Elections for homecoming royalty were always a hazard, McClernan thought. The groups of sorority girls, always clad in matching too-big t-shirts in bold primary colors, relentlessly pushed their candidate of choice on hapless passersby and streamed across campus roads in droves. Strategically placed groups of women blocked every access point to campus and every thoroughfare between major buildings.

They were everywhere.

And they were well-prepared.

Drilled in late-night sessions over the past month, the pledges were prepared for every dodge and evasion that McClernand could summon.

A group of girls canvassing for Phi Qoppa’s candidate jumped him on the way in. “Vote for Brandy!”

“I”m a professor,” McClernand said. “I can’t vote.”

“Tell your students to vote for her after class, then!” They formed a human phalanx and wouldn’t let McClernand proceed until he’d taken a stack of fliers to pass out to his biology students.

Another group hovered near the cafeteria at lunchtime. “I’m a graduate student,” McClernand volunteered.

“We have a candidate for Graduate Council too!” they said as different fliers were unleashed.

Walking between Hurley Hall and Davis Hall, another group accosted him. “I’m just visiting,” he said.

“Tell your kids to vote for Mindy and the Qop Sigs!” the lead girl said.

“I don’t have any kids,” McClernand returned.

“Well, when you have some, tell them to vote Qop Sig.”

“I don’t ever plan on having kids. Can I go through?”

The head girl fixed McClernan with a steely, patrician glare. “Nephews? Nieces?”

By the time he arrived at Davis, McClernan had promised his niece Susan’s vote to three different sororities in perpetuity, despite the fact that Susan was three years old and in Connecticut.

The day after Reuben stumbled into my office, I was scheduled to give his class a particularly hard test; naturally, I assumed he’d come by to weasel out of it.

I called my hardest tests “Grannykillers” because I noticed there seemed to be a severe uptick in students’ grandmothers dying whenever I gave one. Sometimes as many as three or four grandmothers would die in a single week; I’d often suppose aloud that they must have been on the same bus. From my colleagues I knew that some students went through five or more grandmothers a semester. To my irritation, no one ever claimed that their grandfather had died—Karen’s kids wouldn’t even get that much use out of me.

It only took me a moment to see that Thursday’s Grannykiller was the least of Reuben’s problems.