The Sebastian Files Ch. 03

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“I’m just saying, it’s very odd.”

Laura and Karl were searching a park on a bright and steamy morning in Trenton. Sebastian had told them to look for a young blond woman in a white blouse, but had failed to say which part of the park they could find her, so they walked the path and scanned through the trees.

“I agree,” Laura said. “It’s a little crazy. But if he’s looking for a journalist to work with, why not me? And at this point he’s in control, he’s calling the shots. If he sets up some hoops, we have to jump them.”

“But was he waiting for someone to poke around Princeton? And who tipped him off? I wonder if it was Portman, the little busybody. Did he have this little scenario prepared? It seems a bit too convenient.”

“Maybe I can ask him those questions at some point. But first we have to talk to this Amanda.”

Laura spotted some picnic tables and solitary woman sitting at one of them. They angled off the path and approached. The woman stood as they neared. She could have been Laura’s younger sister, if she’d had oneÔÇöslim figure, a little on the short side, long straight pale hair, big blue eyes. They introduced themselves and sat at the table. Laura took out her notepad. Karl was all grins. Amanda had her hands around a coffee cup and looked at each of them in turn. She seemed eager to talk.

“So, Amanda,” Laura said. “Tell us about yourself.”

“Well, I live and work here in Trenton. I’m twenty-six. Single.” Amanda gave a quick glance at Karl. Laura suppressed an eye roll. “I graduated from Princeton a couple years ago. That’s where I met Professor Sebastian. Oh, and Amanda isn’t really my name, but you can call me that.”

“All right. But I wasn’t going to use your name anyway. You really don’t have to worry about your anonymity. And you don’t have to reveal anything you don’t want to.”

“Well, okay. I guess I had this rehearsed in my mind a certain way. I created a whole identity… I should tell you, I don’t actually live and work in Trenton. I’m not actually twenty-six either. Or single.”

Laura crossed out some lines in her pad. “But you do know Dr. Sebastian?”

“Right, yes. And he said I can talk about anything I want.”

“What would you like to talk about?” Karl said.

“Actually, can I ask you two some questions? Like, how long have you worked at your newspaper?” she asked Laura.

“Almost a year,” she said.

“Do you like it?”

“Yes, I do. I mean, I feel like I’m fighting for a better position, I usually don’t get the meaty assignments, but I’m getting there, I’m doing okay.”

“But you got this assignment. Writing about Professor Sebastian? That’s something, right?”

“I suppose. Hopefully. It’s certainly turning out different than I thought it would.”

Amanda turned to Karl. “And you work at the newspaper too?”

“Not really. I teach at NYU. A few months after Laura started working thereÔÇöand you had nothing to do with this, right?”


“Yeah, I was asked for input on a piece, some little pop psychology thing, and it was fun, and I made a few friends at the paper, and they would occasionally ask for opinions or explanations, and I sort of became the expert consultant on psychological matters. So this summer, not really having much to do, I circulated around the offices there, seeing if I was needed anywhere, and this Sebastian situation exploded, and suddenly I’m working with my little sister. Crazy, huh?”

“How old are you?” Amanda asked.

“I’m thirty, she’s twenty-seven,” Karl said.

“Are either of you married?”

“No,” they both said.

“How would you describe your family?” Amanda said.

Laura and Karl looked at each other, then looked at Amanda. Laura sensed that their answer might be important, that her access to Sebastian hung in the balanceÔÇöand yet, what was there to say? How would she describe her family? Normal? Boring? What exactly did Amanda want to hear?

“Our father beat us,” Karl said. “No, just kidding. We come from a fairly typical, white, upper middle class, relatively privileged family. It’s a little embarrassing.”

Laura said, “It’s just us, no other brothers or sisters.”

“No aunts or uncles or cousins either,” Karl said. “If we have more distant relatives, nobody’s ever said anything about them, so I don’t know.”

Amanda nodded. “I only have my brother too. But I have a ton of ata┼čehir escort bayan cousins. You wouldn’t believe the family reunions.” She took a long drink of her coffee, put the cup down and stared into it. “Professor Sebastian has been such a big influence in my life. You don’t really know him, do you?”

“I only talked to him once, last night, very briefly,” Laura said.

“He had a reputation for having some lively classes. His lectures on psychology tended to veer into the sexual side of things, and his views on sexuality weren’t always what you’d expect. He talked about some crazy stuff, and the way he would talk about those things, it wasn’t raunchy or creepy, but it wasn’t cold and clinical eitherÔÇöit was just with a deep sense of curiosity and wonder. Do you know what I mean?”

“Sure,” Karl said. “There are teachers out there with that gift.”

“He talked about sexuality as if, on the surface, it’s so simple, but once you dig down, you find it to be complex and powerful and unpredictable, but never incomprehensible, or obscene, or shameful. I loved his classes. I would sit in the back and watch everybody’s reactions. Just tiny ripples of body language spreading through the room as they listened and took notes and let these ideas seep into their brains.

“When he started talking about incest,” Amanda went on, “he definitely covered that topic in more depth than any other. I realize now that he was exploring the ideas that would eventually become his book, and that he had already started his research on it. A lot of the students were picking up on his fascination with the subject. Or was it their own fascination with it? Incest kept popping up in conversations. It was kind of a joke that swept the campus, a quiet joke, whispers and rumors. Professor Sebastian would bring up real cases of incest that he was researching, but with the names changed, and these were cases of consensual incest, of course, and we wondered, was he talking about fellow students? Was it anybody we knew?”

“Was it?” Laura said.

“Nobody really knew. In my circle of friends we had our ideas, but… look, it was never malicious, not really, everybody thought it was funny, or even kind of exciting? I don’t know why the reaction around the university to the idea of incest was so, well, I wouldn’t say positive, but maybe lighthearted? Maybe it was the way Professor Sebastian presented it.”

“Did you talk to Sebastian about it?” Laura said. “Did you ever work with him on his research?”

“Eventually, yes,” Amanda said. “The thing is, at the time, my brother was dating one of my friends at school, so he was around a lot. So we were the butt of a lot of jokes. Which was fine, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Because nobody found out that I’d been having sex with my brother since I was nineteen.”

Luckily Laura was too busy taking notes to have much of a reaction. Karl didn’t even flinch.

“And this was consensual?” he said.

“Of course.”

“How did it come about?”

“It just seemed… inevitable? He and I had been circling each other for a while. Once there’s an idea in your head it never really goes away. It almost had to happen.”

Laura kept a close watch on Amanda’s face. Open, earnest, innocent. Nothing that raised any flags.

“So when did you tell Sebastian?” Laura said. “And why did you tell him?”

“At some point I started to feel a connection with Professor Sebastian. Like he got it, you know? He understood. Or at least he was asking the right questions, and I thought, maybe I can give him some answers? So I talked to him about my brother and me, and it was amazing, because I thought I was going to help him, but really, he helped me out so much.”

“Helped you with what?” Karl said.

Amanda said, “Incest is really complicated.” She then gave a short laugh. “Big surprise. But seriously, you have no idea. Talking with the professor, he really helped me understand what I was going through, brought up issues I didn’t even realize I had and helped me resolve them. My brother had sessions with him too. It was amazing.”

“Are you still in a relationship with your brother?” Karl said.

“Yes, of course. I don’t think that’s ever going to change.”

“How much did you know about Sebastian’s research at the time?” Laura said.

“I became his assistant. I had access to everything. It really escort kad─▒├Ây wasn’t that much, he expanded his research a great deal after he left Princeton. I thought about following him but I couldn’t leaveÔÇöbecause of family, ironically enough. But we kept in touch. He even sent me chapters of his book as he was writing it, asked me what I thought.”

“What was Sebastian doing during his time at Princeton?” Laura said.

“He had found a few students who had experienced incest. Consensual incestuous relationships. So it was interviews and psychological tests. But like I said, not a huge number of people, just a few. Plus me. And my brother.”

“How did he find these students?”

“I don’t know. Maybe they found him?”

Laura said, “I don’t want to offend you but I have to askÔÇödo you think Sebastian was encouraging students to experiment with incest?”

“Look, I know what they’re saying about him, that he wants people to try incest. He only wants to understand it. There’s nothing inappropriate about his research. When he was teaching classes, I don’t think he influenced anybody. There were a lot of wild rumors going around, people daring each other, people drunkenly claiming that they were going to try incest out, but honestly? I don’t think anybody did. I feel like I would be able to tell. See the signs. But I could be wrong.”

“Why do you think Dr. Sebastian is so interested in incest?” Karl said.

“I don’t know. Did you know he’s an orphan? I’m not sure that means anything. Does it really matter? Isn’t it a worthwhile subject to study? If he was interested in studying schizophrenia, or gender dysphoria, or addiction, would you ask him why?”

“Fair enough,” Karl said. “I guess it’s always a sensitive spot whenever a psychologist develops a special interest.”

“Did you ever have one?” Amanda asked him.

“Well, don’t tell anyone, but lately I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on impotence.”

Laura looked over the notes she had taken. Amanda was giving her a lot of good information, much of which she was going to need some time to absorb, but she needed to get back to her main purposeÔÇötalking directly to Sebastian. “All right, I have one more question that maybe I shouldn’t ask, but since you’ve been so honest with us I feel like I should do the sameÔÇöif you’re screening us, how did we do? Am I getting closer to an interview with Dr. Sebastian?”

“He asked me to give him my opinion of you, I don’t know what his next step is. He’s been having a rough time. But I like you guys! I’ll tell him that. Can I give you my phone number? In case you have more questions. Plus, I’d kind of like to see how you’re progressing with the story. For personal reasons, obviously.”

They exchanged numbers. Amanda said she had to get back to work. With a wave and a smile and a promise to call, she left. Laura and Karl sat at the picnic table and watched her walk off.

“What do you think?” Laura said.

“Nice girl. Too bad I’m not her type.”

* * *

“Laura, how’s the story?”

She had made the call to her editor after a long and quiet drive, wandering the city in her rental car, Karl in the passenger seat silently watching the buildings flow by, too early for lunch, too soon for Sebastian to contact her again. The drive was soothing. Loose outlines of the story formed in her head. Incest was like a sleeping baby in the backseatÔÇöno need to tend to it until it happened to wake up. Noon rolled along and Laura pulled into a promising restaurant. After they ordered she called the office.

“It’s going well,” Laura said. “I talked to Sebastian last night.”

Harrison said, “Whoa! Are you kidding? Everyone thought he’d left the planet. How did you find him?”

“He found me.” She gave him a brief synopsis. “Now I’m just waiting for him to call again.”

“Excellent. How good was the idea of teaming up you guys? I’m a genius. Listen, I’m glad you called, I’ve lined up an interview for you. I’ve had contact with Senator Robert Clark. He’s working on legislation that would make incest a crime, or felony, or something. He’s really talking up this issue, ready to start a major press tour. Can you be in Washington tomorrow?”

“We can drive over today, I think we’re done here for now.” She wrote down the details. “Has the senator been talking about Sebastian?”

“Oh boy, has he. Should make for maltepe escort a good interview.”

“I bet,” Laura said. “Anything else?”

“Nope. Keep up the good work.”

She put her phone on the table. They waited in silence for the food to arrive until Karl said, “Do you want to talk about Amanda?”

Laura shrugged. “I’m still processing. She kind of made the story real, didn’t she?”

“No kidding,” Karl said. “At least she seemed pretty happy.”

“Did she? I suppose she did. Can a person be well-adjusted in her situation?”

“That’s a good question. Sebastian seems to think so, according to his book. I wonder though.”

Laura said, “I just hope the interview went well enough to keep Sebastian interested. He should call tonight. Oh, we’re heading over to DC this afternoon, got an interview with a senator tomorrow.”

“Great,” Karl said. “Nothing like politics to muddy up the narrative.”

“It shouldn’t be too bad. I doubt he has anything relevant to say. We really need to focus on getting closer to Sebastian. I’d say we did pretty good with Amanda. We just have to see if Sebastian has another challenge set up for us.”

“And we’ll face that challenge together, side by side, awkwardness be damned,” Karl said.

“Yeah, right,” Laura said. “Do we need secret signals, like if things get too weird, so one of us can excuse ourselves and take a walk around the block?”

“We just need a code of conductÔÇöno eye contact between us, maintain an adequate personal space at all times.”

“No jokes, no innuendo,” she said.

“Don’t take all the fun out of it.”

* * *

“Good evening, Ms. Miller, how are you?”

The call came as Laura tapped at her laptop in her motel room, distracted by the muted television. There was hardly any point in working on the story as she waited for Sebastian. She had tried to prepare for the coming conversation, rehearsing questions and answers, even on the drive over, while a more talkative Karl chatted about life on campus, but she didn’t know if it would do any good. How do you talk to a psychologist? Just be spontaneous and honest? Can they see through your facade? If her brother was a typical one, maybe they were all a bit oblivious.

“Hello, Dr. Sebastian. I’m good, thank you. Thank you for calling.”

“Not at all, I said I would keep in touch. Is this a bad time?”

“Nope, it’s perfect,” Laura said, her pen poised. He sounded a touch friendlier than last time.

“What did you think of Amanda?”

“She was great,” Laura said. “She was certainly… open. I’m glad she trusted us.”

“She liked you a lot. And she was impressed with your brother. He seems like an interesting fellow, I look forward to meeting him someday.”

“I’m sure he’d like that too,” she said. “Just don’t believe anything he says about me.”

Sebastian laughed. “Well, it seems like you two work well together. I would like to set up another interview for you, with a colleague, if you don’t mind. I’m sorry for leading you around like this, I feel terrible about it.”

“Don’t feel bad, you have every right to be careful,” Laura said. “Plus you’re giving me sources that I’d never find on my own.”

“Well, I would like you to talk to Dr. Albert Wilson. Can you be in New York tomorrow?”

“Oh, I’m not sure, maybe later in the day. I’m in Washington DC right now, I have an interview here tomorrow morning.”

“Really.” His voice flattened. “May I ask with whom?”

She had to tell him the truth. “Senator Robert Clark.”

“I see.”

“My editor set it up.”

“How much do you know about the senator?”

“Almost nothing,” she said. “Do you know him?”

“I know enough.”

Laura had to get out of this minefield. “He doesn’t seem to be a fan of your work.”

“No, definitely not.”

“Do you have any suggestions on what questions I should ask him?”

There was a long pause. Laura started to sweat.

“I don’t want to influence your encounter with the senator, so I don’t believe I will comment. But perhaps, afterwords, we can compare notes? I’m afraid politics are not my strong suit.”

All the tension drained out of Laura’s body. “Absolutely. We could definitely talk about political stuff. Hopefully tomorrow I can get a grasp on what’s happening.”

“I hope so too. Well, good night, Laura. I’ll speak to you tomorrow.”

“Yes. Good night, Doctor.”

Another hurdle. But she was still running. She looked out her motel room window at the lights of the city, knowing that it was tough to be a reporter here, yet feeling confident. Get some soundbites from the senator and be on her way. Simple.

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