Heaven and Earth

By Rick Norwood

"Philosophers don't murder people," the plump, pink philosopher said. His smirk must have made many an undergraduate consider justifiable homicide.

"Be that as it may," I said. I consulted my notes. "You're Professor Drake."

"Call me Horace, my dear boy." Horace blushed, his cheeks turning a brighter shade of rose. "Do forgive me. That was very politically incorrect wasn't it, calling you 'boy'. What should I call you?"

"As I told you, my name's Malcolm White. You can call me Malcolm. Like Malcolm X. Now, what can you tell me about the events of last night?"

"I hope you understand that no insult was intended. I'm so dreadfully sorry." He squirmed in his folding chair, which was too small for him. There was no comfortable furniture in the interview room at the police station, only a table and a few folding chairs.

"Forget about it. One reason I moved to Amsterdam was to get away from people who make a big deal about the color of skin."

"I'm more than eager to cooperate with the police in any way that I can."

"I'm not a policeman, Professor Drake. I'm a reporter with the International Herald Tribune."

"So much the better, my...um...dear fellow. One does so like to get one's picture in the newspaper."

"The murder?"

"Oh, yes. Poor Tom. Poor Tom's a cold. You'll have to excuse me, I really can't help quoting Shakespeare. Most annoying habit, I'm sure. Anyway, Tom is no longer with us. And, I might add, no longer against us."

"You and..." I glanced down at my notes, "Professor Campbell didn't get along?"

"Tom and I fought like cats. He was the most obtuse man. Sometimes I think he kept publishing just to annoy me. He had tenure, after all. He didn't have to publish."

"So your differences were professional?"


"O.K. Tell me about your other two colleagues." I looked down. "Professor St. Simon and Professor Pussey."

"Oh, you mustn't pronounce it 'pew see'. She would be most annoyed. It's Professor Pussy. Like the cat, you know."

"And did you and she get along?"

"Swimmingly, my... Oh, my yes. Swimmingly. Best of chums."

"Which brings us to St. Simon."

"Yes. Well, dreadful bore, of course. And...how can I put this delicately...queer as a three dollar bill."

Professor Pussey, who I had interviewed earlier, and who had pronounced her own name "Pew see," had described St. Simon as one of the nicest, most interesting men she knew.

* * *

Professors Drake, Pussey, and St. Simon, along with their murdered colleague Professor Campbell, had all come to Amsterdam for the European Philosophical Conference, held this year at Amsterdam University. Philosophers had come from all over the world, they had been housed in one or another of the widely scattered university residence halls, empty in August.

Professor Campbell's murder was not the first murder to occur in the residence hall where Campbell, Pussey, St. Simon, and Drake were staying. Several years ago, a student from Indonesia had murdered another student by pushing him down a stairwell. As a result, this building, unlike most buildings in Amsterdam, had cameras in the stairwells and in the lobby. The recorded video showed the four professors returning, to all appearances happily, from a night on the town, and climbing the stairs to the fifth floor, where all were housed in separate rooms.

Nobody appeared in the stairwells until the next day, when the police were called. There was no lift.

Which was why the Amsterdam police were questioning three Oxford philosophy professors. One of them was a murderer.

I've done the police a few favors in the past, so I was allowed to interview the suspects. I figured a homicidal philosopher was uncommon enough to merit a few column inches in the Trib.

* * *

Professor St. Simon was strikingly handsome. He could have been a film star. I remembered seeing him on television once, explaining for the layman something about the philosophy of Witgenstein. I had changed the channel, but not before I noted his extraordinary good looks.

"So," I said, just to get the interview started, "You're a philosopher."

"Nothing could be further from the truth. I am a professor of philosophy. Technically, the same could be said of every professor with a Ph.D. — the abbreviation stands for "Philosophical Doctor." I teach my students about the great philosophers, and we study their works. Occasionally I write about them. I would never claim to be one of them. In fact, there are no living philosophers, just as there are no living artists or poets. Those skills seem to have vanished from our civilization, sometime around the middle of the Twentieth Century. Or it may be better to say that the people who have those skills have all gone into movies or television."

"I see. Now, as I understand it, you discovered the body."

"Yes. We had all spent the evening getting stoned at the little internet café on the corner, and when I returned to my room I was deliciously drowsy. I slept soundly all night. In the morning, I put on my robe and went to the bathroom at the end of the corridor. I saw Tom, that is, Professor Campbell, curled up in the bottom of the shower stall. The water was still running. I thought at first that he had fallen. There was no blood — the shower had washed it away. The bathroom floor is tile, you understand, and there is a drain not only in the shower itself but also in the middle of the floor. The entire floor was slick with water.

"I tried to lift him under his arms. His head lolled back. I saw the gash in his neck. I'm afraid I dropped him. Unforgivable — though he was beyond caring. I remember the crack when his head hit the tile.

"Well. There was nothing I could do for him, so I hurried back to my room and called the police. Then I knocked up Agnes and Horace — Professors Pussey and Drake. They both had a look into the bathroom, but neither went inside. Then we all stood around in the corridor, waiting for the police. Nobody said much. I don't believe I have ever seen a group of professors remain silent for so long a stretch of time."

"Can you give me an idea of the layout of the rooms?"

"The building is very small. Universideit von Amsterdam has no campus. Student housing is scattered all over the city. They even house some students on a former cruise ship in the harbor. There were just the four of us on the fifth floor. As you walk down the corridor from the stair, on the right is a kitchenette, then my room, then Agnes. On the other side you have the bathroom, Tom's room, and then Horace."

"You mentioned a kitchen. Were there..."

Professor St. Simon interrupted. "Knives? There were. I overheard the police talking about a steak knife, washed and dried, but evidently they can detect human blood in even minute quantities. My understanding is that the murder weapon has been recovered. It won't have fingerprints, of course. We may all be fools, but we're not stupid."

"Who do you think did it?"

"It has to be Horace. Why he did it is a complete mystery to me, but I cannot imagine Agnes doing such a thing, and I know I didn't do it. Though of course you don't know that, do you?"

Professor St. Simon had been very helpful. And he had not shown the least emotion over the death of his college and his own detention by the police. He seemed totally detached, where Professor Drake had been visibly nervous and Professor Pussey had been in tears. I didn't make too much of that. People react to tragedy in different ways, and for many it takes time for the enormity of what has happened to sink in.

Professor Pussey was more composed during my second interview with her. I asked her if she had killed Professor Campbell. She shook her head, but didn't speak. I asked what she thought about the crime.

"I can't imagine either of them killing anybody. I can't believe it happened." And once again she began to cry, or rather to gasp and sniffle while tears ran down her face, leaving it a mess.

Professor Agnes Pussey was a stout, handsome woman. I guessed her age as mid-thirties — she would be the youngest of the four professors. She did not look like the kind of person to go to pieces, but here she was, face down on the table, unable to control her tears.

I tried to picture her cutting a man's neck with a kitchen knife. She was fairly tall, so she might manage it, assuming someone would allow her to stand behind him in a shower holding a knife. I shook my head. It was hard to picture. But if she didn't do it, then either Drake or St. Simon did, and neither one seemed to have the slightest motive. I knew, in an abstract way, that academic infighting could be nasty, but I had never heard of a case where it led to murder.

I spoke with my old friend Inspector Swelinck, just to check up on a few details. The corpse had been nude. Cause of death, a knife wound to the throat. Time of death, between midnight and two o'clock in the morning. Would the shower have delayed rigor mortis? Not by much, and in any case that had been taken into account. I called the internet café on the corner. They closed at midnight. Time to write up my story and call it a day.

* * *

Back in my matchbox-sized apartment, I began working on the story, trying to squeeze seven column inches out of a dead Oxford professor, and knowing that at best I'd get five column inches on an inside page. I sensed Lily standing behind me. Looking over my shoulder, I saw that she was wearing one of my shirts. I suspected it was the only thing she was wearing, but I hunched my shoulders and focused on the article. When I looked back again, she was dancing to the background music — Leonard Cohen. "Democracy is coming, to the USA!" Lily's arms were held out to one side, waving up and down. Her body swayed to the beat. She unbuttoned the top button of the shirt.

I changed one word in paragraph three and rewrote the metaphor in the last paragraph, even though I knew it would never see print.

Lily started to drag me out of the chair. I held on to the mouse, clicked on "e-mail." I had to pull away to type in the name of my editor and hit "send."

* * *

It's a weakness. I admit it. But I love to read my words in print. Which is one reason I could not leave the mystery of the homicidal philosopher alone. As things stood, I figured the odds were about fifty-fifty that my story would appear in the Trib the next day. The Trib does not usually cover local murders. On the other hand, people like to read stories that prove that college professors are only human, especially when the professor is from Oxbridge.

On the other hand, if the murderer was caught, then there was a very good chance that not only my original story, but also a follow up, would make it into the paper.

All three of my professors were lying, of course. Everything that Professor Drake said about Professor St. Simon could be dismissed as pure malice. In particular, I doubted very much that St. Simon was gay, though I wasn't so sure about Drake. Professor St. Simon had lied about touching the body. If he had touched the body, he would almost certainly have said something about how stiff it was. As for Professor Pussey, I was sure that she had been much closer to the crime than she let on. One thing a reporter learns very quickly: everybody lies.

I had a pretty good idea, now, of what had happened that night. What I didn't know, as the old limerick has it, was "who did what, with what, and to whom." Actually, I know the "with what" — with an ordinary kitchen knife.

The easy way to find out "who done it" would be to search the three rooms, and find out who had wet clothes hanging up to dry. But the Amsterdam authorities take personal rights very seriously, and there was no way the police were going to get a search warrant for all three rooms. They might get a warrant to search one of the rooms, if they could give a good reason to suspect one of the three. But the point was moot. Evidence like wet clothes never holds up in court. What was needed was a confession.

In my experience, most criminals are actually eager to talk about their crimes, if you give them half a chance. So, the next day I stopped by the student housing where the three professors were staying, the scene of the murder. The police had no reason to charge any one of the three with a crime, and the custom of holding someone "on suspicion" is unknown over here.

Only Professor St. Simon was in. I asked if I could interview him for my newspaper.

"Why don't you come down to the kitchenette. These rooms are so tiny, there's no place for two people to sit."

We went down the deserted hall, and sat on either side of a small, square table.

"I believe there's some coffee," St. Simon said.

"No, thanks."

"You want to ask me about the murder, about Professor Campbell."

"What I was hoping for was a confession." That got a reaction! I pressed on. As I described the events of the night before last, I watched his face, to see if I was on the right track. "You and Professor Pussey were lovers." He didn't deny it. "At the café, all four of you got stoned."

"It's legal in Amsterdam."

"I know. You were sleepy. You went right to bed. But you didn't sleep all night. What time was it when you woke up?"

The professor and I were watching each other closely now, and I felt a heightened sense of awareness. I was experiencing the effects of a drug considerably more powerful than marijuana — it's called adrenalin.

He spoke slowly, as if he were thinking and talking at the same time. "It was about one. I needed to go to the bathroom."

I did not say anything.

"They were in the shower together. Neither was facing me. Tom was...behind." He closed his eyes, and his noble old face took on a look of infinite sadness, as he relived that night. "I backed quietly out of the bathroom. My first thought was that I might get a cup of coffee. I was rummaging through this drawer..." He stood up. He turned away from me, and opened one of the kitchen drawers. "I found this. Or, I suppose, a knife very like this. The police must still have the actual...murder weapon." It was hard for him to say the last two words. He looked like he was going to cry. But there was no mistaking the fact that he was pointing the knife at me.

He was much older than I am, but also taller, and he was standing while I was still sitting down. I put up my hands, at about the level of my chest, palms out, and kept my voice very low and very calm. "Professor St. Simon. Professor St. Simon." It took a moment for his eyes to meet mine. "What you did is perfectly understandable. It was a crime of passion. It was not premeditated murder. The worst you face, for what you've done up to now, is a six year sentence, out in three. Considering your age, and the fact that you're not a threat to society... Professor St. Simon, I'm not here to judge you. I'm here to tell your story to the world. Whatever happens next is going to be on the front page of the International Herald Tribune tomorrow. You decide how you want that story to read."

He put down the knife. I tried not to let my relief show in my face. I took a deep breath, held it, then slowly let it out. I took out my notepad and pen and looked Professor St. Simon in the eye. He sat down and began to talk.

* * *

So, philosophers do murder people after all. Not, of course, in their role as philosopher, nor for philosophical reasons. They kill for the old, old reasons that other human beings kill for — greed, revenge, jealousy. In this case, it was jealousy. When he saw his lover getting it on with Professor Drake in the shower, Professor St. Simon had lost control. "Who'd a thunk it?" as my mother would have said. Or, as Shakespeare put it, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Rick Norwood is a writer, editor, and mathematician. His stories and articles have appeared in The Sciences, The Wilson Quarterly, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He is the editor of Comics Revue, which reprints classic comic strips, and he reviews movies and television for www.sfsite.com. He teaches math at East Tennessee State University.

Copyright 2012 Rick Norwood. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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