Three-Day Town - By Margaret Maron

This one is for the Weymouth 7—Diane Chamberlain, Katy Munger, Sarah Shaber, Alexandra Sokoloff, Kathy Trocheck, and Bren Bonner Witchger—who were there at the conception and cheered me on to the delivery.

Thanks, ladies!


I love short trips to New York; to me it is the finest three-day town on earth.

—James Cameron


With flirtatious ceremony, Associate Professor Steinberg, Art History, lifts the heavy silver table lighter from the coffee table in front of his brown leather couch and clicks it two or three times till the wick catches fire before holding it out to Miss Barclay, who teaches Modern Poetry. Two of their students roll their eyes at each other when Miss Barclay cups her slender hands around his, as if the flame might be blown out by a strong wind before her cigarette is fully lit.

Professor Abernathy, Modern American History, watches, too, but her steely blue eyes are narrowed in disapproval. In her opinion, a lady does not smoke—not that Miss Barclay is a lady if she lets herself be wooed by the first Jew in the long (and previously all-Protestant) history of Stillwater College. And what the dean was thinking of, she could not fathom. “A modern liberal education should include exposure to other races and other cultures,” he had told the faculty search committee, but really!

Poor Miss Barclay, thinks one of the watching girls, the only sophomore in this interdisciplinary seminar. While not yet a completely dried-up old prune like Professor Abernathy, Miss Barclay has to be at least thirty-five, if not close on to forty; and although Professor Ronald Steinberg may look like the answer to a maiden’s prayer with his manly pipe, graying temples, and cleft chin, she knows for a fact that he is queer, having seen him kissing a younger man on the lips a few weeks earlier. Fortunately, he had not seen her.

Had she reported him, he would have been summarily fired. Not that she ever would. In the first place, she would have to admit that she had sneaked off campus after hours to meet a boy and had wound up in a part of town strictly forbidden to Stillwater students even in broad daylight. Too, she has always enjoyed knowing things that no one else knows, and this is a particularly delicious secret. That this oh-so-proper girls’ school has not only hired a Jew but a fairy as well?

On the other hand, it would serve him right if she exposed him. Of all the teachers at this small New England college, he alone mocks her accent and acts as if a Southern drawl automatically deducts ten points from her IQ. Only this morning when she correctly answered a question about Picasso, he had stared at her in exaggerated surprise and said, “Well, hush my mouth! Is the South finally dipping its toes into the twentieth century?”

It’s bad enough that half the class has a crush on Professor Steinberg, something that he does nothing to discourage, but to lead poor Miss Barclay on as if he really does have a sexual interest in her? Although the sophomore considers Miss Barclay naïve and too carried away by poets who burn their candles at both ends, she likes the woman and thinks it’s rotten of Professor Steinberg to toy with her emotions.

Discovering that he is a phony in one area has made her question everything else about him. He claims to have had drinks with Joan Miró and Max Ernst in Paris before the invasion and to have played chess with Marcel Duchamp when he was working on his doctorate at Columbia University. The paintings on his walls, the framed photographs, the bits and pieces of artwork scattered around the public rooms of this house—are they by important artists or merely pale imitations he has picked up down in New York?

Two senior girls arrive as Miss Barclay and Professor Abernathy take their places on the couch and prepare to lead the afternoon’s discussion of how their three disciplines overlap and enhance each other.

While Professor Steinberg helps the latecomers off with their coats and scarves, the sophomore goes upstairs as if to use the bathroom. Once out of sight of the others below, she opens the door opposite the bathroom and steps into the professor’s private office. The door was slightly ajar when she was up here last week. Amid the jumble of artifacts on a chest near the door, a small object had piqued her curiosity.

No chance last week to examine it closely. Now