Outside my window a mixture of rain and snow was settling into slush on Berkeley Street. I was listening to a spring training game from Florida between the Sox and the Blue Jays. Joe Castiglione and Jerry Trupiano were calling the game and struggling bravely to read all the drop-ins the station had sold. They did as well as anyone could, but Red Barber and Mel Allen would have had trouble with the number of commercials these guys had to slip in. The leisurely pace of baseball had once been made for radio. It allowed the announcers to talk about baseball in perfect consonance with the rhythm of the game. We listened not only to hear what happened but because we liked the music of it. The sound of a late game from the coast, between two teams out of contention on a Sunday afternoon in August, driving home from the beach. The crowd noise was faint in the background, the voices of the play-by-play guys embroidering on a dull game. Now there was little time for baseball talk. There was barely time for play-by-play. And much of the music was gone. Still, it was the sound of spring, and it took some of the chill out of the slush storm.
Just after the fifth inning started, Hawk came into my office with a smallish man in a short haircut, wearing a dark three-piece suit and a red and white polka dot bow tie. His skin was blue black and seemed tight on him. I turned the radio down, but not off.
"Client," Hawk said.
"Ever hopeful," I said.
I recognized the small man. His name was Robinson Nevins. He was a professor at the university, the authorof at least a dozen books, a frequent guest on television shows, and a nationally known figure in what the press calls The Black Community. Time magazine had once referred to him as "the Lion of Academe."
"I'm Robinson Nevins," he said and put his hand out. I leaned forward and shook it without getting up. "Hawk may be premature in calling me a client. We need to talk a bit first, among other things we ought to find out if we can get along."
"Whose tab?" I said to Hawk.
"Guarantee half everything I get," Hawk said.
"That much," I said.
"I can't afford very much," Nevins said.
"Maybe we won't get along," I said.
"I am dependent largely on a university salary and, as I'm sure you know, that is not a handsome sum."
"Depends what sums you're used to," I said. "How about the books?"
"The books are well received, and have influence I hope beyond their sales. Their sales are modest. I make some money on the lecture circuit, but far too often I speak because I feel the cause is just rather than the price is right."
"Don't you hate when that happens," I said.
Nevins smiled, but not as if he thought I was funny.
"What would you like to pay me a modest amount to do?" I said.
"I have been denied tenure," Nevins said.
I stared at him.
"Tenure?" I said.
"And you want me to look into that?" I said.
"Tenure," I said.
I was silent. Nevins didn't say anything else. I looked at Hawk.
"You want me to do this?" I said to Hawk.
I was silent again.
"I understand your reaction," Nevins said. "I sound churlish to you. And you think that there are causes of greater urgency than whether I get tenure at the university."
I pointed a finger at Nevins. "Bingo," I said.
"I know, were I you that would be my reaction. But it is not simply that I am denied tenure and therefore will have to leave. I can find another job. What is at issue here is that I shouldn't have been denied tenure. I am more qualified than most members of the tenure committee. More qualified than many who have received tenure."
"You think it's racial?" I said.
"It would be an easy supposition and one most of us have made correctly in our lives," Nevins said. "But I am, in fact, not sure that it is."
"What else?" I said.
"I don't know. I am something of an anomaly for a black man at the university. I am relatively conservative."
"What do you teach?"
"Well, my perspective. I include black writers, but I also include a number of dead white men."
"Daring," I said.
"Do you know that we are turning out English Ph.Ds who have never read Milton?"
"I didn't know that," I said. "You think you were shot down for being insufficiently correct?"
"Possibly," Nevins said. "I don't know. What I know is there was a smear campaign orchestrated by someone, which I believe cost me tenure."
"You want me to find out who did the smearing?"
I looked at Hawk again. He nodded.
"Wouldn't an attorney be more likely to get you your tenure?"
"I am not fighting this because I didn't get tenure. I'm fighting this because it's wrong."
"If you got the tenure decision reversed, would you accept it?"
Nevins smiled at the question.
"You press a person, don't you," he said.
"I like to know things," I said.
"Like how sincere I am about fighting this because it's wrong."
"That would be good to know," I said.
"If I were offered tenure I would have to assess my options. But even if I accepted it, the process was still wrong."
"What was the thrust of the smear campaign?"
Hawk appeared to be listening to the faintly audible ball game. And he was. If asked, he could give you the score and recap the last inning. He would also be able to tell you everything I said or Nevins said and how we looked when we said it.
"A young man, a graduate student, committed suicide this past semester. It was alleged to be the result of a sexual relationship with me."
"What was his name?" I said.
"Any truth to it?"
"I imagine you'd like that laid to rest as well."
"Okay," I said.
"Okay meaning you'll do it?"
Nevins seemed mildly puzzled.
"Aren't you going to ask if I'm gay?"
"But," Nevins frowned, "it might be germane."
"If it is, I'll ask," I said.
Nevins opened his mouth and closed it and sat back in his chair. Then he took a green-covered checkbook out of his inside coat pocket.
"What will you need for a retainer?"
"No need for a retainer," I said.
"Oh, but I insist. I don't want favors."
Hawk was looking out the window at the slush accumulating around the stylishly booted ankles of the young women leaving the insurance companies on their way to lunch.
Without turning around he said, "He doing me the favor, Robinson."
Nevins was not slow. He looked once at Hawk, and back at me, and nodded to himself. He put the green checkbook back inside his coat and stood.
"Do you need anything else right now?" he said.
"No. I'll poke around at it, see what develops."
"And I'll hear from you?"
"Yes," I said.
"Will you be involved, Hawk?"
Hawk turned from the window and grinned at Nevins.
"Sure," he said. "I'll help him with the hard stuff."
Nevins put out his hand. "I appreciate your taking this," he said, "for whomever you're doing the favor."
I shook it.
"You need a ride anyplace?" he said to Hawk.
Hawk shook his head. Nevins nodded as if to confirm something in his head, and turned and left. Hawk continued to look out the window. The ball game had moved quietly into the eighth inning. Outside my window it was mostly rain now. Hawk turned away from the window and looked at me without expression.
"Tenure?" I said.
"'Fraid so," he said.