The Million Dollar Girl
A Novel

Robert Harris
Version Date: October 11, 2008

Chapter 21

Wednesday morning Professor Miller’s classroom was almost full. Those students who had been absent Monday had completed their assignments and brought them, together with a range of plausible excuses, to class to hand in late. A few hoped that Miller might be absent this day, also, but there was no sign on the door canceling class.

At three minutes after the hour, the hopes of those few were dashed as Professor Miller stomped into the classroom and slammed down his briefcase. He appeared frazzled and tired. As he looked around the room, he did not seem to be looking at anyone. There was an anxious, distracted look on his face. Murmuring ran through the classroom as students quietly mentioned this strange behavior.

“All right,” he said, half angrily, “let’s start.”

Now he searched the room intently, as if looking for someone. Several students smiled brightly, as if to say, “Hello, I’m here, in case you’re looking for me.” He was not.

“Can we turn in our papers now?” a lanky student named Tom asked. “You weren’t here last time and we didn’t know what to do with them,” he lied.

Miller was about to answer when the door opened. He snapped his head over to look and one hand grasped the table in front of him. Julie Carmichael entered. Miller looked surprised. Julie looked surprised that he was surprised, but then Miller relaxed and turned back to the class. Julie gave a little shrug and found a seat. One student whispered to another, “Guess who’s dating Miller. Did you see those looks?”

Professor Miller pulled out his notes and some overhead transparencies and began to set up his discussion of logical fallacies. He interrupted himself briefly to say, “Oh, I’m sorry I missed last time. I got back from my, uh, my conference late and couldn’t make class.” As he spoke, he seemed to be watching the door almost like a hunted man. Several times during the early part of his remarks, he glanced over at the door. But no one else came in, not even the regular stragglers that Miller often greeted with, “I didn’t know you had a class starting at 8:10 today. What time does your class start next time?” There was no humor, no sarcasm in Miller today. He appeared to be flushed and upset. But he made an effort to play his role of critical thinking professor.


Of all the fallacies of reasoning Professor Miller taught, and there were more than three dozen, by far his favorite was the argumentum ad populum, the appeal to the masses. He enjoyed teaching how persuaders like advertisers, politicians, and salesmen used this emotional sway to hawk their products. “Those who analyzed propaganda during the Second World War called this the bandwagon appeal,” he was telling the class. “Jump on the bandwagon, do what everyone else does, follow the crowd, be a sheep.” There was a particularly loud p sound as he pronounced sheep.

He felt more individual, singular, even unique by feeling that he knew enough about this appeal to expose it from several angles. “Think of all the actions you engage in that are influenced merely by popularity, from the food you eat to the clothes you wear to the way you behave in your relationships. The desire to jump on the bandwagon is sometimes overpowering, especially for young people like yourselves.”

“He’ll never jump on the fashion bandwagon,” a girl in the back muttered.

Miller was confident that he would never fall for such a transparent ploy. He sneered at advertisements with appeals like best selling or number one. He was less certain that his students could do their own choosing.

“It’s time to drop the adolescent flock urge and learn to think for yourselves,” he continued. “If all of your friends stuck their heads into a cement mixer or swallowed a handful of squirming cockroaches, would you do that, too? Just because everybody’s doing it?”

There was a resonant sound of “Eeeww” in the room as a number of the girls expressed their repugnance at the thought of swallowing live bugs.

“It’s time you learn to drop the phony decision-making criterion of popularity and base your judgments on the standard of reason. Reason is the only standard of the thinking, sane person. No other so-called standard is worth dung.

“I’m toast,” Amy whispered to Markayla.


“In my paper I argued that reason wasn’t a standard.”

“Uh oh.”

The conversation would have continued, with further explanations, but Miller looked over where the girls sat, and they were forced to pay attention.


Contrary to his usual activity, Professor Miller wrote very little on the board during the hour. A few students had already come to suspect his intent in writing complex terms on the board and then not erasing it after class, and one or two of them thought, “The next class won’t be impressed by today’s board.” There was only an isolated tu quoque and an argumentum ad hominem that Miller had written up there almost absentmindedly. By the end of the hour, Miller was looking decidedly stressed and fatigued.

“We will continue with fallacies next time,” he said. The class began to bustle in preparation for leaving. “Oh,” he added, looking at Amy, “Amy Herbert, I want to see you after class.”

“Now I know I’m dead,” Amy told Markayla, as they lurched into their backpacks. “If I’m still alive, I’ll see you back at the dorm.”

“Okay,” Markayla said. “I am going to the library first.”


Professor Miller did indeed want to talk to Amy about her paper. He asked her if now was a good time to return with him to his office, so they went back together. Neither one said anything during the walk.

Miller took his seat behind his desk while Amy swung her backpack off and sat in a wooden chair across from his desk.

“Do you have any idea why I wanted to see you?” Miller said, already with an edge in his voce. Amy wondered whether the anger he seemed to have in class was entirely caused by his response to her paper.

“Is it about my paper?” she asked.

“Yes, it is.”

Miller had the paper on his desk. He showed it to her. She did not see any marks on the first page.

“Amy, about this paper, ‘The Values of Reason.’ This is your paper, is it?”

“Uh huh.” Amy debated with herself about explaining her position in the paper.

“Is there anything you want to tell me about it?”

“I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean about why I said reason was a process rather than a standard? I didn’t know that was wrong. I was just arguing that we need values to make reason work. That values are the standard and that reason is only a process for thinking with values.”

“Well, that’s all a bunch of silly claptrap, but that’s not what I’m interested in.”

Can you, dear reader, imagine being in Amy’s position, being told first that her paper was “silly claptrap,” and then that such a fact was not even the point of the meeting with the professor? Amy wished that fear and surprise did not always squirt so much adrenaline into her system. She felt her heart begin to pound and her mouth dry from the shot. The room seemed too warm.

“What I want to know is where did these ideas come from?”

Amy wondered whether Miller wanted to blame someone for her “silly” ideas. Would he write an angry letter to her source? What was going on in his mind?

“Well, they are my ideas, based on my reading. And talking with my dad, mostly. And experience.”

“Your ideas.” There seemed an undertone of skepticism in the way Miller pronounced those two words. “Did you do any research for this paper?”

“No, you said to write a paper about the value of reason in our own lives.”

“So you didn’t search the Web for any help?”

“No. Was I supposed to?” A new fear hit Amy. Had she misunderstood the assignment? Miller noticed that the girl was growing pale.

There was a very uncomfortable pause. Amy was about to apologize for not doing research and for misunderstanding the assignment when Miller dropped the paper on the desk. Amy wondered whether she was imagining what seemed to be hostility or contempt in the way he dropped it. Miller leaned forward just slightly and looked into Amy’s eyes. Speaking evenly and not loudly, but with a controlled anger, he said, “What would you say if I told you that I have indisputable evidence that you plagiarized this entire paper from the Internet?”

In his novel Joseph Andrews, Henry Fielding describes the reaction of his hero to the false charge of wrongdoing with a housemaid as follows: “As a person who is struck through the heart with a thunderbolt looks extremely surprised, nay, and perhaps is so too—thus the poor Joseph received the false accusation. . . .” In a similar way, Amy looked as if she had just been hit in the face by a board and called an unprintable name. Her look of astonishment greatly surprised Professor Miller, who had expected the blushing of guilt accompanied by immediate tears, sobbing, and confession.

Up to this point, Amy had thought she had a pretty good grip on reality. But when Professor Miller made the accusation, using the phrase indisputable evidence, her mind seemed to blank. She could not think for a moment.

“No,” she said, through the cotton in her mouth, “that’s not true.” She was shaking her head. “That’s impossible. I wrote the paper myself. I didn’t copy it.”

Instead of lightening somewhat, Miller’s expression grew even darker. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out another paper. It was a Web printout. He tossed it on the desk, on top of Amy’s paper, as if to trump it. There was her title, “The Values of Reason.” Miller picked up both papers, turned them around, and put them side-by-side for Amy to compare. Both had the same paragraphing. The words of the printout were the same as her words. Amy became light headed and confused. Her usually analytic mind could not even find the starting place to reason about what had happened. All she could think of was, “This can’t be. This can’t be.”

“I don’t think that denying reality is going to help your case,” said Miller bluntly.

Amy’s brain was still staggering. “I don’t know. I wrote this paper. I don’t know how it got here,” she said, pointing to the Web printout.

“You realize that the grade for cheating of this magnitude—an entire paper—is failure in the course, an academic dishonesty notation on your transcript, and possible expulsion from the university? We don’t tolerate cheaters here.”

“But I didn’t plagiarize. I wrote this paper.” Amy was having trouble breathing.

“But you cannot explain its presence on the Web.”

“No, but. . . .” She did not know what else to say.

“Then how can you say you didn’t copy it? The facts show that you did.”

“I know it appears that way,” Amy said, still bewildered, “but the appearance is not true.”

“Don’t talk to me about appearances,” said Miller bitterly. “Tell me about facts. What reason do I have to believe that what I see here is anything other than proof that you have cheated? Copied? Plagiarized?” He was almost vicious in his tone, something Amy had not seen before. Other students had always described him as friendly and considerate. But something had changed since his trip to the conference. “You can’t get away with this,” he continued. “Denying your guilt is not going to help you. It will only make it worse. We can see to it that you are banned from any university in the state system.”

Amy felt herself less and less able to sustain her self-control. The emotions were welling up against her will, against her ability to remain businesslike. Already her vision had begun to blur from the water collecting in her eyes, though no streams had yet run down her cheeks. Her nose was getting ready for a needed sniffle.

Miller recognized the symptoms, of course, but instead of backing off or offering a sympathetic word to calm her, he snarled, “And don’t think your feminine wiles will help you. I can see right through them.”

For the second time in a few minutes, Amy felt almost as if she had been struck, and once again the blow was accompanied by surprise. To be accused of using “feminine wiles,” not just to escape the consequences of a supposed crime, but at any time and for any reason, was almost beyond Amy’s imagination. She had never thought of herself as having any “feminine wiles” to use. Until this moment, she would have thought the accusation about as likely as an emergency room doctor telling a crash victim, “And don’t pretend you’re in pain, either. I can see right through that.”

Had the circumstances been different, Amy most likely would have laughed at the dissonance between the accusation and her knowledge of her own character.

But Miller was a changed man. The odd thing about a change forged from the metal of a self-inflicted personal disaster is that there is no guarantee that the change will be positive. The “disambiguation” resulting from the realization of personal folly does not necessarily result in enlightenment or wisdom. It sometimes produces an even deeper darkness. The way to redeem a bad experience is to become a better person from it. But Miller had convinced himself that the flaw lay not in his reason, not in his values, but in his humanity. He had been too soft and allowed that softness to cloud his thinking. Had he been thinking clearly, he never would have trusted Gina to make the stock transaction for him. He would have done it himself, and done it right. And if Gina had not manipulated his feelings and deceived him about her age, he would never have taken her to Las Vegas in the first place.

This thinking, of course, involved substantial historical revisionism on the part of Professor Miller, because at no time during his dance with Gina had he ever thought that feelings or even the counterfeiting of feelings were needed or that he was ever paying particular attention to her feelings. One of the great benefits of the contemporary world, he had thought, was that a man no longer needed to lie to a girl about affection or mention the word love in order to prosecute his interests with her. What a great victory that the phony exhibition of emotions, those clever manipulators, could now be ignored. Only now he thought that he must have been deceived by his feelings, and he resolved never to allow that to happen again. He was on the alert. Reason and reason only would be his guide from now on. No girl would ever be able to use tears or pleading to dethrone his sovereign reason. The one sitting before him was an easy conquest. He did not even want to feel sorry for her.

“If you’re going to fall apart and blubber all over the place,” he said roughly, “perhaps you had better go do that somewhere else. At any rate, I want to see you again on Monday. Meanwhile I’m going to talk to the Academic Dean and consider what sanctions we should impose on you.”

Amy could not speak. She rose quickly and left Miller’s office almost shaking, thoroughly distraught. As she walked quickly back toward the dorm, she was crying in the most controlled way she could manage, crying against her will, tears and mascara and nose all running. Compared to what she was feeling, her crying was remarkably stifled.

Amy rushed back into her room and threw herself on the bed. She finally could not contain herself any longer, and the lesser tears that had begun in spite of her efforts to suppress them gave way now to open sobbing.

Amy cried for some time, her face buried in her pillow, grinding what little makeup she wore into the increasingly wet pillow case.

As her emotions began to calm down somewhat, she sat up on the bed and dropped the pillow. Her face was still contorted with grief, but her loud sobbing had given way to a quieter cry. As she looked forward, she saw through her blurry tears that Tina Nicole was watching her. Amy had no idea when the girl had come into the room, or whether she had been there all along. Seeing Amy look up, Tina got up from her bed and went over to her.

Tina put her arm on Amy’s back and began to caress it. “I’m sorry, Amy,” Tina said with evident compassion. She sat on the bed next to Amy and comforted her for a minute or two. Amy wondered what Markayla would think to know that Tina had such feelings.

In another minute, Tina asked, “Did they kill your kids, too?”

The question brought Amy to another reality, the reality of Tina’s distress. It was tragic and a solution seemed impossible, rather like her own new disaster.

“No, Tina,” Amy said. “I don’t have any children.” She wondered what or whether to tell Tina about her situation. “I just have a problem that has upset me.”

Instead of asking about the problem, Tina said, “Tell me a story.” It seemed an odd request. Tina had never seemed to be particularly attentive when Amy told her father’s latest story to Markayla. But perhaps a story would be helpful in some way to Tina. Amy was surprised that one of her father’s stories came right to mind, but as she began to tell it, she realized why it had come.

“Okay,” she said. “Let me blow my nose first.” She did. “This is not a story from my dad’s detective work, but one he told me when I was growing up.” Amy’s father was a firm believer in teaching stories, parables, fables of all kinds, as a means of getting his daughter to think, as well as teaching her good values. Amy had heard this one more than once.

“Some people were in a rowboat crossing a lake. The lake was smooth and glassy. As the people looked into the water to see the fish, one of them said, ‘Look, our oars are broken.’ And right at the waterline, each oar looked as if it had been broken, but then continued in the water. But another person said, ‘No, that’s an illusion. The oars look broken in the water, but we know they are not, because we can pull them out and see.’”

Tina made no response, but kept looking at Amy as if waiting to hear more.

“The meaning of the story is that appearances can be deceptive. Usually, we discover what is real by looking around at what we can see. But sometimes we have to test what we see by what we know is real. Like the way the moon looks really large when it’s first rising, but then looks smaller as it gets higher in the sky.”

“Why does it do that?” Tina asked.

“It doesn’t do anything. It’s an optical illusion. It just looks like it’s changing size. We use our knowledge of what’s really true to reveal deceptive appearances.” Amy was thoughtful for a minute.

“Sometimes appearances are against us,” she said, “even though we know that the reality is on our side.”

Thinking of Tina, as well as of herself, Amy added, “It’s important to know what’s real and what isn’t, in spite of how things look.”

“Yes,” Tina said.

“And I know my oar is not broken,” said Amy sadly and gently, “though I don’t know how to prove it.”

“I liked your story,” Tina said. “I’ve been in a boat. We rowed across a lake. When we hit a rock, I thought we would sink. But no water came in.”

“I’m glad you didn’t sink,” Amy said. Then, picking up her tone and forcing herself to be stronger, she added, “Come on, Tina. Let’s get ready for lunch.” Amy went into the bathroom to wash her face and put her hair back together. Tina put on her shoes.

Just in time to go with them, Markayla returned from the library, carrying more books than she probably should have in one load.

“Research,” she said. Then, noticing that Amy’s face looked red and puffy, she asked, “Are you doing all right? You do not look quite yourself.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Just that I’m probably going to be kicked out of the university. And that’s after they flunk me out of critical thinking and put a note on my transcript that I’m a cheater.”

“This is not even funny,” Markayla said, arranging the books on her desk.

“No, I’m serious. Miller says I plagiarized my critical thinking paper, and he’s going for the throat. I am dead meat after all.” Amy was by now so emotionally exhausted that she felt more depressed than tearful, so that her blunt remarks did not make her want to cry.

“How could he say you plagiarized your paper?” Markayla was becoming indignant.

“He had a copy of it he got from the Web.”

“What? No!”

“I’m serious.”

“Did you put it there?”

“Of course not.”

“Then how could that be?”

“That’s the question. But I didn’t copy my paper. You saw me writing some of it.”

“Yes. Even if I had not seen you, I know you would never copy another paper like that. Where is the learning in copying? Plagiarism is the short cut of fools.”

Amy could not help but smile weakly.

“Well,” Markayla continued. “I am with you. I stand by you. I will help you.”

“I want her for my attorney when we grow up,” Amy thought to herself, “as well as my forever friend.”

“Waswahili wa pemba hujuana kwa vilemba,” said Markayla. Amy had never heard that one.

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“It means, ‘The Swahili people know each other by their turbans.’ We are alike. And I will stand by you.”

“Thanks, Markayla.” Amy was touched.

“Are you a Swahili?” Tina asked.

“It means, ‘Birds of a feather flock together,’” Amy said.

“Birds? Why birds?”

“Let’s go to lunch. You ready for lunch, Markayla?”

Markayla looked resigned. “I think so.”


Go on to Chapter 22
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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com