The Reference

It is important to garner exemplary references in my profession. Good, very good are not good enough. They must be exemplary. It is for that reason I went to those professors who were most familiar with my teaching and scholarship.  I was a dutiful graduate assistant, a hard-working adjunct and saw no reason why I would not get references in accordance with my academic standing.

+++++But professors can be sneaky, they can be devious. There are many things that can be said of professors, but being upfront and honest are not among them. They can send a reference that to the layperson’s eyes appears to be positive, and glowing in praise, however scrutiny will show it to be equivocal in its support of the referent. And equivocal is a death warrant for anyone who is applying for a teaching position. The best one could hope for would be as a teacher of Freshman English 101 which is little more than being a glorified high school teacher. I wanted to verify my references were truthful; that is effusive and laudatory. I applied for a non-existent teaching position to a small college in Tennessee. I had a friend who worked there, and he would receive all my transcripts and references and send them to me sight unseen.

+++++They were exemplary examples of objectivity. They were universal in their praise of me, my studies, my research, my teaching abilities, and so on and so forth including my chairman’s Dr. Wilmut. I risked asking for his support, as I suspected he harbored personal animus toward me. He was, however, highly respected in his field, and it would help to have his recommendation.  It appeared his personal feelings, whatever they were, did not get in the way of his professionalism. So, I thought.

+++++Wilmut was a short, tyrannical, balding, middle-aged man with a nasally, wheezing voice. He was prone to flatulence usually displayed during department meetings, and telegraphed by slightly lifting his rear and shifting his body to one side. The result was usually a muffled, rather apologetic emission but often, either for a joke or an expression of disdain for whoever was speaking; a full blast would erupt.  Only full, tenured, professors were bold enough to acknowledge his behavior.  Even tenured associate professors, one step away from the Olympian stature of full professorship, were resigned to do something for which they were well versed; play dumb.

+++++The only reason I could find for him not liking me was jealousy. He was unseemly and old, while I was young and good looking, and as he could only leer and dream of luscious 19 and 20-year-old coeds, I was able, and willing, to do more. I was sure he was unaware of my trysts with his wife; a handsome, stern looking woman, with a wonderful body who underneath her public façade of academic aloofness was a tigress in bed. There certainly would have been talk about it throughout the campus had it been known.

+++++In an attempt for him to even the score so to speak, I often left him alone to keep my wife, who of course is a knock out, company during parties and social gatherings. It would be a great opportunity for him to ‘make his move.’  He could endlessly chat and hope she would find his recent paper on Chaucer’s The Wife from Bath, an irresistible aphrodisiac. Little did he know that what really turned on my wife was a reading of Beowulf in the original Olde English.  I joke.

+++++Wilmut assured me I would have a one year appointment as assistant professor upon completion of my dissertation, but it was scrapped for, so I was told, budget cuts. I was suspicious of course. It would not be beneath him to sabotage me. I did land a teaching position as a one year replacement at a small, rather non-descript college in upstate New York.

+++++It wasn’t what I wanted, but I taught two literature classes and only one composition class.

+++++“It’s a good sign,” my wife told me. “I heard from Jan and she said she’s got a job at small state college in Wyoming, and she’s teaching three composition classes.”

+++++“Jan would be that happy with that. She’s lucky to have it.”

+++++“David, that’s not right. She worked hard.”

+++++“Good for her. Tell her I said hello.”  But, in all honesty I was optimistic about our future.  Things were wonderful for us. We bought a new car and Camille was pregnant. Buoyed by the relative ease I had in getting my position, temporary as it was, and since I had two articles published in literary journals, I believed a full-time, tenure tracked position would be my next position.

+++++My one year position was extended for another. I was lax in sending out applications so the extra year was much appreciated. We were still very happy, Camille and I, but the baby was very demanding, and that, along with an astoundingly drastic reduction in our sex life brought moments of strife into our household. I sent out 136 applications and for my troubles I did not get one damn interview.  My heart-felt plea to return for a third year was declined. I was lucky to land a job at Hansen-Toulour Community College teaching freshman composition.

+++++In the world of the academe, respected professors would rather go through un-anesthetisized surgery than teach English 101.  It is a form of punishment relegated to graduate-assistants, students working on higher degrees, and in my case, a Ph.d who couldn’t find a job. I was to teach two literature classes and three compositions classes! A five course load! I prayed no one at my previous school was aware of my fall.

+++++I spent one year at HTCC and it was enough for me to become bitter, frustrated and disillusioned.  I tried to internalize my feelings but often expressed them in constructive, perhaps injurious criticism, in the margins of students’ papers. There were also sporadic, passionate outbursts directed at fellow members of the faculty. There were moments, few and far between however, when I lashed out at my wife.

+++++There was never any violence. The arguments we had, most couples would consider mild, but for Camille they were volcanic. My wife is quiet and gentile in nature. She had never seen me like this, and as innocuous as my loud, yet highly controlled manifestations of displeasure were, it troubled her and she reacted badly to them.

+++++“You could have taken,” she said one time, “that position offered to you at Meade University. It was full time.”

+++++“Full time teaching a four course load and three of those courses wet nursing the semi-literate to understand the differences between, to, two and too.”

+++++“It was full time, and a pay increase, for God’s sake.”

+++++“I’ll find something better. I’ve submitted another article for publication.”

+++++“What’s that, three in three years?”

+++++I gave her a look. “Everything will work out.” And I did her a big favor by walking to my study and locking the door.

+++++Ashley at that time was waking up three or four times a night and I could not dedicate myself as fervently as I wanted to on job hunting, and on my academic research. We argued more and when I complained how the demanding Ashley was cutting into my time she said, “Your time? So what? Your time is all a waste of our time!”

+++++Our life was not as we expected it to be. But, was I to blame? I didn’t think so. It was a hectic year, a bad year with the only positive to come out of it was I found the reason for my joblessness.

+++++My friend in Tennessee called to say that he had received an updated reference a while back and was going to send it, but it had been misplaced and he only just found it. It was Dr.Wilmut’s. He had replaced his original reference with a new one backdated to correspond with the original. In his new version words like ‘volatile,’ ‘under-achiever,’ ‘temperamental’ stood out as if written in bold-face. There were phases like, ‘could improve if given the right circumstances,’ ‘doesn’t seem to get along with his contemporaries as he should,’ and, ‘at times is confrontational with his students.’

+++++I had found the reason for my unfavorable situation, not only in my professional career but also for the slow dissolution of our marriage. Our feelings toward each other had been altered seemingly irrevocably. Neither of us felt the joy, nor the sense of optimism, we once had. It was difficult to suppress my bitterness and hatred for my situation and too often my wife felt the brunt of my dissatisfaction. She became judgmental and criticized every little thing I did, and was not hesitant to compare me to other men, comparisons in which I did not fare favorably. Ashley kept us together but there’s only so much a two year old can do. I swore that my child’s life would not become damaged as ours had become. I swore I would ensure my family had a fair shot in the future.

+++++During our mid-term break I drove to New Jersey where I booked a room at a Motel 6 in Pompton Lakes.  I told my wife I’d be reading a paper on The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates. I thought she would be happy to have some time alone, but instead she became angry and a violent argument followed. I could say we kissed and made up and all was honky dory, but it would not be true. She threatened to leave, and I would return to an empty apartment. She said I was leaving to meet one of my students, Victorian Literature Groupie Whores, is what she called them.  What an imagination! Ashley was as frightened as I’d ever seen her. I promised them this trip would bring things back to normal, and we’d never argue again. My wife laughed. We argued and Ashley cried. I arrived in Wayne that evening with the image of my little girl in tears fresh in my mind.

+++++Evening classes were in session and Dr.Wilmut was in his office. The door to his office was ajar and I heard him tapping, tapping so gently on his computer keyboard.

+++++“Dr. Wilmut,” I said. The man was so deeply immersed in his work he nearly jumped out of his seat.

+++++“David?” he asked, “what are you doing here, aren’t you still teaching?”

+++++“The reference you wrote for me needs to be revised,” and I flung the copy at him. “You made too many typos. For example you spelled genius as m-e-d-i-o-c-r-e. And look, you meant to say ‘dedicated’ but erroneously wrote ‘lackadaisical.’  There are more; had we the time.”

+++++“How’d you get his?” he asked.

+++++“What’s it matter? I have it.”

+++++“I heard you were teaching at Houghton University in Pennsylvania.”

+++++“New York State.”

+++++“Of course, yes, New York State.”  Are you no longer teaching there?”

+++++“No. Do you know what I’m doing now?”

+++++He shook his head no.

+++++“I’m a part time instructor at a junior college in upstate New York teaching three, as in thirty students per class of writing composition.”

+++++“It’s a start, David, you’re still new in the profession but must understand that the market is tight. What matters is you’re still in the game.”

+++++I picked up the copy he had let fall and held it in front of him. “And this glowing recommendation is going to help me?”

+++++“David, I want you to listen to me.”

+++++“Ohhhhh, you must have had a good time fabricating this spurious revisionist reference. You did it right here, at this desk, and on that computer. I can see you laughing your fat, balding head off at my expense. And when your work was done you must have had a great time thinking about all those prospective chairmen and chairwomen and chair people, reading your reference, didn’t you? Well, good doctor there were over 136 of them, that guffawed and chuckled and slapped their knees and thought, ‘What the hell is this guy thinkin,’ ‘this guy’ being me, ‘of applying for our position?  Oh, my,’ they further thought, ‘the poor sap must be delusional.’  Right; a wonderful time was had by all.”

+++++I put my briefcase on an empty chair and took out a gun.

+++++“David, let’s talk. I can explain everything. Could you please put that gun away?” He looked up at the wall clock and I cursed my stupidity. In a short while night classes would end. I had to hurry. My mind flashed back to our most horrific arguments and I saw my daughter, my little Ashley tugging at her Daddy’s leg crying for us to stop our fighting.

+++++“David, in retrospect I should have left the original in and for that I admit I was wrong, but when I found out you plagiarized one of your term papers I felt I had to do something. But it’s no big deal, really. A minor case of copying that’s all. Many students do it. I’ll be more than happy to write you another reference much more representative of your talents.”


+++++“Yes.  Last year I read a paper that struck me as highly suspicious. It seemed to me I had seen it before, and I remembered it was a term paper you had written for me in your senior year.”

+++++Plagiarized. I remembered. I had paid four hundred dollars for a sure A+ paper. That miserable son of a bitch finance major told me papers were used only once.  The bastard then sold it to some moron who couldn’t revise it a little to differentiate it from mine.

+++++“I keep some copies of student papers, and his was almost word by word similar to yours. I dug deeper and discovered the original was from an obscure dissertation written in 1962.”

+++++“Who is this student?”

+++++“The student?”

+++++“Yes, the one who plagiarized my paper.”

+++++“She’s still in school. Here, let me get her address.” Wilmut scurried to his desk, and quickly ran through the papers. “Here, here, she’s still in school. I had to fail her of course, but it was only an elective, she’s actually a public-“

+++++“Shut up!”

+++++“Yes, of course, I’m sorry. You see, David, if I had withdrawn my original referral it would have caused a lot of red flags.”

+++++“And you couldn’t keep it the way it was?”

+++++“It would not have been honest.”

+++++“It was honesty that drove you to do what you do?”

+++++“Yes, academia has a very stringent ethical code.”

+++++“And your being mad at me had nothing to do with it?”

+++++“I was disappointed someone with your ability would do such a thing.”

+++++“You’re not mad because I had been screwing your wife?”

+++++He looked as downcast as a beaten dog. “We have an arrangement. I’m an old man now, but even as a young man it was difficult for me to keep-“

+++++“Her satisfied,” I said and smiled broadly.

+++++“Yes, damn you! My wife is intelligent and we had that in common, she’s also very physical with a remarkable earthiness, a robust sensuality to her that, as you succinctly said, was problematic for me to satisfy. So, we made an arrangement.”

+++++“You knew about us?”

+++++“Yes, we even made tapes.”

+++++“Tapes; of me fucking your wife?”


+++++The bell rang. I moved quickly. The gun was only to get his attention. I pulled a knife from my brief case and repeatedly stabbed him.  I told my wife I was to speak on, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, so I looked down at his lifeless body and said: “’It is lawful and hath been held so through for all ages, for any who have the power to call to account a tyrant, and to depose and put him to death.’

+++++I felt a sense of relief and relaxation. With this matter closed I could get back to normalizing relations with my wife. We could, once again, be a happy family. But, I had to see Prudence Wilmut one last time. I parked in their driveway as close to the house as possible. I rang the doorbell and waited, then rang again.

+++++I could hear her from the hallway as she approached the door. “Did you forget your keys?” she asked?

+++++“I gave the house key back to you, remember?” I replied.

+++++There was a moment of silence.  “Who is this?”

+++++I stepped back so she could get a good look at me through the spyhole. She quickly opened the door. “David! What are you doing here? He’ll be home soon.” I walked in, and by force of habit took her in my arms and kissed her deeply.

+++++“I ‘ve just seen him. He won’t be here for a while.”


+++++“He said there are tapes of our love making. He said he made tapes of us. Is that right?”

+++++“That’s ridiculous!”

+++++I slapped her hard across the face. My voice remained calm. “He said they were here and I believe him. I’ve got no time to play now get them!”

+++++I grabbed her by the arm.

+++++“You’re hurting me, I’ll get them. My husband and I had an arrangement.”

+++++“So he said.”

+++++“We showed them to no one. No one knew but us. We told no one.”

+++++“So you say. Where do you keep them?”

+++++“In the bedroom.”

+++++I led her up the familiar stairs into the familiar room and saw the very familiar bed.

+++++“It’s in here.” She opened the door to the walk in closet door, and pointed to a row of innocuously titled films on a shelf. There were twenty of them. She pulled several out.

+++++“These are all we have of you, honest.”

+++++“Honest! You? Don’t make laugh. Put them all in here.”

+++++“Please not all of them.”

+++++I laughed. “Yes all of them. So, this is how you and your husband got off, huh, by watching these tapes?”

+++++“Just take them and leave. He’ll be home soon.”

+++++“I doubt it.”

+++++“What do you mean?”

+++++I nodded toward the bed and asked, “How about one more time?”

+++++“He’ll be home soon, please go. Maybe we can see each other tomorrow. Let me know where you’ll be, and we’ll meet.”

+++++When she turned her back to shut the closet door I pistol whipped her.

+++++She lay prostrate on the bedroom floor her breathing was heavy and labored. I took the pillow from her side of the bed and held it tightly over her mouth until she breathed no more. I looked into the closet, and imagined him with his little camera filming us, filming all of Prudence’s lovers. He was such a sick bastard. I’d never film anyone screwing my wife, never!

+++++I arrived home the next day. Ashley was so happy to see her Daddy. I sensed my wife’s apprehensiveness.

+++++“Things are going to get better, darling,” I told her, “I’ve had time to reflect. I prayed like I never prayed before. I realize how lucky I am to have you and Ashley. Please forgive me.”

+++++She unfolded her arms. “It’s good to have you back again.”

+++++Camille took Ashley to see her mother the next day and it gave me time to view the tapes. It wasn’t what I expected.  It started with Prudence in front of the full length mirror playing with her nipples. The camera followed as she moved her hand between her legs then a full zoom on her mouth as she faked orgasm (I knew Prudence, it would take more than what she was doing to make her orgasm). Then the title appeared. Wilmut must have had pretensions of being a big time film director. There was the name of a production company, then the title, “Prudence and the Dunce, Part 1,” and below it, ‘starring Prudence Wilmut and David Bolton.” That sick bastard! He called me a dunce. I looked at the other tapes.

+++++They all had the appearance of a low budget shoe string film. There were, “Prudence and The Clown Prince,” with the male lead being a newly hired assistant professor, “Prudence and the Perpetual Graduate Assistant,” who was Ronald LeForge, and there were others. I had to laugh. All that was lacking was for Prudence to lie on the bed, legs spread and say, “Mr.DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.’ It was hilarious. And when I thought of them dead I laughed harder.

+++++Without exception all the leading men were faculty members. It’s no good to play those tapes in select theatres, so I would have copies made. Those tapes were going to be my ticket to a full tenured job. I’d let them know if they didn’t use their vast network of contacts and academic pull, I’ll let their wives, their deans, the university president have their own tapes. I lay on the bed, and daydreamed of me in my big office with windows overlooking the campus and taking various coeds in a variety of positions and teaching one, maybe two classes a semester.  Life looked good.

+++++The next morning I was still flush with expectation and hope. “You know, darling,” I remember telling my wife and putting my arms around her. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but things are going to change.”

+++++“I hope so, David, but you’re acting the way many people do when they come back from a vacation. What will happen when the real world sinks in again? A real world of me, a family, and what you consider a dead end job.”

+++++“A dead end job. Are you saying this is as good as it will get for me?”

+++++She paused for a moment and took my hands from her waist.

+++++“I’m not saying that at all. Time will tell.”

+++++What happened next was like one gigantic wave sweeping over me at the beach.  It is difficult, even now, to differentiate events just as it would be impossible to differentiate one part of a long wave from another.  But before I could answer her our doorbell rang. Camille led in three detectives with two patrolmen behind them.

+++++“They said they wanted to see you.”


+++++“Mr. Bolton, I’m Lt. Shaw from the Ithaca police department, these two gentlemen are Detectives Gizello and Franklin from the Wayne police department. They drove all the way up here just to see you.”

+++++A Jersey detective, Gizello said, “We’d like to question you about your whereabouts a couple of nights ago.”

+++++“I took a little trip to clear my head. I stayed a couple of nights at a Hotel 6 on Rt. 23”

+++++“In Pompton Lakes?” the other asked.

+++++“Do you know of any other?”

+++++“David! Please can you tell me what this is about?  Yes, Detective, he was away yes, we were having some troubles at home, nothing serious. He left to clear his head. It gave us time to think.”

+++++“Mrs. Bolton two people have been murdered. An August Wilmut and his wife Prudence. You know them of course?”


+++++“Of course we knew them. How could we not? You don’t think for a minute, for a nanosecond that I had anything to do with it?”

+++++“We’re taking him in for questioning, Mrs. Bolton. If he can clear this up, we’ll have him back soon.”

+++++It was a blur. They sat me and said they had proof. One detective, not sure if he was supposed to be the good one or bad one, said it was murder one, but if I confessed they would tell the D.A. how co-operative I was and he might knock it down to murder two.

+++++They had no proof. It was all a bluff. I smiled smugly and said nothing. I’d let them earn their money before they let me go. Then the other detective came and put a tape in the VCR player. “We brought this tape with us all the way from the Garden State.”

+++++“What the hell are you talking about?”

+++++“Doc Wilmut liked to take movies, but you already know that, don’t you?”  I smirked at him. I had been in that bedroom enough times to know there are no security cameras, and before I left I went over that room with a fine tooth comb. Bluff, bluff and more bluff.

+++++The tape lacked the same, albeit simple, production values of the ones he made of Prudence made. There were no titles, no credits.

+++++“Pull up a chair,” said Monahan, “sorry we can’t offer you any popcorn. We found a camera behind a poster of Edgar Allan Poe. Shhhh, quiet the movie’s started.” A male student walked in, they exchanged pleasantries then began to kiss.

+++++“Ooops,” said a detective, not sure if it was the good one or the bad one, “Let’s fast forward it to the good part.”  He did so, and my mouth dropped. There I was entering his office.

+++++“This is it, Bolton. The big time. Mr.David Bolton enter stage left. Here’s you’re big scene. Action!”

+++++I watched myself murder Dr.Wilmut.

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Robert Praino

Robert Praino resides in Gulfport, Mississippi. He’s married with three children, was born in Manhattan and grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey and went to William Paterson College in New Jersey and the University of Southern Mississippi. Robert Priano has been published in Kingfisher and The Georgetown Review. He has a short piece at As well as an ebook on Amazon:

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