"You mentioned something about a job?"
McLaughlin nodded. "I need a graduate assistant. An assistant, it just so happens, with precisely your combination of skills."
"I'm not sure I know what skills you're referring to."
"Professor Blackton tells me you're a fellow who knows his way around a soldering iron, isn't that right, Finch?"
"I suppose so," I admitted. "He hired me to build him a rheostat for an experiment he's planning. Something about visual acuity in varying light."
"But you could probably find a hundred undergraduates in the school of engineering who could do the same."
McLaughlin raised an eyebrow. "Are you trying to talk me out of hiring you, Finch?"
"Good, because I've made my decision."
McLaughlin sat forward in his chair, glancing down through the spectacles clipped to his nose at some figures on a piece of departmental stationery. "Now. Most weeks the position will require only a few hours of your time, though there will be occasions when I require most of it. The salary is the same regardlessfifteen dollars a week, as well as a deferral for a portion of your tuition. I trust this will be sufficient to keep you with us at Harvardyes, Finch?"
I was speechless. At last I managed a nod.
We discussed a few administrative details, and then before I knew it the job interview was over and we were shaking hands. As McLaughlin ushered me to the door of his office he suddenly said, "I wonder if you wouldn't mind my asking a personal question, Finch?"
For fifteen dollars a week he could have asked me how frequently I masturbated and I would have answered him.
"Were you raised in a religious household?"
"My family is Roman Catholic."
"I was an altar boy."
McLaughlin seemed to glean a significance in my answer I knew it didn't merit, so I added quickly, "It wasn't my idea."
"No, I don't suppose it ever is!" He seemed amused by this, then continued his strange line of questioning. "Tell me, are you still practicing?"
"I haven't set foot in a church since my mother's funeral."
We had arrived at the office door and stood on opposite sides of the threshold. McLaughlin thanked me for indulging his personal questions, shook my hand a second time, and wished me good night. He was about to shut the door when he hesitated, telling me in parting, "You know, you really should reconsider your policy on churches, Finch. Next week in Manhattan if we have time, we'll pay a visit to St. Patrick's. I think you'll find it has the most remarkable light."
And with that he closed his office door, leaving me dumbstruck, since never once during the entire time I was in his office had he mentioned anything about a trip to New York.
Copyright Joseph Gangemi 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Viking Publishing.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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