# 56 – Bronze Statues and Bright Banners

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©iStock.com/06photo

©iStock.com/06photo

Campus was quiet and empty.  It was like being in someone’s house when they were away on vacation.  Liza had a few personal days to burn before the end of the year, so she was off until after Christmas.  She’d decided to drive over to campus and pick up her textbook for next term.  The university never closed, but few students hung around during the holidays.  Liza didn’t blame them.  The campus was an oasis of academia and Greek life in the middle of a neighborhood that could be a movie set for a post-apocalyptic film.  Not that Liza was complaining.  She liked the campus and found this aspect of it kind of amusing.  If you looked hard enough at the facade of bronze statues and bright banners, you could see the decaying ghetto that was not quite hidden by them.

Liza stuck her hand in her coat pocket.  The butterfly knife was there.  It was the same knife she’d thrown at Scary Witch Hat Guy over the summer when she was unable to get it open.  Liza practiced with it since then, and could open it quickly, as long as she didn’t catch one of her fingers on the blade.  She ran into Jim on the cross walk in front of the bookstore.  Figures.  He was walking in the opposite direction, smiling his way toward Liza.  They paused and exchanged a quick greeting, but the light was turning red and they moved on.

Liza jogged into the bookstore to escape the cold.  Professor Walker was standing in the business section flipping through a supplemental book on managerial economics.  He was the professor of from class that she and Bruce had taken together over the summer.

“Hi, Professor.”  Liza wasn’t much of a people person.  She found it an annoying obligation to talk to acquaintances when she ran into them, but she didn’t want to be rude.

“Ms. Richter!  How have you been?  Are you taking my managerial economics class next term?”  Liza was confused by his greeting, which was bubblier than any she’d received when she was taking his class.

“I’ve been ok.  Same old.”  Except that my niece died and I haven’t spoken to Bruce in months.  “I’m not.  Economics isn’t for me.  I liked your class, but I only took it because it was a requirement.  So…how have you been?”

“Excellent!  I finished and published my book.”  He waved the economics book in the air.  “I made department head.  My wife and I just had our first baby.”  Wow, Liza felt like a loser.  She considered it an achievement when she found matching clothes in the morning.

“That’s great!  Congratulations,” she said.  “Boy or girl?”

“Girl.”  His phone materialized in his hand and he was showing Liza all three hundred and twenty-three pictures of baby Sophia.  Liza knew every contour of the infant’s puffy, expressionless face after the first ten pictures.  The other three hundred and thirteen were torture.  Then Walker was talking about feedings and diaper rash.  Liza started to sweat and the edges of her vision prickled.  She shuffled sideways and slid one of the finance textbooks from the shelf.  Her eyes flicked over to the cash registers.

“Well, I’ve bored you long enough, Ms. Richter,” he said.  Damn!  After enduring all of that, she had still been rude.  She could have just zipped past and snubbed him.  But he was smiling.  “I understand that not everyone enjoys economics, but you should seriously consider taking my managerial economics class if you change your mind.  It expands on a lot of the points that you touched on in your paper, which was excellent, by-the-way.”

“What paper?”  On the evening of their last class, Liza found out that Bruce returned to campus from his “vacation” and didn’t contact her.  She was so upset that she ditched the paper in a trashcan in front of Hunter Wood and skipped class.

“Your final paper.  The one Dean Wells handed in for you at the last class.”

“Bruce went to class and turned in my paper for me.”  The confusion lifted midway through the sentence.  Liza just managed to make it sound more like a statement than a question.

# 9 – Fifty

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“I don’t know.  Fifty?”

“Fifty?!”  He looked alarmed.

“Forty-eight??”

“Jesus, do I really look that old?”  Bruce turned to look at his reflection in the bookstore window.

“No.”  Liza studied him as he rubbed his hand across his hair and sucked in a phantom gut.  “Hmm…how about…thirty-two?”

“Oh, yeah right.  Now you’re just trying to make up for your first guess!”

Liza couldn’t tell if he was playing or if she had really hurt his feelings.  “No, that’s my guess.  Honestly, you look like you could be in your twenties, but considering that you’re a professor and were married, I guessed high.  You must at least be in your early thirties.”

His expression was inscrutable.  Finally he broke into a wide smile. “I’m thirty-eight, but thank you.”

“Sure, just don’t forget that you had to fish for that compliment,” Liza said, grinning and cocking an eyebrow at him.  “So tell me, how old do you think I am?”

“Hmm…seventh semester freshman, evening student, full-time job, drives a Focus, likes Halestorm, drinks energy drinks…” His eyes roamed her face for a minute.  “I’m going to say…twenty-seven.”

He was right.  Exactly.  Liza pursed her lips.  She was more competitive than a soccer mom on steroids and didn’t like losing; not even at this little guessing game.  “How did you know that?”

“I guessed.  How would I know?”  He looked amused.

“I don’t know.  Can’t professors look up student records?”

“Yes, we can, but you never told me your last name and apparently Liza is a nickname.”  She smiled.  He had tried to look her up.

“Elizabeth.”