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thatpoestory.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2017

That Poe Story

by Chris McGinley

 

That 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.

You 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.

But 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.).

So 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.

Over 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.

Like 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.

My 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.

Just 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.

Weeks 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.).

We 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.

Greaves had other plans, though.

When I awoke I was bound and gagged. My head ached horribly and my clothes were covered in my own blood.

"I 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?"

I groaned.

"You slight me? Me?" he roared.

Greaves spent the next few hours building a wall of stone and mortar to close a hole he had made in the old foundation.

My 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.

In Association with Fossil Publications