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“…all those receiving your Bachelor’s Degree in the arts, please rise.”

There was dutiful applause. Donovan Graham rubbed his eyes and let his sunglasses drop back on his nose. The tassels hanging from his mortarboard brushed his face like strands of purple spider web. He waved half-heartedly at them, then stopped as the back of his head started to pound. He took a swig from a bottle of water but it only partially alleviated his cotton mouth.

“All those receiving a Master’s Degree in the arts, please rise.”

More dutiful applause. He heaved himself upright and looked around. At twenty-seven, he was younger than many of the other grad school students; at two inches over six feet, he was bigger than most.

And I drank more French martinis than any of them last night.

“All those receiving doctorates, please rise.”

A final round of clapping.

Give me another couple of years.

Overhead, clouds still threatened rain. He would have welcomed it; it might have cooled him off. Right now a hot, damp beach towel wrapped his entire body, or at least that’s what it felt like.

They announced a new speaker and everyone sat. Donovan scanned the dais and saw the Philosophy Department standard, a cobalt blue banner decorated by white, silver and gold letters and insignias. Next to it sat Father Maurice Carroll, distinct among the crowd of professors—sitting couldn’t completely hide his 6’ 9” frame. He’d been a basketball player in his college days at Georgetown and would have gone pro if he hadn’t blown out both knees in a pickup game with some local kids. In his late sixties, with a full head of gray-white hair and matching beard and moustache, he looked content and mildly amused.

The speeches finally ended and Doctor Keel, the president of the university, stepped to the microphone. “Today really is the first day of the beginning of your lives. I know it’s cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. From here on out, you are college graduates, a status that confers privilege and demands responsibility. Enjoy the moment, but use it.”

The graduates were herded like cattle into the chutes of individual department commencements. Donovan saw Joann next to the fence separating graduates from guests. One corner of her mouth curled into the wry grin he’d fallen in love with three years earlier on the other side of the world, in Hawaii. He waved and smiled as she snapped a few digital pictures. Students surged around him in a tide of black robes and colored sashes. He pushed his way across the current to her.

“Hey graduate.” She leaned across the fence to kiss him. “Congratulations.”

“I owe it all to clean living and the love of a good woman.”

“Clean living? How’s your hangover?”

“Better now.” Above the heads of the masses, he saw the cobalt banner moving towards its building. He looked for a gap in the fence but saw none. “I’ll see you over at the Philosophy Department.”


She kissed him again and he got a whiff of her hair as she turned back into the crowd. Somewhere he’d read that the most sensual position from which to watch a woman was three-quarters behind. His view of Joann confirmed it. Her dark gray business skirt stretched tight over her well-toned thighs and behind, while her shoulder-length blonde hair was up loosely, allowing a few strands to curl down to her neck just above the collar of her suit coat.

Lucky man, he thought.


When the Philosophy Department ceremony was over, Donovan made his way over to Joann. “Phi Beta Kappa?” She slid her arms around his neck. “I had no idea I was sleeping with such a brilliant scholar.”

He grinned. “Took me by surprise, too. I remember getting things in the mail, but I kind of just blew them off. It was Father Carroll who made all this happen.”

“No.” She looked into his eyes with total seriousness. “You did. You put in the time, you did the work. You earned it.”

“He certainly did,” Father Carroll said, joining them. “I know what you’re capable of, Donovan, even if you sometimes forget.” He glanced around. “Your parents aren’t here?”

“The Colonel was unable to attend. My mother sends regrets. They’ve promised to be here for the PhD ceremony, whenever that is.” Donovan hid his emotions with a shrug and looked past Joann. “On the other hand, babe, I see your father.”

Short and wiry, Conrad Clery cut through the sea of people towards them. Light off his glasses gave him the white eyes of a shark when it rolls in for a bite. “Darling! I’m glad I found you. There’s someone I’d like you to meet.” Golf-strengthened hands gripped Joann’s shoulders as he bussed her cheeks. “Father.” Almost as an afterthought, he said, “Oh, congratulations, Donovan. The first Master’s is always the hardest.”

“What are you doing here?” Joann asked.

“I was one of the speakers over at the Law School commencement. Didn’t I tell you?”

Her wry smile returned, with slightly less warmth than she’d shown Donovan. “It must have slipped your mind.” Her cell phone rang. She checked the number and frowned. “I’m sorry, gentlemen. Work.” She took a few steps away.

Father Carroll turned to Donovan. “I have to get some things from my office for my trip to England. Could you give me a hand?”


Conrad put a hand on Donovan’s arm. “If I could have a word with him first?”

Father Carroll raised a bemused eyebrow. “Of course. It was nice to see you again, Conrad. Good luck and God bless.”

“To you, as well.” Conrad started to steer Donovan away. “Oh, Father—if you get to London while you’re over there, there’s a terrific restaurant in Knightsbridge, Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley. Ask for Simon; tell him I sent you. He’ll take care of you.”

“I appreciate that, Conrad. I’ll keep it in mind.”

Donovan casually moved out of Conrad’s grasp. “What’s up?”

“Phi Beta Kappa and honors; impressive. I’m also Phi Beta Kappa.” Joann’s father took out a cigar, snipped off the end and carefully placed it in his mouth. Holding a gold lighter—solid gold, I’m sure, Donovan thought—he puffed until the tip glowed branding-iron orange. “Your Master’s is ‘Philosophical Hermeneutics’; what is that, exactly?”

“The study of interpretation technically, but really it’s the search for truth.” Donovan knew Conrad already knew the answer, but he played along. “Traditional hermeneutics studies interpretations of written works; religion, law, literature. Modern hermeneutics studies everything. That would be me, specializing in mythology and religion.”

“Why those particular fields, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“I like them. They interest me.”

“Driving a truck used to interest me, when I was in school. I even did, as a way of paying for my books. Then I grew up.” Conrad remained casual. Fragrant smoke hung in the air between them. “What sort of career does one pursue with a degree in Philosophical Hermeneutics?”

“One pursues a doctorate and teaches. That process begins this fall.” Donovan showed him a bland smile. “Something on your mind, Conrad?”

“What would you interpret my manner to mean?”

Donovan let that one go.

Conrad examined the crowd as it thinned before turning his gaze to Joann. She hung up and came back towards them. “Is everything all right?” he asked.

She wiggled one hand. “Cautious optimism.”

“New lead on Dinkins?” Donovan asked.

“Dinkins” was the Dinkins Shelter case, an investigation that was becoming a hairball for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. Back in March, Joann had been the Assistant DA riding when the David N. Dinkins Memorial Shelter exploded into a riot that had gutted the shelter and left three guards and nine homeless men dead. So far, her attempt to build the case against the riot’s instigator wasn’t coming together, because there was some question who started it. Against the counsel of some colleagues, Joann was insisting they had yet to find the ringleader, a man she referred to as “Charming Man” because witnesses referred to him as “smooth” and “speaking well.”

She nodded. “I was going over the list of the shelter wreckage and saw they had fourteen broken cameras. The shelter’s inventory listed fifteen supposed to be installed. I sent DeFelice to search the site. He found it.” She took a breath. “Now we have to see if anything on it survived.”

“Not bad, Counselor.”

Pride glowed in Conrad’s eyes. “Honey, do you have a moment? There’s someone I’d like you to meet over at the Law School.”

She looked at Donovan. He nodded. “Father Carroll wanted me to give him a hand in his office. Do you know where it is?”

“I do.” She pulled away from her father and ran her hands over Donovan’s chest, giving him a solid hug. “I’m so proud of you. Congratulations again, baby. I’ll see you there in a few minutes.”


“Still among the living, I see,” the priest observed, deliberating before a shelf.

Donovan paused in the doorway. Books and objects covered every inch of Father Carroll’s office and were stacked on every flat surface. Papyrus scrolls, ceremonial daggers, swords, candles, books, crosses, and talismans; each had a story attached to it. Every time he went there, Donovan got a little thrill. The stuff was so…cool.

“The Wrath of Khan-rad is old news. He was reassuring himself that despite my degree, I’m still not good enough for his daughter.”

“Pity he only recognizes quality in cigars.”

Donovan inspected some open books on the desk. “Scorpions?”

“Some light reading for the trip.” The priest busied himself finding more volumes. “What are you and Joann up to this holiday weekend?”

“Tomorrow we’re taking my motorcycle upstate to a bed and breakfast.” Donovan moved a coffee table book and saw something underneath it. “What’s this?”

The priest picked it up and brushed the frame off with his palm. He smiled. “This is actually why I wanted you to meet me here. It’s for you.” He handed it Donovan. Under the glass was a copy of his master’s thesis. “It’s one of the best I’ve ever read.”

“Where did you—?”

“I made copies to submit to the university for your degree. This is the original.”

The title page faced him. Donovan remembered the night he’d printed it on his computer, the culmination of countless hours of reading, research and writing:


Free Will Versus Predestination In

The Faustus Legend

“Yeah, it came out pretty well, I guess.” He was so touched he was embarrassed. “Thank you. For everything.”

“This is quite an achievement.” The priest embraced him in a bear hug. “Enjoy yourself this weekend, and this summer. This fall you’re in for a whole new experience. A doctorate requires a tremendous amount of energy.”

“I’ll be ready.” Donovan didn’t want to think about going for his PhD. Instead, he gestured at the books. “Scorpion mythology is pretty heavy reading for a plane ride.”

“It’s for something pretty heavy.”


“I would presume so.” Father Carroll returned to the bookcase and selected another book. “I was asked to research this by the police.”

“I remember something about scorpions in the news about a week ago. The guy killed in the hotel. Is this connected to that?”

“It seems logical, but I couldn’t say for sure. All I was asked for was some background on scorpions and their meaning in mythology.”

“Need any help?”

The priest glanced up at his tone. He read Donovan’s face and said, “Donovan, you are the best student I’ve ever had, and I welcome your input, as always. I believe, however, God has for you a destiny in life greater than ‘research assistant.’”

“It’ll lighten your carry-on bag.”

“This field is rarely about personal comfort.” He continued to gaze at the bookshelf, but Donovan recognized him weighing options. He’d seen Father Carroll do this in class, but this time he seemed more…intense? “I suppose I could make a few calls before my flight leaves, to make certain it’s acceptable. If you really want to…?”

“Research scorpions? No problem.”

“You’re certain this won’t interfere with your plans?”

“Not in the slightest,” Donovan assured him. “I’ll take care of it.”

“All right, then.” Father Carroll began to gather some of the books into a stack. He glanced up. “Why are you smiling?”

“Are you kidding? I tend bar for a living. Helping a police investigation beats the hell out of pouring mojitos in midtown.”


Later that night, with Joann stretched out across her king-sized bed fast asleep, Donovan went out to the living room of her Brooklyn Heights loft. All the excitement of finishing his Master’s, the overwhelming relief, left him both euphoric and drained.

And now…what?

He stood naked and inspected his body in the mirror of a night-black window. He’d never achieved the chiseled, zero-percent body fat look of a gym rat, but he never worried when he rode the subway either. He knew he could take care of himself. That, however, wasn’t the issue, at least not in a physical sense.

“What would you interpret my manner to mean?” Your meaning has been clear to me for a long time, Conrad.

He considered Joann’s father’s words in a more charitable light.

Of course he’s skeptical. He and The Colonel were practically separated at birth. Talking to one is like talking to the other. They’re men of action. An academic job doesn’t impress either of them.

The final words of the commencement came to him:

“Enjoy this moment, but use it.” His lips curled up. Okay, I will; professionally, I’m helping a police investigation. Personally…

When he considered what he really wanted, the answer was actually a question:

I wonder if she’ll marry me?

The thought made him smile all the way back to bed. Quietly he lifted the thousand count sheet and spooned behind Joann, but before sleep came, one final question occurred to him:

Why would the police need to know about scorpions?

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