Professor Jahan Darvish nudged his thick black glasses along the bridge of his nose and stared into the minibar fridge of his swanky Manhattan hotel suite while doing his best to ignore the outrageous price list posted off to the side. Twenty-eight dollars for one of these tiny little bottles of vodka? Seriously?
But Darvish didn’t really care. The flight down from Boston, the expensive hotel, each and every lavish meal—it was all on MIT’s tab. Besides, it’s not like the minibar charges were going to be itemized on the bill. For all that the university bean counters would know back in Cambridge he drank a bunch of Diet Cokes and cracked open that fancy jar of pistachios. Better yet, the pistachios and the tin of macadamia nuts. Maybe even a Red Bull, too. How else was he supposed to work late into the night preparing for his major speech at the nuclear symposium?
“Is everything okay over there, Professor?” she asked from the large armchair behind him.
Darvish smiled. He loved that she was calling him that. Professor. Finally a woman who knew what really mattered in a man. Brains.
It was meant to be.
Normally he would’ve never introduced himself to her. Fear of rejection almost always got the better of his nerve. But there she was, sitting by herself at the bar earlier in the evening drinking a glass of pinot noir while reading a book—the same book he had just recently finished. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
If that didn’t make it fate, then the fact that they shared the same homeland, as they quickly discovered, surely did. It was incredible, thought Darvish. Only in America could he meet the Iranian girl of his dreams.
Her name was Sadira, and she was drop-dead gorgeous.
Better yet, she didn’t care that he wasn’t. Handsome, that is. As they talked about the plot of The Alchemist and moved on to discuss everything from politics and global warming to French cinema and Italian opera, she kept telling him how impressed she was by his mind. It apparently didn’t matter to her that he was twenty pounds overweight and losing his hair, or that his striped tie didn’t match his plaid shirt, which didn’t match his rumpled brown suit. She saw past all that. Sadira saw the person inside.
“Yes. Everything is more than okay,” said Darvish as he continued staring into the minibar fridge with its little bottles of liquor all lined up in a row. He tilted his head, pondering. “Just so many choices.”
“I don’t care, so long as it’s strong,” said Sadira. “If you can’t already tell, I’m a little nervous.”
Darvish turned around, raising a bushy eyebrow. Actually, no, he couldn’t tell at all that she was nervous. Nor could he help himself. He just blurted it out. “You’re nervous? I’m the one who should be nervous. I mean, you’re— ”
“Please don’t say it,” she said, cutting him off.
“Don’t say what?”
“That I’m beautiful.”
“But you are. You truly are,” he said. “How could you not know that?”
“It’s not that I don’t know. It’s that everyone . . .”
Her voice trailed off, and in the words left unsaid, Darvish understood exactly what she was telling him. Sadira wanted to be appreciated for more than just her looks. Of all things, Darvish felt guilty. A tad shallow, even.
“I understand,” he said. He truly did. “And I’m sorry.”
Darvish turned back to the minibar, grabbing two bourbons. Jim Beam. It suddenly didn’t matter what he chose for them to drink. Quickly, he poured the little bottles into a couple of glasses next to the empty ice bucket. “Hope you like it neat.”
“Neat is perfect,” said Sadira, standing. “The way it should be.”
She met him halfway across the carpet, her fingers gently grazing his as she reached for one of the glasses from his outstretched hand.
Again, Darvish smiled. How could he not?
It was the way she was looking at him. The adulation in her eyes. She made him feel so alive. So powerful. Tonight, he was more than a professor at MIT. He was Superman. Invincible.
“What should we drink to?” asked Darvish.
Sadira didn’t hesitate. It was meant to be. “To seeing each other for who we really are,” she said.
Darvish watched as Sadira made quick work of her bourbon. Was she looking for liquid courage? Perhaps she truly was nervous, he thought.
“Shall we have another?” he asked.
“No, I’ve had enough,” she said before producing a smile of her own. “At least as far as the drinking goes.”
English wasn’t Darvish’s first language. Or even his second. After Persian and Arabic, English was actually a distant third. But he was still pretty sure that was a highly suggestive double entendre.
Sadira promptly handed Darvish her glass and cozied up to him, her head nestling against his shoulder. Her long, darkbrown hair smelled like lavender.
“Have you ever been tied up, Professor?” she asked.
Forget liquid courage. It was as if he’d slipped something into her drink. Only he hadn’t.
Tied up? Darvish shuffled his feet awkwardly. “Only in traffic, I’m afraid.”
Sadira began loosening his tie. “Are you afraid now?”
The professor was speechless. Aroused beyond belief, but still speechless. Sadira began to laugh.
“Oh, you should’ve seen your face just now!” she said, pointing. She was kidding. Of course she was kidding. She didn’t really want to tie him up.
“You got me,” said Darvish.
“Do I?” Sadira brushed her full lips against his before whispering softly in his ear. “Trust me, I want you to be able to use your hands with me.”
She let go of his tie and turned toward the bed, motioning over her shoulder for him to follow.
Darvish took one step, however, and stopped. Something was happening.
The room had begun to move. It was spinning. Slowly at first, then faster and faster. He tried to focus, but his vision had gone blurry, as if there were Vaseline smeared on his glasses. He could barely see Sadira or anything else. He felt dizzy. Nauseated. His knees were beginning to wobble.
“Something’s wrong,” he said.
“No,” said Sadira, reaching for her purse on the chair. She removed a pair of latex gloves, sliding them on. “Everything’s going exactly as planned.”
The combination of drugs she’d slipped into Darvish’s drink at the bar while he was in the bathroom was finally kicking in—with a vengeance. Stronger versions of his prescribed OxyContin and diclofenac, plus lots and lots of sildenafil, a.k.a. Viagra.
Darvish reached out for Sadira, the two empty glasses of bourbon slipping from his hands. “Help me,” he begged. “Help me...”
The professor had about two minutes of consciousness left. Three, at most.
Sadira would indeed help him. To the bed, at least. That’s where she needed the professor to be. After pulling down the covers and messing up the sheets a bit, she helped him lie down.
“Here,” she said, propping up his head on the pillows. She wanted it to look as if he’d been watching TV.
So far, so good. But still so much to do.
Sadira thoroughly washed the glass she had drunk from, spic-and-span, before returning it to its place next to the ice bucket. Darvish’s glass was then positioned on the bedside table next to him.
Keeping the gloves on, she grabbed the remote and ordered a movie. The hotel offered a selection of six pornos. The choice for Professor Darvish was a no-brainer. Naughty College Co-eds.
Ironically, while the minibar charges weren’t itemized on the hotel bill, the movie selections were. Titles included.
Sadira checked on Darvish again. He was out cold, officially unconscious.
It was time to finish the job.
Unbuckling the professor’s belt, she undid his trousers and pulled them down around his ankles. Next, she rolled him over onto his stomach and grabbed one of the little bottles of bourbon.
Those latex gloves weren’t just for avoiding fingerprints.
“Bottoms up, Professor,” Sadira whispered. Then she made the bottle disappear inside his rectum. Completely.
Because all perfect murders have one thing in common.
They never look like murder.
NOTHING IS SACRED, NO ONE IS SAFE
There’s nothing quite like walking into a room packed with more than a hundred students and not a single one is happy to see you . . .
If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost take it personally.
“Good morning, class,” I began, “and welcome to your final exam in Abnormal Behavioral Analysis, otherwise known as Professor Dylan Reinhart messing with your impressionable minds for a little while in an effort to see if you actually learned anything this glorious spring semester. As legend correctly has it, I never give the same test twice, which means that all of you will be spared any repeat of a previous exam, including my personal all-time favorite, having everyone in the class write and perform an original rap song about Sigmund Freud’s seduction theory.”
I paused for a moment to allow for the inevitable objection from the brave, albeit delusional, student who thought he or she might finally be the one to appeal to my better judgment, whatever that was.
Sure enough, a hand shot up. It belonged to a young man, probably a sophomore, wearing a rugby shirt and a look of complete consternation.
“Yes, is there a question?” I asked.
He was sitting in the third row, and best I could tell, it had been three days since he last showered. Finals week at Yale is hell on personal hygiene.
“This isn’t fair, Professor Reinhart,” he announced.
I waited for him to continue and plead his case diligently, but that was all he had to offer. There was no rehearsed speech on how all the other professors give their students a study guide or at least explain what they should expect on the final.
“That’s it?” I asked. “That’s all you’ve got for me? This isn’t fair?”
“I just think we should’ve had a chance to prepare for this test,” he said. “The only thing you told us was that we all had to bring our cell phones.”
“Yes, I see. Clearly a miscarriage of justice,” I said. It was a little early in the morning for the full-on Reinhart sarcasm, but sometimes these kids left me no choice. I turned to the rest of the class. “With a show of hands, how many of you agree with your esteemed colleague here? How many think that what I’m doing is unfair?”
Literally every hand went up.
I so love it when they make it easy for me . . .
“Wow, that’s pretty impressive,” I said, looking around the room. “You’re all in agreement. All for one and one for all. Kumbaya!”
Mr. Rugby Shirt in the third row all but pumped his fist in victory. “Does that mean you’ve changed your mind, Professor Reinhart? You’re postponing the test?”
“No, it means the test has already begun,” I said. “Now everyone please take out your cell phones and place them directly in front of you. It’s time to see how united you all really are.”
I watched and waited a few seconds while everyone took out their phones. Note to self: buy more Apple stock for Annabelle’s college fund.
Then I went to the blackboard behind me, picked up a piece of chalk, and began writing. It was my cell number. Nothing more.
“Okay,” I said, turning back around to the class. “I want you all to pick up your phones and text me the grade you’d like to receive on the final exam. You can choose between an A or a B. Whichever you text me is the grade you’ll get.”
I wiped my hands free of any chalk, gave a tug on the notched lapel of my navy chambray suit jacket, and started walking blithely toward the exit.
“Wait!” came a chorus of voices. “WAIT! WAIT! WAAAAIT!”
I stopped. “Yes? What’s the problem?”
“That’s it?” they all asked. That and numerous variations on the same theme. “That’s all we have to do?”
I smacked my forehead. “Gosh darn it, you’re right. There is one other thing I forgot to mention. Actually, two other things,” I said. “The first is that I’m afraid I can’t give you all As. Ten of you will have to choose Bs.”
Cue the chorus again. “That’s not fair!”
“We’re back to that again, huh? Fairness?”
“Why would anyone choose a B?”
“That’s the other thing I forgot to mention,” I said. “Perhaps this will make it easier for you all. If at least ten of you don’t choose a B, then you all get Cs, each and every one of you, the entire class. I repeat, a C. All of you. No exceptions.”
It was as if I’d just told a roomful of five-year-olds that there isn’t a Santa Claus. No, worse. That I had killed Santa Claus— and his little furry friend, too, the Easter Bunny. Shock. Anger. Disbelief. We can’t believe you’re doing this to us, Professor Reinhart!
It was beautiful.
Sorry, Sigmund, I now had a new favorite final exam. The setup had gone perfectly. All I had to do was wait for the emotional dust to settle. They would all start to think. First as individuals, then together as a group. It would begin with one simple—
“Question?” I asked, pointing at Mr. Rugby Shirt in the third row. He’d raised his hand again.
“Yeah, I was wondering,” he said. “Are we all allowed to talk to one another before we each text you our grade?”
I pretended to think it over for a few seconds, even scratching my chin for added effect. “I suppose I’ll allow that,” I said. “In return, though, I’ll need to put a time limit on any deliberations. Ten minutes should be enough.” After a few groans from those who wanted more time, I glanced at my watch. “Make that nine minutes and fifty seconds.”
The groans stopped and everyone scrambled like mad to huddle up.
Later, they would learn how they were subjects of an experiment for my next book, and that the tiny cameras and microphones I had installed around the room were recording everything they said and did.
Would they be pissed? Sure. Right up until I announced that they were all getting an A on the final for being good sports. In fact, I could already hear the cheering.
But that was then. For now, they were a group of more than a hundred ultra-competitive students at Yale deciding collectively who would sacrifice for the greater good. How would they decide? Could they decide?
Would the best of human behavior prevail?
I headed for the exit again so they could all talk freely. I didn’t want anything to affect the outcome, especially me. There could be no distractions, nothing to derail the experiment.
And nothing would— I was sure of it.
No sooner had I reached the door than I heard the first ping. Then immediately another, followed by a few more. Everyone’s phones were lighting up with the breaking news. Including mine.
Something terrible had happened. Just dreadful. The absolute worst of human behavior.
New York City, my home, had been attacked again.