The Million Dollar Girl
A Novel

Robert Harris
Version Date: October 11, 2008

Chapter 28

That Monday, the critical thinking class had an air of the surreal. Amy felt like an alien, like an unwelcome visitor. She wondered why she continued to attend a class she was about to be kicked out of anyway, the class that, through no fault of her own, had ruined her university career. And she was anxious to get this particular session over with so that she could get to and through the second and probably final meeting with Professor Miller in his office. She expected to hear that she was not only being given an F in the course but expelled from the university. Or perhaps he would tell her she was being turned over to the Academic Dean for further torture before expulsion. At any rate, she tried to tell herself to be calm and not worry because her doom was predetermined.

After her death at Miller’s hands, she wanted to go with Matt to the hospital to see about Tina. Amy hoped the doctors would let them visit their friend. She thought it odd that concern for Tina had somewhat lessened her horror at her academic fate. Being emotionally torn in two directions had somehow strengthened her. She had expected to be a blubbering idiot by this time and felt strange that she was not. Sitting there in class, she felt quite sober.

Professor Miller made the class seem even more bizarre by his changed behavior. He had ceased to prepare for class. There were no more films, no special anecdotes, no overhead transparencies, not even any pompous expressions or fancy terms for the board. Instead, he appeared to be merely a talking textbook, simply repeating the material directly from the reading. One of the students in the back even asked, “Since when did Miller become Professor Tape Recorder?”

The class was still covering logical fallacies, so Miller dutifully talked about argumentum ad hominem and petitio principii, but he said nothing that was not in the text itself. There was barely a “This is important,” or “Pay attention to this.” The man who began the term as a rather interesting teacher was now decidedly a bore. Those students who had read the assignment soon put their brains on autopilot and began to attend to other, more important tasks, like passing notes or playing games on their notebook computers or using instant messaging on their cell phones. Those students who had not read the assignment (more than half the class) paid some attention and made a few more notes than did the readers. But even they were forced to stifle yawns and look at their watches.

Professor Miller still showed signs of being irritated and edgy, only to a slightly smaller extent than he had earlier. His voice was gravelly, perhaps even a bit shaky at times. At what seemed to be a peculiar time about halfway through the class, he stopped discussing the tu quoque fallacy, and asked, “Has anyone seen Gina Roper? She’s not been in class recently.”

No one had. One student said, “I haven’t seen her since the day before you left for that conference.” For some reason, Miller began to blush. He felt his face reddening, so he turned to the board and wrote tu quoque on it, and then underlined and outlined the letters until he thought the blush had gone.


When the hour had ended, Professor Miller began to pack up his notes more rapidly than usual. Just as he was about to hurry out the door, Amy had come down to the front of the room and was at the door.

“Dr. Miller?”

“Yes, what is it?” He acted as if he did not want to be bothered.

“Did you still want to see me today?”

“See you? Uh, oh, yes, yes, I do. But come by in about fifteen minutes.” Her annihilation seemed so unimportant to him that he had evidently forgotten about it. She wondered if reminding him had been a mistake. No, she thought, he would have remembered eventually.

“Okay.” Amy’s stomach turned into a painful knot. Fifteen more minutes. All of a sudden that seemed like a long time. There was no class discussion to distract her. She wondered why people told her that at the moment of crisis, they always felt calm. She felt nauseated now that her hour was upon her. She began to wonder whether she would throw up on Miller’s desk. She tried to find a drinking fountain.


Professor Miller stepped quickly back to his office and closed the door behind him. He plopped himself into his chair so forcefully that it slid back and hit the wall. He scooted it back and grabbed the phone. He punched the buttons hard.

“Records,” said the voice on the other end.

“Hi, Sylvia?” Miller was trying to sound calm and relaxed.

“Yes, this is Sylvia.”

“This is Mark Miller in Philosophy.”

“Oh, hello, Dr. Miller. What can I do for you?”

“I’m trying to locate a student who has been missing class recently.”

“Do you have his ID number?”

“No, she was having trouble registering for my class because of financial aid.”

“What’s her name?”

“Roper. Gina Roper. She’s a freshman, if that helps.”

A few moments passed while Sylvia entered the information into her terminal. Miller could hear the clicking of the keyboard over the phone.

“If you have a phone number, that would be helpful,” Miller said, partly to fill up the silence.

“Let’s see. No, I don’t have any Gina Roper registered this semester.”

“Not at all?”

“Let me see. No, there’s no Gina Roper of any class level registered this semester. The only Ropers I have are two males.”

“Are you sure?”

“Let me check something else.” Miller could hear more keyboarding. “No, she’s not listed as having been admitted, either.”


“I’m looking at the Admissions screen right now, and we have not admitted a Gina Roper this year. Could she have gotten married recently and changed her name?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, if you’ll give me awhile, I can have Admissions go back and search the applicant lists and see if she applied but was never admitted.”

“Uh, yes, that would be good. Can you send me an email when you find out?”

“Sure thing.”

“Thanks, Sylvia.”

“You’re welcome, Dr. Miller.”

Professor Miller hung up the phone and sat back in his chair. Apparently Gina had never enrolled in his class, after all. Maybe she was just one of those freeloaders who sit in as long as possible, trying to get a free education. Large lecture classes sometimes had clandestine auditors all the way through the term. Maybe she was a high school student just looking for some kicks. Seventeen was young even for a freshman.

Miller’s phone rang, putting an end to his line of thought.

“Hello, Dr. Miller. It’s Christine.” The department secretary was always careful to call him Dr. Miller.

“Yes, Christine.”

“Amy Herbert was here to see you, but I had to tell her to reschedule for later.”

“What? Why?”

“There are two gentlemen here from the FBI who want to talk to you. They say they’ve been looking for you. Shall I send them down to your office?”

Professor Miller thought he was about to have a heart attack.


At the Cave, the students had gathered as usual to talk about the class. There was little to say. Many were thinking they would want refills to their coffee this morning because the class had failed to shake off their sleepiness.

“Well, that was a crashing bore,” said Jennica.

“And what’s with Miller, anyway? He’s getting all weird on us.”

“Tell me. Did you see the way he acted when Jeff said, ‘So, even if you use a tu quoque excuse, the police will still come for you’?”

“Yeah. Miller looked really shocked and said, ‘What police’? as if they were right outside the door. What’s with him, anyway? Has he been selling drugs or something?”

“I hope he isn’t going to wig out on us and not be able finish teaching the class. Then we’d have to take it over again next term.”

“That would be a royal bummer.”

Just then Julie Carmichael joined the group. She looked at Jennica and said, “Did you tell them your big news?” She plopped her book bag in a chair.

“What big news?” Jennica asked.

“About you and Elderberry.” Julie walked over to the counter to order a coffee.

“What?” Jennica asked.

“Ooh, tell us,” several voices said in unison.

“There’s nothing to tell,” said Jennica. “I don’t know what Julie’s talking about.”

Like a pack of whimpering and drooling dogs watching a rabbit through the cracks in a fence, the students sitting at the booth watched Julie eagerly, growing ever more expectant about what she would tell them on her return. Julie seemed to take a little extra time pouring powdered creamer into her coffee. She came back to the booth with a broad smile.

“Tell us, tell us,” everyone said.

“Well,” Julie began, making sure she had eye contact with everyone, “last night about six o’clock I was walking through the math courtyard on the way here to get a bite to eat.” Jennica’s look of confusion had disappeared as she now knew what Julie was going to relate. She shook her head.

“So anyway, Jennica is standing there talking to Sandy Kline when Professor Elderberry walks out of his office. He sees Jennica and it’s like there’s this sudden glow on his face, big smile, totally ‘There’s-my-woman’ look. Then he drops his briefcase, rushes up to her and gives her this full-on embrace and kisses her.

“He didn’t kiss me.”

“Then he holds her by the shoulders at arm’s length and says, ‘Jennica, I love you!’”

“Wow.” The audience was awestruck at being in on such a juicy piece of news.

“Oh, Jennica, is that true?” It was too good to be true, but everyone hoped it was.

“Does Elderberry really have the hots for you?”

“So, Jennica, did you slap him into next Tuesday?”

“No! She thanked him!” Julie was proud to be an eyewitness, the possessor of the facts.

“Oh, wow!”

“This is too much!”

“Does this mean you’re going to get an A in Crypto?”

“Wait a minute you guys,” Jennica said. “It’s not what you think. In fact, it’s actually sad, because I think Professor Elderberry is losing his marbles.”

“Oh no! Just imagine! The whole faculty is fruitcaking on us! First Miller, now Elderberry. Who’s next?”

“Shelley thinks it’s the English Department. She says they’ve been on the edge for years.”

“But wait. Tell us what happened.”

“Well, as Julie says, Sandy and I were standing in the courtyard talking when Professor Elderberry comes out of the department office. I don’t think he came out to see me. He was just on the way home. He had his briefcase and jacket and everything. And the first thing he says is just a normal ‘Hi, Jennica,’ and he nods at Sandy because he doesn’t know her. Then he gets this really thoughtful look on his face, then this wild look, then a smile, and then he hugs me.”

“I’ll bet I can guess what he was thinking.”

“Ooh, so he did hug you! Did he tell you he loves you, too?”

“So then he pushes me back and he has this goofy, happy look, and then he tells me he loves me. But then, he grabs his briefcase and coat, turns around, and runs back into the department office.”

“He does sound like he’s lost it.”

“I don’t know. Scientists are kinda strange that way. Probably forgot his calculator or something.”

“So are you going to file a harassment charge?”

“What did you say when he hugged you?”

“Why didn’t you slap him?”

“Did you give him a dirty look?”

“It wasn’t that kind of a hug. It was more like a “Thank-you” hug or a “I’m-so-happy-I’d-hug-a-tree-but-you’re-closer” hug. Besides, I was so surprised, I didn’t know what to do. He was acting so weird. I just said, ‘Thank you.’”

“You like him, don’t you? Gonna be a little item? Gonna get that A?”

“Just shut up. I’m going to get an A in Cryptography through the efforts of my own pencil,” Jennica said, smelling a dumb-blonde-stereotype behind the comment. “That is, if Elderberry can keep it together.”

“Isn’t he married?”

“I feel sorry for him,” Jennica concluded. “I’ve never seen him this way. He’s been worried lately.”

“Isn’t Amy his student worker?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Maybe she could tell us something.”

“Wonder if he gives her hugs.”

“Think she’d say, ‘Thank you’?”

“Oh, come off it, you guys.”

“Where is Amy, anyway? She’s usually here after class. And where’s Markayla? And Gina? And David? Seems like everybody has disappeared.”


In partial answer to the previous question, Amy and Markayla were riding with Matt on the way to the hospital. Amy had Tina’s student ID card. She could find no information about Tina’s parents or her home town. That would have to be furnished by the school or Tina herself. Amy was almost surprised how little she actually knew about Tina. There had been so little communication during these few weeks. Amy felt all the more sympathy for that tortured girl, who had borne her sufferings completely by herself.


At the emergency room, they asked about Tina and were told that she had been taken to Intensive Care. They rode the elevator upstairs and walked into Intensive Care.

“We don’t have any Tina Davidson here, nor any Jane Doe, either,” the staff nurse said, checking a list on a clipboard. Amy’s heart sank. Her first thought was that Tina had died and her body had been moved out of the room. She looked at the beds she could see in the ICU. Only three were visible, the rest being curtained off. Tina was not in any of them.

“Did you ask at the information desk in the lobby?” the nurse asked.

“No, we came in through the emergency room.”

“Go to the main entrance and ask there.”

Too many skipped heartbeats later, the three stood at the information desk in the lobby asking about Tina.

“Room 204.” Amy was relieved. Very relieved. She sat down for a minute before they went upstairs. Tina had been moved out of ICU into a regular ward. That had to be a good sign.

“How interesting that Tina’s hospital room is the same number as our dorm room,” Amy thought. But she did not mention it to Matt or Markayla. Maybe it was not that interesting. Even though her father was always saying, “Coincidences usually aren’t,” in this case it really was just a coincidence.


Tina greeted them almost brightly. “Hi, Amy. Hi, Matt, Markayla. How are you?” She was sitting up in bed. She even raised her right arm a few inches in half an attempt to wave a greeting.

“More to the point, how are you?” Amy asked.

Tina’s right arm was heavily bandaged from the elbow to the hand. Only her fingers poked out at the end. Her left arm, lightly scratched, was hooked to an IV next to the bed. Her right ankle, sticking out from under the bedsheet, was wrapped in elastic bandages. There was a small bandage on her neck. Her forehead and face were scratched up, but unbandaged. There was a slight discoloration of her skin, whether from bruising or an antiseptic was not clear.

“I’m fine,” Tina said, and then winced with pain as she attempted to shift her position in bed. “I feel okay. Look.” Tina reached her bandaged arm over the covers and pulled them back. Her thigh was heavily wrapped with gauze and tape. Markayla put her hand over her mouth and backed up. She felt unwell and sat down in a chair. There was no gaping, gory wound, only a bandage. But the thought of the injury and the faint but distinct odor of the bandage were too much for Markayla. She was wise not to consider a career in medicine.

Tina lifted her hospital gown enough to reveal a heavily taped chest.

“Broken ribs,” she said simply. “And my butt hurts, too, but I won’t show you that. They say I’m lucky.”

Matt felt sorry for Tina, but he found himself suppressing a smile.

“I’ve been sleeping a lot.”

“How’s the food?”

“Okay, I guess.” Tina searched her mind a moment. “I don’t remember. I guess it’s fine.”

“Do you have much pain?” Amy asked.

“They give me pills. It just sort of aches and pounds a little. It’s hard to get to sleep. But once I go to sleep, I sleep a long time. I have strange dreams.”

“We hope you will soon be able to rejoin us in our dormitory room,” Markayla said from her chair, hoping that the comment would make Tina feel still loved and welcome. She thought that Tina would probably not return to school, but did not want to make the poor girl feel unwanted.

None of the trio of friends was willing to say anything about what the news media would have called “the incident,” had it been covered. Tina was writing a different chapter now, it seemed. And all three were somewhat encouraged by how alert she appeared. She seemed rational and calm now, even cheerful. Her unintentionally deadpan, matter-of-fact manner was actually amusing.

A nurse entered the room, carrying a tray with little pill cups on it. “Time for her medicine,” she said to Amy and Matt, who stepped out of the way for a minute. The nurse approached Tina and said, raising her voice a little as if she thought Tina was hard of hearing, “I’ve brought your medicine.”

“My chest hurts, right here,” Tina said, holding her fingers on her sternum and thrusting forward first one shoulder and then the other as if in an attempt to reduce the pain.

“I’m sorry, dear,” the nurse said in a kindly tone. “That’s because the tape on your chest has to be tight to hold those ribs in place. Be careful not to move around too much. The pain won’t last forever.”

“I didn’t try to kill myself,” Tina said to her.

“Yes, we realize that. You just rest. You have some very serious injuries. How are you feeling?” As she spoke, she put the tray down, selected a pill cup and poured some water into a glass.

“Did I tell you my parents are coming tomorrow?” Tina asked. “I called them, I think.”

“Yes, they are on the way,” the nurse said, bringing the pills closer for Tina. “But you didn’t say how you feel.”

“I feel okay. I just ache. What’s that?”

The nurse held Tina’s hand and poured the pills from the cup into Tina’s palm. “This one is for your pain, this one is to prevent infection from your wounds, and this one is to make sure your thinking is clear.”

The last words caught Amy’s attention. As a result of her “accident,” Tina was taking medicine that she might otherwise have refused. It was the fourth answer again. Amy’s prayers had been answered not at all in the way she had thought they might be. “I guess some miracles include blood,” she thought.


As the three students walked out to Matt’s car, Amy said, “Thanks, Matt, for driving us over.”

“Hey, no problem,” he said.

“And thanks, Markayla, for coming with us. I’m sorry we took longer than I expected and kept you from your studying.”

Markayla stood still, so Amy and Matt stopped, too.

“Amy, this was no problem. I am honored to come with you and visit Tina. I would have come with you and Matt early Saturday morning. I may seem to be too studious and I might become ill at the sight of bandaged wounds, but I realize very well that life is not about me. It is like your father’s saying, ‘The ballerina lives not for herself, but for her dance.’ There is something beyond us that we must live for. A higher meaning, a higher goal. I study to give my life to others. If I study only for myself, I am a fool.”

Amy felt a sudden shift in her understanding, as she realized now that she had spent so much time thinking about the second half of her father’s saying that she had neglected to understand fully the first part. “The ballerina lives not for herself.” Her own life and the events in it, good or bad, were less important than how she used them to serve others. “Maybe there’s even some good reason for all these personal disasters,” she thought. She imagined herself a grandmother, with her grandchildren sitting around her feet. “Yes, children,” she told them, “I remember being kicked out of the university in my day, after being unfairly charged with cheating.” The thought almost helped. No, it did sort of help. If only a little.

She remembered one of Matt’s farm sayings, “When the plow horse steers, the row is crooked; when the farmer steers, the row is straight. Let the Farmer steer.” These thoughts, while they did not result in complete inner peace and the end to her worries, did help Amy feel less anxious about her situation and more hopeful that eventually everything would somehow work for the best.


The trio returned to campus just in time for Amy to head off to class. After class, Amy debated about joining Markayla in the library, but decided instead to return to her room. She walked in, tossed her book bag down and sat on the edge of the bed to take off her shoes. She happened to notice her notebook computer on her desk. It was still in the same position she had left it.

Just as she pulled off one of her shoes, there was an authoritative knock on the door.

“No one knocks like that except Shelley,” Amy thought. “Although with my luck, it’s either the police coming to take me away or the Academic Dean, telling me to leave the campus immediately and never return.” Then she thought that there was the real possibility of a visit from Student Affairs officials, telling her that she had been expelled. “Here comes another unpredictable event. I hope it’s not a nasty one.” Then again, she thought, it could be Melanie or even a neighbor. Amy got up and went to the door, still holding the shoe. When she opened it, instead of Shelley’s smiling face, she saw two men with serious expressions. They wore suits. They were holding badges in front of them.

“FBI,” the first man said. “My name is Special Agent Wilkins, and this is Special Agent Daws. We’re looking for an Amy Herbert.” They seemed unusually tall. They looked down into her eyes, scrutinizing her face. She would have smiled, even gamely, but she could not.

Amy was yet once again the unwilling recipient of too much adrenaline. “We’re looking for an Amy Herbert,” rang in her ears. She could not believe how sinister the little word an could sound. The two men could have been looking for just plain old Amy Herbert, but no, they were looking for an Amy Herbert. What did that signify? She stood still, heart pounding, face flushing, throat drying. The FBI was hunting her. Had found her. Why? What did they want? Were they here to arrest her for plagiarism? Was plagiarism a federal crime?

“I’m Amy Herbert,” she heard herself say. She noticed that she still had her shoe in one hand and felt stupid. She debated tossing the shoe on the bed. The she wondered about how she looked with one shoe on and one off.

“May we come in?”

The agents entered the room and glanced quickly around, as agents always do.

“This is not about plagiarism,” Amy thought. “No, this is about something worse. First it was plagiarism, then it was cheating, now it’s some other crime I cannot imagine. They are out to get me, and I don’t even know who they are. I wonder if someone told them I pushed Tina off the roof or something.”

“Feel free to finish dressing,” Agent Daws said, nodding toward the shoe in Amy’s hand. Amy sat at her desk and put the shoe back on.

“Do you have a personal computer?” Agent Wilkins asked without emotion.

“Yes, it’s right here.”

Noticing that Amy’s face was drained, Agent Daws said in a somewhat soft tone, “You’re not under any suspicion of wrongdoing, miss.”

Agent Wilkins took over before Daws could continue. “We’re investigating the activities of another person who is under suspicion of having committed several computer crimes. In the process of our investigation, we have developed information that indicates a computer you use may have been compromised by the suspect. May we look at your computer?” Amy got up from the desk and walked over to her bed, where she let herself plop down.

Agent Wilkins sat down with the notebook and ran tests from a CD-ROM for about ten or fifteen minutes. Amy was beginning to calm down after the reassurance, but she was still worried. Her hands rubbed idly back and forth on her bedspread. She looked at the floor, mostly.

“Did you write a paper called ‘The Values of Reason’?” asked Wilkins.

“It is about plagiarism,” Amy thought. “They’ve called the FBI over this?” Perhaps they had told her she was not a suspect just to put her off her guard. Her mind raced in several directions at once, and as a result, got nowhere. She looked up at Agent Wilkins.

“Yes,” was all she said, at last.

“How long have you had this firewall installed?”

“Just the last week or so. My, um, boyfriend, put it on for me.” The expression, my boyfriend, still felt strange in Amy’s mouth. “It’s supposed to protect my computer from people trying to read or erase my files.”

“Or copy them,” said Daws.

“Well, Miss Herbert,” Wilkins said, “it seems that the firewall was a little too late to protect your paper. It was copied from your computer around October 3 and immediately thereafter posted to, um, let’s see, Essay Xpress, a free-paper site, a term paper mill.”

“But who would do that? And why?”

“Are you acquainted with Jeremy Schneider?”

Amy blinked. “Yes, I know who he is, but—.”

“Well, his computer files show that he copied and uploaded your paper. What we are unsure about is why. Essay Xpress does not require a paper to be traded for another paper, and there is no record that he downloaded anything from that site either before or afterwards. And yours is the only paper he uploaded. So both self interest and philanthropy seem to be ruled out. Can you think of any reason he would do this deliberately to cause you to be accused of plagiarism?”

“No, that makes no sense. I can’t believe he would do something like that.”

“Your professor, Miller, received a tip-off email on October 4 from a free email account. We are investigating to determine who sent that. As far as we can tell, only one person knew at that point that your paper had been uploaded to the paper mill.

“But why would Jeremy do that?”

“That’s what we were hoping you could tell us.”

“I’ve hardly spoken a dozen words to him this year.” She remembered the unpleasant phone call when he asked her for a date and the incident with Tina. She had called him a jerk. But that was only a couple of days ago. That was almost their entire interaction this year. Was she being punished for saying no to a date? The idea was stupid. It was a stretch. But it was all there was.

“This sounds really dumb, but he did ask me out.”

“Before October 3?”

“Uh, yeah, maybe the first or second.”

“And did you go out with him?”

“No, I told him no thanks. Other than that we haven’t spoken more than two words this year.”

The two agents looked at each other. They were both chewing over this information mentally, trying to assess the likelihood of cause and effect. “Would this Schneider boy get that upset over being rejected by her?” they seemed to be thinking. Daws lowered his brows a bit as if he discounted the possibility. Wilkins tilted his head from side to side a couple of times, as if his head had to lean in the appropriate direction when thinking about a pro or a con. Finally, he gave a little shrug. His face told Amy that he was undecided.

“Well, that helps,” Wilkins said.

“By the way, Miss Herbert,” Daws added, almost as an afterthought, “we’ve had a talk with your professor, Dr. Miller, and he understands the situation. I think he realizes now that you wrote the paper.”


Go on to Chapter 29
Return to the Table of Contents

VirtualSalt Home
Copyright 2008 by Robert Harris | How to cite this page
w w w . v i r t u a l s a l t . c o m
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