Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Quantum Lapse: Episode 1


*1*

A reigning number one athlete keeps his place at the top by both physical and psychological superiority.

It’s not only exertion and excellence at the sport that keep him at the number one spot, but also the firm belief in his invincibility. If his competitors believe in his impregnability as well, then he will keep that number one place for a long time. Feeding into the psyche that the Stasi were supreme kept every Eastern German shut for life, though in the end, it took the people a few months to bring the system down on its knees. Psychological dominance is much more powerful and durable than any competitor’s strength.

And Lela Kraft believed in that.

After all, that is what her father had taught her, and it had proven right so far. Since her first year in elementary school, and throughout her entire education, the top spot of the class was always reserved for her. She earned her place with exhausting study, patience, punctuality, and of course, by emphasizing the vast distance between her and the rest of her class.
Lela's medical class

After two years in Harvard Medical School, she had fared, as ever, with exceeding perfection!

So it was completely justifiable to feel threatened when she suddenly got squashed in front of her classmates by Daina Stravinski, the Lithuanian. The overtly sexy girl, from the outskirts of Vilnius, never seemed a threat to Lela’s supremacy. If anything, Lela had always seen her as a recluse who was going to carve her way into medicine by whoring. The Baltic girl employed her attributes readily with male colleagues and much more often with some of the college staff. It was clear that this attitude was not going to take her far.

However, this time that was not the case.

For two weeks, Lela revised the syllabus of Oto-rhino-laryngology (ear, nose, and throat) anatomy, more than ten times and was by then confident of knowing the how and where of every structure, its embryology and its applied anatomy. She could reconstruct the entire anatomy of that region from zero. On the “challenge test” by Professor Stifles, she thought, she would surely seize the spotlight and shine over the rest of the class as usual.

On one of the opposing podiums, Lela stood her place against the first four students, kicking them off the other podium after two or three questions. She was chewing her third Mentos mint tab, the flavor she got out of the candy far more exciting than the challenge at hand, as she was yet to face a worthy challenger.

Even the studious Greek, Mark Giannakos, couldn’t manage the anatomical relationship questions. Professor Stifles eyed Lela, asking for mercy with the lowly competitors. Only three students were left and still he had more than an hour of scheduled time left. It was supposed to be a “back and forth” process. Lela looked to Stifles like the Spanish Armada that squashed the fishing boats that stood in its way to the British Isles.

In a sleeveless top, short enough to reveal her pierced belly button, and a skirt short enough to show the new henna dragon tattoo on her thigh, Daina assumed her place on the podium like a model on a catwalk. She brushed Lela’s shoulder provocatively and out of her full purple lips, she blew a big bubble in Lela’s face.

“Slut,” murmured Lela coolly.

Daina looked back and raised an appraising brow. “You’re dead today, massive hemorrhagic-neurogenic shock dead.”

Lela couldn’t believe what she had heard. The girl was challenging her, Lela Kraft, or as some called her, out of respect for her scholarly prowess, The LELA.

“Let’s get on with it, girls…Lela, don’t jump over protocol,” directed Professor Stifles. 

“Start asking the origin-insertion questions then relationship then injury and applied anatomy. This is my class and it will go my way. This isn’t a spelling bee competition. It’s anatomy revision.” He pointed at his watch and nodded at the thin crowd left behind him. “And we’ve got a full hour on our hands. So make good use of it.”

Nervous, belittled Mark Giannakos uttered with a grudge, “It’s Lela’s fault; she wants to be hailed prom queen tonight.”

Daina burst her next bubble and uttered with malice, “No, not tonight.”

A guy snorted while another giggled while Mark waved Daina scornfully.

No one in that classroom believed anyone could challenge Lela. But Lela wasn’t so sure, not anymore. If Daina declared the challenge in front of everybody, that meant she had a weapon to hit with, or was she bluffing only to eventually embarrass herself in front of the crowd? Anyhow, being squashed by Lela was never an embarrassment. 

Wasn’t that what Helen had said the other day?

Stifles fetched Lela out of her thoughts when he yelled at Daina.

“I told you to spit out that gum. Just because I allow it to be chewed in class, doesn’t mean you can blow bubbles like that. Be respectable of the class, Ms. Stravinski.”
She didn’t spit it out and the professor didn’t repeat his request. Perhaps he preferred his revenge to be at the hands of Lela.

Let the show begin.

Until now, protocol had Lela pitching till the opponent was grounded, and then the other side had a grace one or two questions, which Lela would answer while she swallowed her next Mentos or stretched her bored backside.

Anxious and eager, Lela threw a devastating question at Daina, “What’s the course of the maxillary nerve, origin, distribution, fibers, injury?” Then she gave her most authentic “Fuck you” smile.

Stifles interrupted. “Hey, Lela. This is ENT remember, not neurology.”

“Maxillary nerve is ENT, Professor.”

Now it was Daina’s right to sneer or wag her finger in front of Lela’s eye. Instead, she waved her hand in acceptance.

“It’s OK. That’s an easy one.”

It’s unusual for fifty-five-year-old Professor Eric Stifles to lose control over his class. However, the prospect of that punk, who hadn’t attended even half of his classes, answering this difficult question was a sight to see. Most of the class thought Daina was going to play a practical joke. David Finely, who had a crush on Daina, whispered to Helen Bailey that perhaps she’d play it lewd and get topless. But Helen remarked somberly that the joke wouldn’t work, that it’d be more appropriate for a class on the thorax.

Daina told it all, from A to Z, as if reading from Gray’s Anatomy. But no, it wasn’t from Gray’s, because she said things Lela herself had never read about before.
After five minutes of flabbergast, during which Daina summarized more than five packed reference pages, David Finely whistled in admiration and clapped. “Daina, will you marry me?”

His outburst broke the tension in the atmosphere for everyone but Lela. Daina whisked her skirt, bending graciously in front of her admiring crowd. She turned maliciously towards Lela, and then burst another gum bubble.

“Next. Perhaps it’ll be the histology of olfactory epithelium,” said Daina.

Already losing her cool, Lela consented. Stifles was protesting, but Daina was already at the board with the marker, and in 30 seconds was drawing the damned cells.

“These are the microvilli and this is the terminal web.”

“Stop it, you two. This is ENT anatomy, not neurology and not histology. Some manners, please. Daina, get back to your place.”

Lela was already kneading the sleeve of her top, a nervous tic from childhood, as Daina rested her elbow on the podium and looked Lela right in the eyes.

“Is it my turn, blondie?”

“I still have a question or two.”

“I’m dying for it to be my turn.”

Lela nervously clasped her hands together. “Fine, go on…”

Stifles was already fed up with the girl fight, so to bring the head-to-head to a close as soon as possible, he didn’t interrupt again. When Daina looked challengingly to Stifles for permission, he nodded passively.

“Embryology of the maxillary nerve,” uttered Daina placidly.

“Embryology of what?” Lela looked towards Stifles for help, but his face said “not today.”

“Maxillary nerve is ENT, right?”

Lela couldn’t reply with the lowly “it’s not in the college reference.” She couldn’t admit to being another ordinary student. She bit her lip to control herself. She would have to throw her trump card.

“So you know it?” asked Lela cautiously.

“Sure. It’s in Clinical Neuro-embryology by Donkelaar, the 2006 edition if you have it.”

Silence.

Daina drummed her podium for a second.

“Too difficult? Should we skip it?”

Lela turned her head to the side defiantly.

“OK, the basal cells of the olfactory epithelium. You asked me about it. Could you tell me about the types, the divisions, and the differentiation rate of that type of cell?”
Lela almost collapsed in her place. If anyone had given her a gun, she’d have shot herself on the spot.

Lela, distraught

To add insult to injury, the bewildered Professor Stifles rose to challenge Daina to answer her own question. Surprisingly, she did.

Furious, Mark Giannakos whispered in desperation, “Who’s that girl sleeping with now, Einstein?”

Helen smiled jokingly. “If sex infuses genius, then perhaps we all should get in line.”
Lela was walking off stage and back to her seat, head down. “And apparently even Lela needs to get in line,” she heard Helen say.

She had never felt more humiliated.

****

Lela’s home was a luxurious apartment building, across the river, in Charlesgate East Street, in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Boston, Back Bay, a town greatly influenced by the Haussmann renovation of Paris in the 1860s.

Kathleen, one of her roommates, was already at home when Lela returned early in the evening. Top of the class herself, but two years Lela’s senior, Kathleen was a step ahead in Lela’s goal meter.

When Lela entered medical school, she followed her usual plan: find able competitors and seek role models, and Kathleen Finch was the epitome of the two.

Their other roommate was a Swedish girl, Annali Adamsson, who had finished her internship the past summer and had just left for home. To afford the rent of the lush apartment, the medical girls had reluctantly agreed to let a law student move in.

Kathleen, a motivated person herself, and an amateur poet, had the uncanny ability to see the distressed girl behind a giggling face. That was exactly the case when Lela opened the door that evening and began retelling a funny episode that had happened at the drugstore, about how a silly addict asked for tramadol with a photocopied prescription.

“The asshole insisted that he’d lost the original one and that he really needed the medication for a kidney stone. The cretin couldn’t even feign the pain well, putting his filthy hands over his belly…”

She was laughing hard.

Without lifting her head from the detective novel she was reading, Kathleen muttered, “Who pissed you off, girly?”

Lela stopped abruptly.

“Nobody. What’s  wrong with you? I’m telling you a funny story and you’re being a smart ass.”

Kathleen lifted her face and gave Lela a knowing sarcastic smile.

“Come to Mamma, Lela. Tell me everything.”

“Get off me, you freak.”

Kathleen dragged her iPad over to her. “OK, let’s consult the Facebook. Let’s see. Oops. A status by nasty Daina has 34 likes and 212 comments. Whoo, in just under 40 minutes.”

Lela jumped, seizing the tablet. She looked fearfully at the screen, tears welling in her eyes.

“The bitch, the bitch. I’ll kick her ass back to her communist side of the world. I…”

She then burst into tears. Kathleen took her role as the elder girl and hugged Lela, offering her the Kleenex tissues.

“Man up, Lela. You don’t want the law girl laughing at us medical warriors, thinking we’re sissies. Come on, tell me what happened. What does that bitch mean by ‘I decapitated the LELA in the altar of medicine’?”

Sniffling her tears away, Lela told the whole incident of Stifles’ class.

“And as I remember, that Daina was pretty much average.”

“Below average. Whatever good grades she got were won by flashing her boobs and knees.”

“She has good legs all right.”

“Cut it out, Kathleen.”

“OK, maybe I have some insight. She was coached for this event.”

“But she was good, actually very good. You know me, Kathy, I wouldn’t be intimidated easily.”

“Those questions she asked you, believe me, would have been tough even for Stifles. She had a good coach, one of the best.”

“But who?” Lela caught the reaction on Kathleen’s face. “You have someone in mind?”

“Hmm, it’s a pretty well-kept secret, but who knows. Perhaps that Lithuanian got wind of it somehow.”

“And what’s that?”

After struggling with her thoughts, Kathleen blew at a stray hair that was hanging over her nose and muttered in defeat.

“The Egyptian.”

*2*

“I decapitated the LELA in the altar of medicine.”
70 likes, 300 comments.

“The Lithuanian chick rocks.”
3 likes, 2 comments

“Lela dethroned, the myth is broken. If a moron like Daina could beat  number one, anyone can.”
107 likes, 24 comments.

Michael Gallagher scrolled through the Facebook sensation.

Though his mind was in a state of empathy, his heart was trembling with relief. There’d been a breakthrough, at last.

Michael scrolls through the Facebook sensation

Michael, a last year medical student and a classmate of Kathleen, was everyone’s idea of a friend: fun, smart, and very good looking. However, the below average, underachieving student had nothing in common with Kathleen and her friends except the check that enabled him into Harvard.

Even the ability to afford medical school was granted several years earlier, when his father opened a bank account that covered the expenses of the long-craved medical school. But since then tides eroded a lot of sand castles.

When ‘08 came, the economic crisis hit his family harshly. Midrange bankers had to go, and so Michael’s father was one of the first. Losing their savings in the process, the family had to move to an apartment for rent in the poor side of New York, the Bronx. They had to tighten the belt greatly. Still, debts chased the family, and his overwhelmed father knew he had to disappear, and so he did, the next fall.

His mother, finally free to join her in-the-shades boyfriend, left too. Therefore, two years into college, Michael was on his own for the first time.

Michael had just been getting used to a comfortable, somewhat luxurious life of having an iPhone, driving a new car, and being able to afford daily outings to Starbucks. As such, he befriended colleagues who enjoyed the same lifestyle.

Then Fate had another thing in mind, and he ran out of luck and money.

It would have been humiliating to let go of his upper-class friends. So, he did the most awkward and painstaking things to keep his friends and to keep his bearings in front of them. He kept the iPhone 3G, for three years, on the claim that it had grown on him, and he less frequently bought new clothes, presumably, because he was lazy. He studied used books and skeletons and ate readymade meals and cookies for sustenance to have spare money to use for the expenses needed to keep up appearances: café beverages, picnics, and hangouts.

Working was always an option, but not for Michael. It would have been disreputable among his coterie and would have indicated his slippage down the social ladder. Moreover, Michael never fooled himself. He never liked work. He had always dreamed of an idle life, that of a celebrity on a never-ending vacation. The prospect of being stuck with patients for the rest of his life was never his dream, but rather the high hopes of his, now defunct, parents.

One of his rich friends was Kathleen.

He was a favorite of Kathleen, and she sometimes offered him a revision of a subject or two before semester exams. They usually met in the college library, or at a café. One time, however, Kathleen had a sprained ankle, and asked Michael to pay her a visit in her apartment.

The sight of the shiny façade of the luxurious building, the suited security men, the marbled entrance and corridors, and the perfumed elevator generated quite an impression on Michael. When he entered the lavish apartment, he was yet to gasp over signé furniture, and art pieces that spoke of the high life. Then Kathleen introduced Lela, “The LELA, my smart friend and rich roommate.”

Roommate? Pffft...The apartment was 3000 square feet! He was happy to share a 130-square-foot room, on campus, with a hippy kid from Oklahoma.

He looked between Kathleen and Lela, and lo, he fell instantly for Lela. Was it her lavish living space, her long blond hair, her serious yet attractive looks? She had a slim body, but he was not looking for the prospect of sex in a partner, at least not then.

Still, it seemed he would need to exercise a lot of his magic to attract Lela to his ever-growing list of admirers.

After exchanging a couple of Facebook likes and comments, Twitter retweets, and then a couple of drinks at the University hospital cafeteria, Lela was gradually softening to him.

However, taking their relationship to the next level seemed elusive.

He really liked Lela, but always had that feeling. He was well below her, financially, scholastically, even mentally. He wanted her to need him, demand his presence in her life. Only that way could their relationship mature.

The Stifles anatomy class fiasco seemed like his ticket.
Among the scores of gloating comments on Facebook, his were amongst the few that defended Lela, even trashing Daina (with almost racist comments). He tried contacting Lela on the chat, but she was offline. He gave her a ring, but she didn’t reply.

It was better this way.

What he needed then was to go directly to her and be by her side, be the consoling embrace, and add the missing emotional dimension to their faltering relation.

****

The security man looked coolheaded and talked to him formally, but Michael Gallagher saw the real situation: he was looking down on him as an outsider. With his dark, wholesale outfit, he was fit to be a pizza deliveryman, not a friend to a resident of a Charlesgate East apartment building.

“Let me check with Ms. Kraft. Falcon Security Firm runs this place, and it sure has some protocols.”

To ward off bums. I know, asshole.

Michael put the security man on his mental vengeance list and dragged two lines below his name. “Philip Irish” the name on the tag read. One day he’d kick him right in the balls, and then tell him that he had his own protocol.

“Yes, Philip, he’s a school colleague. Please let him in.” Michael could hear Kathy’s voice. Philip raised his brow sarcastically.

Colleague? Is that it, Kathy?

He wanted to add Kathy to his mental list, but it was full already. To increase his portion of hatred, the man ushered Michael in, without even lifting his eyes off his desk.

“The elevators are to the left. Press the button only once. It’s touch sensitive”

Got it, moron. These aren’t like the ones in the ghetto you live in.

Michael added yet another thick line under Philip’s name.

****

Surprisingly, Lela was standing right there when the elevator door opened.

“Hi, Michael. Do you know Summer Street in East Boston? Kathy says you’d probably know the neighborhood rather well.”

Yeah, yeah, the impoverished guy must live somewhere near a place like that.

Perhaps Kathy deserved a place in his mental list after all.

Hiding his growing grudge, he smiled. “I think I dropped a friend off there once.”

Lela stepped inside the elevator.

“I came to talk you about the incident from earlier. Daina is a nobody. You know you’re the best, always have been. Perhaps, we can—”

“Does your car have a GPS?”

Actually, he no longer had a car. He had sold it a year ago. With no allowance at hand, Michael sold the car to make use of the money for his ever-growing expenses. He lived on campus, and Boston’s transportation was effective, so he let go of the car easily.

He told his friends it was because of a backache.

Lela didn’t have a car either, but for entirely different reasons. She had no time for a car. Pumping gas, maintenance, parking, all that seemed like a lot of wasted study time. Her father could have arranged for a chauffeur, but that would have looked too pretentious.

They resorted to a cab.

“Where are we going exactly?”

“Summer Street, Eastie.”

“Sure, you already said that.”

“To a guy, a medical drop out.”

Lela’s anxious reply kept Michael on the hem. He was supposedly there to win her over, to reach the point where he could put his hand on her back, then hug her, then kiss her...

“I’m sorry for what happened to you today—the anatomy class.”

“You didn’t do anything.”

 “I mean, you shouldn’t doubt yourself.”

She gave him an acerbic look.

Tread softly, man.

“I mean you’re the best of the class. Perhaps that girl just readied herself somehow for this event. Eventually the year’s final grades will reveal where both of you truly stand.”

Silence.

He kept thinking of the next appropriate thing to say, but nothing crossed his mind.

“Perhaps your mind was preoccupied; even the best of minds slip up at times. You know, lack of sleep, family matters. Things you don’t realize are at the back of your mind, the unconscious lizard mind.”

“I was tops. The Lithuanian was different than usual; she could have bashed Stifles himself pretty easily. She was totally different.”

“But how?” He rubbed his hand mockingly. “Maybe she got a genie out of a bottle. “

“Exactly.”

“Sorry…?”

“We’re going to see that genie.”

****

Michael now understood why Lela had taken him with her. East Boston didn’t stand up to the reputation the rest of the city had. “Eastie,” a neighborhood bordering the Logan Airport, with a Latino majority, was one of the less secure parts of the reputable hub of New England.

He was serving as her bodyguard. Certainly, that’s what it looked like to a pair of teenagers at the corner of the shaggy pizza building. Though he had abandoned the gym years ago, he still had a six pack and admirable biceps and shoulders. But one of the kids had enough guts to snoop around anyway.

“Yo, you lose something here, man?”

“Looking for 304.”

“It’s that yellowish front. Who you lookin’ for?”

Lela interjected, “Dr. Omar Yakoub.”

The second kid joined in, looking Lela up and down.

“Dr. Who? We have no doctors here.”

It was Michael’s turn. “Yakoub, what?  Is that Jewish?”

“He’s supposedly Egyptian.”

The younger of the kids smiled knowingly.

“Ah, el hombre sesudo, Brainy. He lives there all right. Top floor, the studio at the end of the hall.”

He took his pal and skidded away, knowing that the visitors were legit.

Seizing the opportunity, Michael held Lela by the arm and guided her towards the building.

“It’s better this way.”

She obliged. It felt safer and was presumably more acceptable visually. Moreover, to Michael it felt like they were boyfriend and girlfriend.

The building’s gate was unlocked, and no one obstructed their ascent. They were already at the top of the flight of stairs, when Michael tightened his grip on Lela’s arm, commanding her to stop.

“Maybe it’s time to let me in on the purpose of this excursion. I can be of better help if I know what we’re up to.”

She tested him with her eyes, but he didn’t look to yet garner her trust. He had to let go. Still, at the doorway of the worn-out door, resilient Michael, to gather some authority, pressed the buzzer.

Not before two full minutes did the door finally open on a thirty-year-old, dark, unshaven man of average build. He was clad in pajamas and hand-rolled cigarette dangling from his mouth. Trying to open his sleepy eyes with real effort, he looked curiously at his unexpected visitors.

“Mr. Omar?”

It wasn’t a regular smoke, the pungent smell told a different story. It wasn’t even marijuana or hash. Michael, a man of diverse experience, was sure of that.

“Who’s asking for him?” said the man in a slightly accented tongue.
His eyes were alert, but not anxious or alarmed.

“Medical students”

He nodded waiting for the rest of the story.

“Medical students,” Lela repeated.

“Yes, medical students?”

“We have come for… you know”

“Know what?”

“Revision stuff. You’re supposed to do that super dooper revision stuff. Right?”

He straightened his back for a minute and eyed them suspiciously, “Who are you? IRS?”

IRS! He was supposed to say Boston Police, the FBI…Michael was trying to figure out what the guy was smoking. Is that garlic?

“We are not…the IRS. Or the police. You don’t have to be afraid of us. Some of our colleagues in Harvard told us about you, and we thought of paying you a visit.”

“Who did?”

“Kathleen from final year,” Lela paused for a second. “And Daina, the Lithuanian from second year.”

The man reflected for a moment, and then his mouth widened into a smile. He opened the door and stood aside.

“Come in, Ms. Kraft.”

Lela felt betrayed that he knew her name. Humbled by the discovery, she lowered her head and entered the studio followed by Michael.

“You don’t lack looks after all.”

Michael looked cockeyedly at the seeming flirt.

“You don’t look to me like an overachiever compensating for her defective looks,” continued the Egyptian.

“Who said that!”

The Egyptian motioned his guests towards the lone couch, before resting himself on a big swivel chair, extending his legs over a tea table. He replied vaguely to Lela’s question. “You can easily guess.”

Daina.

Lela sat with her posture tense while her eyes inspected the premises, a typical studio with a living room, a single bedroom and a bathroom, books everywhere, a recently bitten pizza in its box, and a pillow!

The archetypal bachelor.

Michael, pacing the place, was drawn to the window with an overextended view of the distant ocean.

“You’ve got a nice view over here, man.”

“Not even the best hotels in town have it, my friend. And in the summer, believe me, I have a breeze I can make you pay per minute to enjoy.”

“How did you know who I was?” Lela said, coming back into the scene.

“The intersection of two circles: Kathleen in her final year at Harvard Medical and Daina in her second. And there you have Lela Kraft, the rich New Yorker who everyone seems to hold some sort of emotion for.”

“Emotion?”

“Admiration, jealousy, hatred.”

“Would you mind explaining, please?”

“Why are you here, Lela?” He sucked on his cigarette and kept the smoke inside for a considerable time. His complexion darkened by a tone or two. He let it go with a spasmodic cough.

“What’s that, man?” Michael waved away the acidic smoke. “It smells like hell.”

“Medicinal herbs.”

Michael sneered. Heard it before.

Omar turned his eyes to Lela, now with greater attention.

“I was saying, how can I help you, Lela?”

“However you helped Kathleen and Daina before.”

“I helped them for completely different reasons. I’m a person with a flaky schedule. When I accepted tutoring Kathleen and some of her classmates two years ago, I was starving, in need of any stray penny. As for Daina, I had to help a girl that pleaded for help in reclaiming her boyfriend from the grasps of the serpent—the rich, overachieving girl from New York.” The Egyptian’s eyes sparkled as he stared at her with a smirk.
Lela jumped to her feet, almost screaming. “Boyfriend? That bitch fooled you, Mr. Egyptian.”

“If you’d seen those teary eyes, you’d have believed every word she said. And then, there is this nice looking guy. David Finley?” He gestured towards Michael.

Lela burst into laughter.

“This isn’t Finley. Oh, my God. So, her dim mind threw in David Finley’s name? The guy drools over her. Had you called him, he’d have told you that she’s the one ditching him all the time. She dates only a specific type of people: lecturers, residents.” She whispered, “Perhaps Egyptians.”

Omar heard her and smiled.

“Will you correct your fault and help me as you’ve helped her? If I understood correctly from Kathleen, you do some sort of advanced crash course revisions, maybe some studying schemes.”

Omar sized her up.

“For starters, you really don’t need me. From what I heard from Daina, you’re a first-class studier. You needn’t change your style just for competition. A goalkeeper needn’t aspire for the legs of an attacker. Sorry for my soccer reference. But I think you understand me.”

“Let me decide what I need in my studying.”

“I think I’ve a better offer. I can stop tutoring Daina. Apparently she’s a liar and doesn’t deserve my help.”

Lela looked to Michael, as if for consultation, and then remembered his status in the academic world, and turned back to Omar. As the guy said, she needn’t change her methods over one incident. She could sit with Kathleen, figure out the strengths in this man’s tutoring courses and then implement whatever’s useful to her own routine. After all, she wouldn’t like her reputation tarnished with claims that she had private tutoring.

She was already getting up.

“I guess I’ll agree with your suggestion for the time being. OK, Mr. Omar.” She was stretching her hand outward.

He sneered back at her. “But then what will I get for abiding by my recommendation?”

“Sorry? You want me to pay you!”

“I take money when I need money. I don’t need it now.”

“Then what did you take from Daina?”

He smiled mischievously and twisted his lips provocatively. Michael stood closer to Daina, holding her arm. She shook his hand away, feeling the insult of him feeling her helpless.

“She paid something you probably won’t be willing to pay.”

“I always knew she was a slut. But sorry, you’re ringing the wrong bells here.” Lela sneered back.

“No, it’s not sex. You’re rich, Lela, aren’t you?”

“They say.”

“Your daddy is a renowned ophthalmic surgeon at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, right?”

“Hey, you do know me! Have you been snooping around?”

“No, Daina mentioned it while envying your bourgeois background. Anyway, your old man is reputable. I read his article in Scientific American last year if I remember correctly.”

“Last August.”

“OK, now, are your folks the socialite type? Do they hang with other known figures of New York society?”

“Where are you heading?”

“Do your folks by any chance know a Professor Patrick Moore, professor of the physics department? Same university as your father, different faculty.”

“What do you want? To steal his research papers, to knock his home?”

“Sort of.”

“Hey, knock it off!”

“We’ll be getting to that later. But trust me, it’s nothing awful or illegal. I just want a photograph.”

“A what?”

Michael interrupted forcefully. “Hey, man, where is this heading? What do you do for a living?”

Omar sucked the last breath of his cigarette then flicked what remained out of the window. He got up and smoothed his pajamas.

“I’m a freelance detective.”

Michael laughed, while Lela smiled for the first time since being there.

“Are you more like Sherlock Holmes? Or like Philip Marlowe?” inquired Lela mischievously.

The Egyptian raised his brows accepting the challenge. “Well…you can find out for yourself or perhaps you’d like to keep enjoying the Lithuanian’s ride on your back.”

The smile disappeared off her face.

“Tell me, exactly what do you want?” she said seriously.

View from Omar's room

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