated that Heat was the discoverer and sole witness of the murder, stirring up a myriad of rumors overnight. Today in the dining hall, his name had been mentioned countless times, be it over appetizers or dessert.
Turning his cheek to his onlookers, Heat glanced out the nearest window.
Berkeley College is located at the center of Yale’s vast premises, on a plot of land known as Cross Campus. Harkness Hall, the Calhoun School Building, and the bisected Berkeley Building each bordered the area, each set in a corner of their own so as to frame the cruciform lot of grass. Yale’s Central Library overlooked the cross, looming over the land in a regal, domineering manner. Bearing a resemblance to that of the Gothic Cathedral, the Old Campus lay beside the clock tower, forever vying with the Harkness Tower landmark in terms of grandeur.
On the lawn, students partook in a range of activities, such as sunbathing, tossing frisbees, or the likes. This was a precious moment of relaxation in a hectic school life. Students of all races, genders, and ages that attended the school were spread out as far as the eye could see, each beaming with a carefree smile on their face. They all shared one more thing in common, however—everyone in the throng brandished sunglasses in uniform. Not only were the lenses dyed, each pair was properly treated with ultraviolet ray cutting.
“Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap” was the slogan of a physical health movement promoted by the Australian government, enacted near the end of last century. It encouraged the public to don hats, sunglasses, long sleeves, and to apply sunscreen, all of which are strong countermeasures against damage by UV light. Now, this movement that had originated in one mere country directly beneath the equator had managed to spread its influence around the world. As a matter of fact, WHO and NIH—the National Institute of Health—have even expressed their support for it, as referenced on the White Paper on Environmental Management policy. Recently in the past decade, studies have proven that children have been playing outside significantly more often on sunny days. Additionally, an increase in lifetime exposure to ultraviolet radiation is being observed in over three quarters of adults. Even the children that Heat had seen in Pediatrics yesterday were complaining about their burns.
Not even adults are safe from the dangers of ultraviolet exposure. Many women are aware of “light aging”, the knowledge of which is often spread by cosmetologists. Ultraviolet rays produce active enzymes that oxidize the skin, thus destroying the DNA of skin cells. Such is the cause of nearly 80% of reported cases of sagging, wrinkles, and similar blemishes of the skin. Only 20% of the original genes account for natural aging. Many jokingly blamed the “gods” living within the sun for the recently observed decay.
Heat recalled the lecture on molecular biology which he had attended earlier. In recent years, frog populations were decreasing at an alarming rate across the world. Frog eggs are divided into two halves, one black and one white; the black portion always faces upward. If ultraviolet light were to hit the white part of the egg, though, the DNA would be destroyed, thus killing the embryo within. Even though the black part protects the genes from the light, the harsh ultraviolet rays still manage to pierce through, resulting in the decline in frog population numbers. The cause of such can be attributed to the continuous erosion of the ozone layer.
The atmospheric constituents of the earth have relied on complex ecological threads since the birth of a cyanobacterium that produces oxygen by means of photosynthesis three and a half billion years ago. The atmosphere produces ozone from oxygen, which blankets the earth and protects its organisms from foreign ultraviolet and cosmic rays. However, human industrial activity has caused detrimental damage to the environment over the course of mere decades. About 20 years ago, despite a series of movements supporting the regulation of CFCs and greenhouse gases arising, none have truly come to their fullest fruition yet. The United States is one of many countries that are reluctant allow such laws to pass. If such destruction progresses at its current rate, then such would dramatically change existence for humans and may cause species such as amphibians to go extinct.
However, people will always prefer the luxury of the present over the consequences to be wrought by the future. As usual, having learned nothing from the lessons of the past, humanity continues to tighten the rope around its neck.
The students’ sunglasses reflected not only beams of light, but the hazards they cultivated as well. Of course, even by only residing in the dining hall, Heat wore a pair of his own on top of his head. Despite already being in October, the sun still left harsh burns on the students’ skin. Many people have begun to spend more and more time indoors, but the fact still remains that human beings can’t survive without the light of the sun. Rainy days often strike people down with gloomy moods; clear and sunny days, on the contrary, seem to brighten the hearts and souls of the masses. Humans have a tendency to care solely about materialistic things, though allowing the weather to dictate their mood only seems natural.
“You’ll die if you don’t eat, you know.”
Heat hadn’t noticed standing by the closest table to him, a tray of food resting in his hands. His rimless sunglasses hung on the bridge of his nose; rows of healthy teeth were visible through his grin.
“Here, mind if I take a seat?” Serph asked, already searching for somewhere to sit.
“No one wants to sit with me, can’t you tell? Go on, sit wherever you want,” Heat grumbled.
Serph set his tray down, sitting directly across from Heat. A chicken paste sandwich rested on the platter, accompanied by a heaping bowl of savory, steaming Manhattan clam chowder. Meeting Heat’s gaze with a dubious glint in his eye, Serph nudged his tray toward him and reached across the table for his pasta.
“Let this be a divine dish suited aptly for the likes of us—I am an angel after all, didn’t you know?” Serph proclaimed over the utensil-lacking dish of food.
“Hey, you’re in Davenport, right?” Heat idly mentioned, disregarding Serph’s dry attempt at a joke. He noticed Serph’s tie peeking out from the chest of his blazer, printed with the Davenport College emblem.
“Yeah, I took this off yesterday before I walked into the office. If the police saw that our tribes were different, they wouldn’t have believed that we were best friends.” Serph held the tie between his index finger and his thumb as he spoke.
Serph had referred to the colleges as tribes.
There are twelve residential colleges in Yale. Newly enrolled students and graduate students are allocated to any of the twelve before advancing to professional schools. Most students room in their college until they graduate, with the exception of students who live with their parents and married individuals who live on their own. Not only studying, but participating in school events, sports, and extracurricular activities deepen the camaraderie and bonds between students. The schools compete both against and with one another, which must be why Serph had called them tribes. Thus, the connections cultivated between the students of the colleges last lifetimes.
America is a tightly woven society, so much that it can be said that one’s social range will dictate their success in life. Universities encourage close bonds to be fostered among the students of their schools for that reason. The Ivy League mainly gathers children born into the upper class. A vital part of a typical Ivy League student’s days in college is to get acquainted with their peers, so as to nurture potential opportunities towards mutual success in the future.
“I do believe I did a sufficient job fooling them,” Serph bragged.
“I’m curious, though. How much do already you know about me?” Heat asked, watching as Serph took off his tie.
“I already knew that you went to Berkeley, for starters,” he replied.
Heat figured that Serph was likely the child of a wealthy family, as evidenced by his social charm and grace.
As Serph had said, Heat was a student of Berkeley College. He had rented out an apartment nearby for housing; since he had bought $4,000 worth of the school’s Eli Bucks, Heat tried to consume as many school meals as possible. Eli Bucks can be used as viable meal payment at any campus dining hall or cafeteria.
“I have something else I want to know, then.—” A barrage of questions flooded Heat’s mind.
Something about the way Serph spoke clicked with Heat, enthralling him and drawing him in further and further. Having spent the majority of last night slaving over an academic report, Heat had barely slept at all. His nerves buzzed with exhaustion, practically standing on end.
“—What the hell kind of magic did you work back there last night?” Heat remembered how Serph seemed to regard the interrogation with the police as mere child’s play.
“Easy. Let’s just say that the gnome gave me some of its luck.”
Davenport College had another name—the House of Gnomes. The garden gnome which occupied its terrace was said to have a soul of its own, blessing the school’s students with wisdom and skillful precision.
“Hey, don’t get too fired up about it. Your name really fits you, huh?” Serph chuckled; a sigh left his lips.
“Just quit it with that, it doesn’t suit me.” Heat couldn’t determine what he had meant.
“Why, then?” Serph held his hands together before his face, already intrigued.
“I’ve only ever had people tell me I had an ice-cold demeanor. Like steel, or, ahem—Iceman, you know?” Heat fumbled over his words.
“You just made that up, didn’t you?” Serph remarked, amused.
His rejection left Heat at a loss for words.
“But still, no matter what, you’re still Heat. Just thought I’d point out what a funny coincidence I thought this was, that’s all,” Serph continued, studying Heat as he spoke.
“…And you, too, are Serph,” Heat replied, adding onto his statement.
“Just wanted to see what you’d say when I brought up your name. Looks like you didn’t understand what I mean,” came Heat’s ever-so-slightly dismayed answer.
“I suppose we do both have odd names,” Serph admitted, then laughed again.
At that moment, Heat realized that he was far out of touch. Serph seemed to possess some inherent genius regarding communicating with others. If one were to be met with the young man’s carefree smile, it’d be a natural impulse for them to return the gesture.
“Though as a matter of fact, it’s written as ‘Serph’, not ‘Surf’. I’ve been thinking about adding a letter, and making it ‘Seraph’ instead. I’d be the Seraph of New Haven—not bad, huh?” He mused, tossing the angel hair pasta in his mouth.
New Haven is the name of the city that houses Yale University. Located in the state of Connecticut, the state itself lies east of New York, facing Long Island over the southern strait that divides them both. Despite being a picturesque academic city, some number of students hailing from the west coast have found themselves bored to their wits.
“Okay, but can we got on with this?” Heat urged, gulping down his soup. “I don’t want to hear anything else about you being an angel or talking to gnomes. I want to know what the hell you did back there with the police to get me off the hook.”
If he were to allow himself to get wrapped in Serph’s veil of lies any further, he’d be late for his next lecture.
“Simple. I just put a little power play to use, that’s all.” Something about Serph’s gaze had changed.
“Power play” is a psychological technique with the power to dominate negotiations. Its capabilities are backed by studies in the field; currently, it’s being researched by the academic community and in Yale’s School of Management. Anyone unfortunate enough to be met with this approach in an argument would unconsciously submit, allowing their adversary to dominate them in conversation.
All in all, greeting one’s adversary is the first step to a successful demonstration of power play. Whoever begins the conversation naturally takes initiative, thus gaining the upper hand from the get go.
To intimidate the opposite person, go in for a handshake; make sure yours is facing down. By doing so, they’ll be forced to place their hand beneath yours, forcing them into a submissive state both physically and psychologically.
By means of repetition of such behavior, one’s opponent will be lead to buckle, having been forced into a state of psychological submission.
Serph knew how to present himself. He wore clothes a size larger than his own; he walked steadily and with confidence, puffing out his chest in order to seem older and taller than his true age and height.
“It only takes a mere seven seconds for the human mind to compose a first impression. So much as even attempting to reverse this premonition is a herculean task in itself—not if you know exactly what you’re doing, that is. You saw how that one officer kept checking his watch, no?” Serph leaned back in his chair, carefree. Heat nodded, transfixed.
“Easy! I just gave him a little push in our favor.”
“Do you think that’s normal?” Heat’s brow furrowed.
Serph, proudly reveling in satisfaction with his spiel, gave him a strange look.
“What, did I say something wrong?”
“God, I knew there was something off about you. Who the hell can willingly trust someone who treats other people like that?” Heat spat, almost shouting, then stood up from his seat.
His chair cracked against the table, drawing eyes and ears from throughout the dining hall.
“That’s right,” Serph said, holding back a small, restrained chuckle.
Only when he noticed the nervous murmuring and attentive stares from the crowd did Heat truly reach his limit. Slinging his backpack, filled to the brim with with textbooks and reference materials, over his shoulder, he stormed out of the cafeteria.
Tipping his sunglasses over his eyes, he wandered out to the lawn before the school’s memorial library. Serph followed closely behind.
“I apologize if I killed the mood for you back there,” Serph began.
“You lied to the cops, Serph. I’m going to have to go volunteer tomorrow morning so they won’t think I’m any more suspicious. You brought this on me.” Heat stared at the ground as he walked, kicking the grass every few steps he took.
“But I didn’t make anything up, did I? I didn’t add anything new to your schedule. I only told them two things—that you had to get up early tomorrow, and that you had children were waiting for you. It’s not my fault that you and the police arbitrarily got these mixed up,” Serph said with a gentle smile, shaking his head.
Heat stopped dead in his tracks then whipped around, thrusting his finger at Serph’s nose. Serph was right; no matter how he twisted it, Heat was at a loss, unable to respond. Turning forward once again, he grumbled, struggling to search for his words.
“Still, Heat. I do believe that this little friendship pact of ours will benefit both of us quite nicely.”
There was a variety of questions that pressed Heat’s mind, all of which begged to be answered, though he couldn’t decide whether or not he should trust Serph to give him answers. A sudden feeling of shame came over him; removing his sunglasses, Heat’s face was awash with guilt, troubled to his very limit.
Thanks to Serph, however, he hadn’t had to drop today’s lecture. He was plagued by the constant, nagging urge to show him his gratitude.
“Anyway, I need to thank you. I have another lecture coming up, though, so I can’t stick around to chat,” Heat conceded, breaking the brief silence that hung in the air.
“Sorry, but I don’t think so,” Serph interrupted.
Looking back to meet with his gaze, Heat’s eyes drifted to the shrubbery that bordered the terrace from behind. The assistant inspector and the officer’s figures were vaguely visible from the treeline, their faces both twisted into dour looks of reprisal.
“You… You think that I could be a spy?” Heat asked the fox-eyed man that stood before him.
“Out of those suspicious persons that have potentially been involved with the incident, those that have maintained close, direct relationships with Professor Harris are to be questioned promptly. As the two of you fit the criteria, we’re required by law to subject you to immediate investigation,” the man answered.
Heat recognized him as one of the FBI investigators from earlier; the identification card that he presented, bearing the name of Allen Harvey, certified that fact. His mouth was spread wide, distorted with casual laughter, but his sullen, beady eyes made evident that his intentions were ill-mannered. Having just spoken with Serph about the importance of first impressions back in the dining hall, Heat’s awareness had become fine-tuned; he found it easy to imagine that the man that had spoken to him was not skilled in terms of making proper introductions. Perhaps he had known that himself, even before he had decided upon his current profession.
With Harvey at the forefront of his line of sight, consistently being met with his devotedly fixed gaze as he stood through his long-drawn introduction, images of birds of prey, hounds, and the like flooded Heat’s mind as he continued to stare at the other man’s face.
Harvey glared at Serph, whose innocent behavior had seem to strike his nerves. Serph, too, had stood before the deceased professor’s desk yesterday evening, his presence there deeming him a valuable witness to the scene. His eyes gleamed with intent curiosity as he peered at the inspector through the glasses perched atop his nose.
Having been requested to accompany the black police officer and his group, he and Heat were lead back to the same office where Professor Harris had been murdered the night prior. On the way back, Heat questioned the authority that the FBI held regarding taking the reins of the investigation.
The FBI—Federal Bureau of Investigation—is a domestic service held under the United States Justice Department. The branch is known and recognized for its jurisdiction over cases extending beyond two or more states, destructive terrorist activities, acts of espionage, detrimental organized crime, federal corruption, and criminal investigation pertaining to violations of federal law. Such is the manner in which America’s federal system works.
Under federal law, each state has its own government, which in turn has the right to enact police rights, laws, and govern itself. In other words, each state functions similarly to that of a small country. Under normal circumstances, criminal activity is also investigated and tried within the range of the state to which it originated.
The fact that the FBI was ordered to deal with the incident had likely meant that the professor’s death was an exceptionally significant matter, one that surpassed the bounds of the state’s jurisdiction. Typically, however, only acts of espionage were treated with that regard.
“Are you aware of how grave an offense it is to spy? You’re a bold one, mind you,” Harvey spat, turned away from Heat as he addressed the pair.
Serph’s eyes, creased with discreet laughter, met Heat’s as he gave him a sideways glance. How on earth could he find this amusing? After weighing his options and how, exactly, he could bend Harvey to his every whim and will, Serph cleared his throat.
“So, Mr. Investigator, what sort of ‘spying’ did Heat engage in?”
“That’s a matter of national security. Consider it confidential.” Harvey was quick to correct Serph’s implication, which had suggested that only Heat was involved in the incident.
“Is that so!” Serph feigned shock, widening his eyes behind his glasses.
“Go look up ‘confidentiality’ in a dictionary. Moreover, I’m a licensed investigator. Keep the questions for later and save them for someone who can afford to waste their time.”
Though Serph had expected some sort of ill-tempered response from the investigator, it was evident that he hadn’t prepared himself to respond to his backlash. He decided it would be better to keep quiet. However, his eyes still gleamed with excitement, evidently enjoying the circumstances.
While still paying close attention to Heat and Serph’s subtle exchanges, Investigator Harvey noticed the black policeman standing alert by the building’s entrance. Upon entering his line of sight, the assistant inspector urged the younger officer down, so as to avoid garnering the suspects’ attention.
“We’re investigating as well. We, too, have the right to look into the professor’s murder, thank you very much,” Serph reminded him with a small grin.
Serph’s competitive spirit had been ignited by the FBI’s involvement with the case, urging him to see the incident through before the authorities had the chance. However, the police maintained that same steadfast will. In normal circumstances, the FBI lacks the authority to command local police forces. However, even if the two investigating parties were to compete to the bitter end, the two would more likely than not end up cooperating before the search reached its summit. Or, perhaps, the authorities would simply refuse to work with a gutsy teenager who looks to be around 15 altogether.
Twisting his mouth into a disgruntled frown, Investigator Harvey returned his gaze to Heat.
“Around the time of his murder, Professor Harris had lost a disc containing confidential data related to a personal project of his. This is what we’re looking for—are you, at all, familiar with it?”
“There isn’t one,” Heat immediately replied.
It was evident that Heat had no personal relationship with the professor. Even so, he had never heard of this disc.
“And as for you?” Harvey glanced at Serph.
Serph hadn’t anticipated being questioned as a witness. After taking a moment to think, he answered with a simple “no”.
“Before the student secretary had came to the scene, it had to be lying on the professor’s desk. Moreover, no students had been reported to have entered his room until he was murdered. Logically, this leaves us with solely the murderer—the ‘suspicious person’ that O’Brien had mentioned—who had taken the disc. Do you have any objections?”
“None.” Serph had been the first to reply this time.
“Good. Now then, O’Brien, let’s talk about the person you had witnessed.”
This was a great matter of concern to Heat. Up until now, he hadn’t heard anything from Serph regarding his perspective, and his testimony had the power to dispel the officers’ false allegations.
“But, before anything else, please allow me to correct one thing that you seem to have misunderstood. I never said that I saw the culprit,” Serph said.
Heat was taken aback.
“But you told me yesterday! You said you knew that I didn’t kill him!”
“I won’t be commenting on Heat’s involvement with the case,” Serph explained, looking directly into Harvey’s fox-like eyes. “He’s my friend. I can’t just throw him under the bus. Anyway, all I had said was that I saw some suspicious-looking figure running from the medical building’s exit right after the murder had taken place. It could’ve just been a bystanding student, you know.”
A daunting smile crawled across the investigator’s face, his mouth twisting more and more into yet a further indomitable grin.
“So, whose testimony will you choose to believe?” Harvey turned to the assistant inspector,
“No, we haven’t had time to decide yet. We’re still looking over the basics,” the inspector mumbled, preoccupied.
The officer responded to Harvey’s question as if it were a matter of course, though his tone dropped, his voice cracking like Heat’s had the night prior. Turning around, his eyebrows knit together; his gaze was unsteady, erratically shifting from one direction to the next. His demeanor resembled that of when Heat had been allowed to leave the scene. Now, though, it was practically written across his face that this time, he wouldn’t let him go home if his testimony wasn’t up to par.
“When I saw that man, he was running along Cheddar Street from this building towards York Street. At that time, I was walking through the corridor of the second floor of Sterling Hall, having just left the restroom near the medical library. It was then that I saw him through the window. We were walking in the same direction, and I could only get a glimpse of his face from behind, but I could tell with certainty that he is, in fact, a man judging by the way he was running. I told you these things yesterday,” Serph continued.
“He could’ve just been jogging, or perhaps rushing to the bus station in a hurry. What stood out so much about him to make you deem him suspicious?”
Jogging wasn’t an adequate explanation for the man’s exaggerated movements, though Harvey was quick to highlight the ambiguity of Serph’s eyewitness testimony. Moreover, Serph had only grew suspicious of the man after being informed of the incident. As such, it’d make sense to describe his wariness as that of a subjective impression. Simply being in the vicinity of the murder scene isn’t nearly enough to prove an evident connection to the incident; the most that it could provide would be a sparse, useless link.
“Was there anything else about him that stood out? Were his hands covered in blood, was he holding a disc, or…?”
“It was dark out and I saw him from the second floor. Do you seriously think I was able to tell whether or not his hands were covered in blood?” Serph spat.
“However,” he added, “though he didn’t seem to have anything in his hands, he was carrying a bag on his back. There’s a possibility that he could have hidden the disk inside, but then again, every student on campus carries a bag with them. It’s not that remarkable.”
“Belief is so often the enemy of reason,” Harvey spoke. “Keep that in mind and let it be a lesson to you.”
Heat continued to listen to the investigator’s chiding, patronizing tone as he remained silent. Anger pulsed through his veins, though it was drowned out by a growing sense of dizziness. Since Serph had seemed so cool and level-headed earlier, Heat was shocked to see how he was now floundering. Perhaps Serph wasn’t that much different than the students who saw Heat as the criminal after all. Heat had to remind himself that he was the only one who knew what had truly transpired regarding the professor’s death.
“Look back on what you saw at the scene yesterday and tell me, can you recall anything else of substance?”
Was there anything else that Serph could offer at this point?
“If that man I saw truly was the criminal, sir, doesn’t it make sense that he was running away from campus? If you were to commit a crime near or around campus, then naturally, you’d be wary of your surroundings—you’d be certain that someone else could be in your immediate vicinity. Back to what I was saying, the most obvious route for someone leaving the medical building in a hurry would mean travelling straight up until York Street. Props to our ‘culprit’ here for neglecting that choice.”
Taking the route that Serph had mentioned would greatly increase the chance of being witnessed. If one were to enter Cheddar Street and go east onto Congress Avenue, they could then take a car from the east parking lot, then cross over and thus disappear into the highway just beyond. Given the lack of time, the perpetrator likely couldn’t decide which would be a better measure for leaving the site. Serph grinned, reveling in his deduction. For a moment, Heat saw something different in his shadow; something inhuman, otherworldly.
“For the last time, that man you saw has nothing to do with the incident. What I’m gathering is that you have nothing to do with the murder and that you have no connection to the disc, is that right?” Harvey asserted. “There’s no need for you to keep this act up any longer, young man. If your friend over there’s truly innocent, he can defend himself. Let it be.”
The investigator spoke down on Heat, almost completely disregarding his presence in the room. Serph, however, beamed his usual smile at the man before him, betraying Heat’s expectations once again.
“I’ll pass. I want a say on this matter, and I won’t back down til I know the full truth,” Serph answered.
According to the coroner’s autopsy, the professor’s death was likely the result of traumatic heart tamponade. Needless to say, he was likely stabbed by one of the scalpels found at the scene. He had been expecting their deliverance, as prior to the incident, he had them ordered for classroom use.
Other remarkable wounds on his person included bruising on the back of the head and internal bleeding on the shin, somewhat below the right knee. The police officers had decided that his head had likely struck the surface of his desk right before he was stabbed, as the position of his wound aligned with the height of the table.
“Judging by the state of the scene and his injuries, we believe that the victim, prior to being stabbed, had put up a fight with the perpetrator,” the younger officer announced, “the scattered medical instruments had likely fell from the table at that time.”
“Is that all?” Harvey asked.
“I don’t think we have much more to discuss here, don’t you think?” Serph asked, unprompted.
Quizzically, the younger officer raised an eyebrow to his comment. Thanks to Serph’s unreliable testimony the night prior, the authorities had withdrawn some of the trust they had placed in him.
Serph’s face radiated vigilance. It had started to seem as though some sense of camaraderie was brooding between the two, who had begun to share similar attitudes regarding the investigation.
“Well, it takes a lot of time to analyze the evidence gathered from the scene,” the younger officer said.
“You’re focusing on the wrong thing, officer. What we need to pay attention to is the professor’s bodily trauma.”
Again, the officer arched his brow at Serph’s gentle smile.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s probably wondering if the victim had been struck or stabbed in the shin during the struggle,” Harvey interrupted, his mouth still bent into an unsightly frown.
“Mhmm, that’s it,” the assistant inspector agreed, leaning against the window as he idly questioned Serph.
“Did you know what the professor was doing prior to the incident?” Harvey asked, trying to steer the discussion back in its original direction.
This time, the black policeman at the door took it upon himself to answer.
“He seemed to be writing a letter to someone—we found something he’d written beneath his desk. It was addressed to Margot Cuvier of the World Health Organization.”
Certainly, it must’ve been written regarding the upcoming lecture. Heat was intrigued by its potential contents, though he knew he’d most likely never be able to read it.
“Any new thoughts about the culprit?” Serph offered.
“Could the culprit be an acquaintance of his attending the school?” the assistant inspector suggested, glancing at Heat from the edge of his sight.
Although having the investigation revolve around Serph would likely turn out counterproductive, hearing Harvey’s opinion was imperative. The investigator’s eyes were set on the assistant inspector, expectant and creased with unease.
The assistant inspector took a deep breath, then continued to share his perspective regarding the culprit.
“The incident occurred sometime in the later hours of the night, and this university is enormous to boot. It happened that, with the exception of O’Brien and Professor Harris, no one remained on the fourth floor of the building before and after the crime occurred, though students were present on the other floors. It would’ve been painfully obvious had an outsider of some sort entered the building. As a matter of fact, had someone else even attempted to reach the Professor’s office, they would’ve been witnessed going up the stairs of the first floor not so much as five minutes before being apprehended.”
Everyone in the room’s eyes went wide with astoundment. Serph alone, however, was wracked with restrained laughter.
“I have to ask you something, now. Do you have any idea what personal space is?”
As soon as Serph had raised his voice, all eyes in the room turned to him.
The younger officer and the assistant inspector alike both shared the same evident look of confusion; Investigator Harvey, however, bore his same distorted grin.
“Everyone has their own personal space around their body,” Serph continued. “It is, to put it simply, the psychological distance that dictates the extent to which we’ll allow ourselves to be approached by others. People decide how far they’ll let others or specific individuals approach them without violating their boundaries, and it’s all done unconsciously. That is because it’s a matter of basic human nature. Typically, lovers and family members are allowed within 50 centimeters. Close friends, on the other hand, can come no less than 50 centimeters and no more than a meter. When it comes to public areas, those in which personal relationships with those around you are simply not established, this boundary expands beyond three meters. So, depending on the relationship between the boundary older and the opposite party, if you intrude upon their personal space you may make them uncomfortable. What I just described here is commonly known within the field as ‘power play’.”
Given his broad range of knowledge, it was no surprise that Serph was aiming for a psychology major in graduate school.
“Earlier, the professor was writing a letter, which would entail that he was sitting at his desk. If we were to say that Heat was the culprit, which would imply that he met the professor in his office himself, wouldn’t it be fair to say that the professor left his desk in order to meet with him?”
Appalled, the officer exchanged worried glances with the inspector.
“The professor and the murderer met face to face for the very first time about 5 meters from where Mr. Harvey and the head patrol officer now stand. The criminal stabbed him right where he stood, having caught him off guard by striking from the side. It would be impossible for the professor to get stabbed there unless he had directly approached the attacker,” Serph went on to explain.
“Then what, could the professor not work due to his personal space being violated?” the assistant inspector mocked.
“Again, suppose Heat is the criminal. Now, if some shady, ill-intentioned stranger came into your dwelling in the dead of the night, what would you do? Moreover, what if you and said stranger had an age gap like the professor and Heat?”
Heat thought he had heard the sirens again. A smile inadvertently crossed Serph’s lips.
As a matter of fact, during the argument about a week prior, the professor never moved from beyond his desk, merely drawing near his lounge suite instead. Though Heat had once seen Serph as no more than an ill omen, a walking catastrophe in his wake, only now was he beginning to truly realize his abilities as an amateur sleuth.
“So if we assume that Heat approached the professor and stabbed him, he’d probably approached from the side of the desk that would’ve given him the greatest tactical advantage. Are there any signs of a struggle on or around the desk?” Serph asked.
“Though the desk had been marred, the folks back at the police department said there should’ve been at least faint bloodstains present if a stabbing had occurred,” the black officer replied, sorting through the case file.
“Then the professor couldn’t have been stabbed that close to the desk, huh?”
“If so, then there would’ve been bruising located above his shin. The room isn’t all that large, so wouldn’t it make more sense for his bruises to be more obvious?”
“The skirmish began with the professor engaging with the intruder at some distance from his desk. Then, he was struck on the head while quarreling with the perpetrator, as we are currently lead to believe,” Harvey deduced.
Mr. Harvey is a licensed investigator. It would be unlikely that his judgement would make any mistake regarding the area in which the professor had been attacked. Serph quietly chuckled upon the realization.
“How about it, Heat?” Serph asked. “Does that sound right?”
“Don’t ask me!”
Heat was starting to feel as though he never should’ve placed his trust in Serph. It was almost as if he could sense it, too—he flashed a daunting smirk in Heat’s direction.
“It’s your turn now. Go on, tell them it’s impossible,” Serph ordered.
“He already fell over when I came in, and then—”
“Are you some goddamned idiot?” the assistant inspector growled. “God, you have no idea how lucky you were that we so much as considered defending your case.”
Serph kept his focus trained on the chiding man before him, the inspector tauntingly raising an eyebrow at Heat.
“See, officer, if the killer were to ascend from the first floor to the fourth, find their way to the professor’s office in the middle of the floor, then argue with him and somehow find the time to stab and kill him… It’s improbable, don’t you think?” Serph explicated. “The medical secretary almost certainly would’ve barged in before when he truly had in Heat’s case, and would have dealt with the intruder accordingly. It’d be impossible for this entire span of events to take place in just five minutes. The professor had to have defended himself. Moreover, consider the additional time it would have taken if Heat were to have taken the disc from the scene and hidden it himself, then tampered with the scene using the professor’s own blood.”
The assistant inspector prickled visibly at Serph’s addendum.
“So if the disc had been taken from the professor’s desk after the murder, and that if Heat had sustained murderous intent from the start… Say the professor was busy writing his letter, then was interrupted by an unexpected intruder, to which he occupied them and attempted to drive them away. This likely wouldn’t have taken him a large amount of time,” Harvey refuted.
Then how would that explain the traces of blood on the desk? Was the scalpel that was lodged in the professor’s chest not the true murder weapon? Or were the only injuries he had sustained from the skirmish been the abrasions on his chin? Serph’s brow creased in deep thought.
“As the criminal had visited from the start planning to take the disc, the fact that a noticeable trace of blood was left behind would mean that the disc was originally left out in the open at the very least. Additionally, if Heat had murderous intentions, do you think he’d really come to the scene unarmed and wait to find a weapon upon arriving?” Serph replied.
“If there’s one thing that we can agree on, it’s that the cause of his less obvious injuries isn’t yet known. But if the professor fought back, then why was he stabbed so easily?” the assistant inspector questioned.
There was a tinge of something new in his voice—unease, Serph decided—that wasn’t there before.
Upon close inspection, this case contains many strange points in terms of common medical thinking.
As the arms and body of the victim were mutilated with a knife, the presence of minor self-defense injuries and more significant fatal wounds were to be expected. Unless he was taken by surprise, there would be no logical explanation as to how the professor would be foolish enough to let himself get killed. Evidently, he had to have confronted the intruder head-on. He had likely responded impulsively to the attempted attack.
“And as we see here,” the younger officer said, “the criminal had likely known exactly what they were doing. It had to have been someone who could move quickly and efficiently.”
“Remember, the weapon had to be something that was present in the professor’s office. And as far as we know, Heat just doesn’t seem capable of murdering someone. He lacks the prowess,” Serph stated, to Heat’s disconcertment.
The assistant inspector’s expression was now one of outright agitation.
Here, knowledgeable professionals would inherently realize that there was still plenty of evidence to be collected and discussed at the scene. On the assumption that such is the case, Heat deviates from the image of the culprit. It’s vastly unlikely that a simple student boxer would be able to kill with the precision of a murderer like had been described. The killer had to possess the dexterity in order to escape down the flight of stairs before anyone else could seize the chance to intrude.
“Do you mean to say there wasn’t a struggle…?” The officer asked, baffled.
“Congratulations! Looks like you’re finally beginning to grasp what I’ve been trying to explain.”
As he spoke, waiting for Heat’s train of thought to catch up, Serph smiled a malicious grin. Harvey’s had practically vanished in contrast. Instead, he had seemed to be quietly concentrating on Serph’s words.
The assistant inspector rested his hand on his back, the wrinkle of his brow steep and quivering. The black officer, on the other hand, scratched at his head in resignation.
“It’s difficult to kill people, as you may know,” Serph had began, following the brief moment of awkward silence.
He gazed straight ahead, directly into Investigator Harvey’s eyes.
“And what makes you say Heat isn’t capable of that?” Harvey retorted.
“Ah-ah-ah. This all boils down to psychological presence, you see.”
Stories in the news about victims who have been stabbed or practically hacked to death make the best example of what Serph had began to describe. Many are lead to believe that most killers are motivated by deep-rooted grudges or feelings of malice, though those that display these traits only represent a small fraction of murderers.
More often than not, murderers want their victims to stop moving as quickly as possible, so beating them senseless is a common tactic. As such, killing people takes a great toll on killers. This knowledge is a sheer commonality in the world of medicine and forensics.
“On the other hand, it’s easy to kill without much resistance. The distance between the skin and the pericardium is, on average, about 31 millimeters. In the professor’s case, he’s suffered damage to the thoracic aorta, though even here we see that the only difference between his artery and the outside world is a mere distance of 64 millimeters. Moreover, stabbing is easier than cutting. Now, depending on what you’d use—in order to penetrate the skin, subcutaneous fat, muscles, and to reach the artery all in one go… Yes, I’d say you’d need to apply just 5 kilos of force to your weapon’s tip,” Serph deduced. His voice was ever so slightly strained, having just described everything within the span of a single breath.
His image of the culprit was slowly revealing itself to Heat, though its details were still fairly foggy. At last, everything was coming together. But who could the killer possible be…?
“That’s…” Harvey staggered.
“If the tip is sharp enough, with an instrument shorter than one’s pinky finger, even a small child is capable of killing an adult.” Serph wagged his finger for emphasis.
“No fucking way, do you mean to say that a grade schooler killed him?” the assistant inspector barked. His voice was strained with outright ridicule. Apparently, his anger had rendered him incapable of telling hypothetical expressions from facts. As the inspector mulled over his words, a bitter, vile smirk spread across Serph’s face.
“I’m telling you, sir.” Serph’s wry smirk remained unchanged.
Of course, neither the inspector nor Serph himself actually believed that an elementary student had came over and stabbed the professor.
“We can’t afford to waste any more valuable time discussing irrelevant matters,” Harvey said. “I know quite well how hard it’d be to stab the heart by blindly aiming. It’s guarded by the ribs, after all. The culprit must’ve laid their instrument flat on its side before stabbing, then aimed at the heart and pierced through a gap in the professor’s ribcage with impeccable precision. I couldn’t imagine that such was the work of one unfamiliar with the structure of the human body.”
“Like you said, it’d be difficult for normal people to aim that well. I can certainly see where you’re coming from, suspecting Heat and whatnot,” Serph admitted.
“Serph!” Heat exclaimed, shocked.
“Ah, but what if the killer wasn’t aiming, per se?” Serph mused with a grin.
“For the love of God! Just cut the shit and tell us what you’re getting at already,” the assistant inspector snapped.
The assistant inspector’s patience was running down to its limit. Serph shrugged, an irksome air about him. Watching him, Heat was vaguely reminded of a spoiled child.
“The professor died by mistake,” Serph announced.
The assistant inspector and the police officer shared baffled glances. Inspector Harvey stroked his unshaved stubble with his right hand.
“Speaking of pinky fingers like we were earlier, do you happen to know what they represent in Japan?” Serph stood up straight.
“There’s no mistake about it. The professor’s death came as the consequence of a lovers’ quarrel.”
Body language. It was a matter that every psychology student was expected to know.