Poe story. "The Cask of Amontillado." That's how I had begun to think
about my relationship with Professor Greaves. I wanted grand, poetic justice,
like the narrator in that story.
see, for five years Greaves treated me like an indentured servant, a slave of
sorts. Now, to a certain degree, that's just graduate school. Powerless students
serving as thralls to the
faculty members who control their fates.
Greaves was crueler than the others, far crueler, a fact he accepted and
celebrated, like a real-life Poe character. He kept me waiting outside of his
office while he seduced young coeds about to flunk his class. He belittled me
in seminar forums, holding up my work as a model of fatuous scholarship. He
ridiculed me, embarrassed me, laughed at me—all because I once slighted him,
though I hadn't meant to (I had corrected him about the pronunciation of a
French word in a novel. For him, such a slight could not be borne.).
when the Poe manuscripts came to the university museum, I decided to exact my
revenge (How fitting!). If Greaves loved power and abuse, he loved money even
more. He had amassed a small fortune in the real estate market, gobbling up and
selling foreclosed homes. He pilfered rare books and jewelry from fellow
faculty at soirees. And, rumor had it, he was somehow behind the theft of a
nineteenth-century painting from the museum. Of course, he had always managed
to avoid arrest. His genteel speech and the rarefied air he cultivated—these
mitigated any suspicions the authorities might normally harbor.
time I made it known, little by little, and at first as a joke, that the
manuscripts would be an easy grab. I emphasized, however, that actually selling
the stolen papers would be near impossible. In the annals of famous museum
thefts, I noted, the perpetrators were always apprehended not in the stealing
of the merchandise, but in the attempt to move it. Here I tried to
strike just the right note with Greaves. I had to make it appear as if the heist,
while practical on the level of the theft itself, would be highly impractical
on the level of fencing the loot. I stressed that if so few masterminds had
ever gotten away with similar robberies, how were we to accomplish it? My pitch
ended on an "Oh, well" note.
I hoped, Greaves' need to cast himself among the lot of "criminal
geniuses" overcame any uncertainties he may have felt. He archly informed
me that, with his connections among the elite art collectors of Europe, and
with those who traffic in rare ephemera, he would be able to find a buyer. I
acted appropriately astonished.
plan was to set up Greaves, to expose him while he housed the manuscripts.
Surely he'd attempt to implicate me after the fact, but I would claim this was
part of a continuous, perverse pattern of abuse—easy to substantiate among
other graduate students.
as we planned, I scooped up the papers after I pistol-whipped Greaves (a true
pleasure) in the company of some visiting scholars to whom he showed the
manuscripts in the rare documents room. I wore a balaclava and was careful not
to speak a word.
passed. On campus Greaves was regarded as a hero for nobly attempting to save
the papers. Indeed, he tried to fight me off in the museum ("It will look
good," he had advised earlier.).
finally met in one of his foreclosed homes. I gave him the manuscripts as I
thought about the cops arriving at his house later that night.
had other plans, though.
I awoke I was bound and gagged. My head ached horribly and my clothes were
covered in my own blood.
know you've studied 'The Cask of Amontillado,' " he said. "I don't
need to explain, then, that I'm taking my revenge. Poetic, yes?"
slight me? Me?" he
spent the next few hours building a wall of stone and mortar to close a hole he
had made in the old foundation.
bones lie here still.
Chris McGinley teaches middle school in Lexington, KY. He has appeared
in Out of the Gutter and Near to the Knuckle, and he will soon have a
story published in Shotgun Honey.