Bradstreet Gate

A Novel eBook

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A tour de force debut about a campus murder for readers of Donna Tartt, Meg Wolitzer, and Jeffrey Eugenides

When Charlie, Georgia and Alice arrive at Harvard, they’re anticipating the kind of college experience that only the Ivy League can offer. An elite and revered institution, the school’s every course, social event and ritual is infused with the promise of future success and happiness, and these years will mark their entry into the lives they’d always imagined for themselves.

Charlie, an earnest scholar at odds with his blue collar upbringing, has fallen for Georgia, the beautiful, elusive daughter of a famous artist and provocateur. Alice is a dark, striking and complicated young woman who arrived at college to escape from her Serbian immigrant family, and while she sees Georgia as a rival, the girls’ mutual fascination for one another fuels a tumultuous but fierce friendship. When Georgia begins meeting with a mysterious new lover, Charlie and Alice find themselves allied, and are determined to uncover the secrets that she’s keeping from them.

Then, right before graduation, a classmate is found murdered on campus and Rufus Storrow, a charismatic but controversial professor whose presence has loomed large in all three friends’ lives, is suspected of the crime. Over the course of the next ten years, as Charlie, Georgia, and Alice grapple with new phases of adulthood, they cannot forget the event that marked their youth and spurred the rift that would tear their friendship apart. As they witness the unraveling of a beloved teacher’s life, they must also reckon with their own deceits and shortcomings, each desperately in search of the truth and the chance to be forgiven.

    A relentless, provocative, keenly intelligent novel about promise, disappointment, and the often tenuous bonds of long-term friendship, Bradstreet Gate is the auspicious debut of a tremendously talented new writer.

From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

"A scandal with a shiny tabloid surface — murder on an elite college campus — haunts the friends and enemies of the victim and her accused, as they struggle to adjust to adulthood outside the university gates. Robin Kirman captures the moral hazards of assessing guilt and determining punishment in her intelligent, compulsively readable debut.” – Jonathan Dee, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Privileges

“I dare you to put Bradstreet Gate down once you’ve started it. Smart, sly, and compulsively readable, Robin Kirman’s brilliant debut not only heralds the start of an auspicious career, it shows that Kirman -- whose writing calls to mind Donna Tartt -- has already arrived.” – Molly Antopol, National Book Award longlisted author of The UnAmericans

Excerpt

1

She could sense the officers’ thrill at her arrival: heads were raised, pens lowered, even the phones seemed to have stopped ringing as Georgia crossed the station floor, beaded boots jangling, between the rows of interlocking cubicles where men in plainclothes sat in front of leaning stacks of files.

An older officer stepped forward to greet her: early fifties, graying, with fleshy, pockmarked cheeks; a high potbelly strained the buttons of his short-sleeved, collared shirt. Joe Lombardi, he reminded her; they’d spoken on the phone that morning, when he’d called to ask her to come in.

She followed him to a room set off from the main office: dusty blinds blocked the view inside; the desk was cluttered with papers, dirty coffee mugs, and take-out containers. Lombardi pulled out a chair for her, apologizing for the state of the place and for his own appearance: he was unshaven; his clothes were wrinkled.

“No one’s slept much lately. I’m guessing you haven’t either.”

He wanted to get her on his side; she could see that, even before he offered his sympathy for what she must be going through: a girl in her position ought to be preparing for exams, looking forward to graduation. “We’re all very grateful you’ve agreed to talk.”

As long as her statements remained private, Georgia made clear at the outset, while Lombardi was still so mindful of his gratitude. Since Tuesday, Storrow had been featured in every local paper and news program. “You must have a form of some kind. For confidentiality?”

“Form?” Lombardi settled in behind the papers piled on his desk. “I don’t believe we have anything like that. But you have my word. Theresa will vouch for me.” He motioned to a woman standing at the open door; her round, dimpled face looked gentle.

“You thirsty, hungry?” the woman asked her. “If you need anything, just let me know.”

What she needed was assurance that her name wouldn’t appear in the headlines the next day. Already she suspected she’d made a mistake by showing up here without a lawyer. “I really think I’d like more than a spoken promise.”

Lombardi hunched forward, trying for an honest look, doing something complicated with his brows. “You’re not the issue, Miss Calvin-- no one cares about your affair, whatever went on with that guy.”

Maybe not, though if what she had to say were so inconsequential, she imagined she’d be telling it to one of the more junior officers jammed into cubicles outside. And surely Lombardi wouldn’t be taking so much time to reassure her if he believed her statements would accomplish what she hoped: to clear Storrow of suspicion.

Lombardi nodded to the kind-looking woman, who left the room, shutting the door behind her.

He paused to open a desk drawer and pull out a tape recorder. “Probably you think Storrow wouldn’t approve.”

She disliked this reference to approval and what it implied: a young girl in thrall to an older man. “Why wouldn’t he? I don’t have anything negative to say.”

Lombardi smiled. “Good. I’ve been wondering when someone would stick up for that guy.”

Of course this officer must be trying to unnerve her, Georgia thought: she couldn’t really be the only person to come to Storrow’s defense. Though it was true that on the news the night before, among all those students interviewed, no one had shouted at the cameras that what was happening was crazy, that the man they knew as a committed housemaster and professor could not possibly have done this awful thing. Instead she’d watched them, kids she’d seen around campus, in lecture halls and parties, relating their impressions of Storrow as “frosty” and “strange.”

Where were the students who’d flocked to Storrow’s classes or to the meals he’d hosted at the master’s residence? Where was Charlie? If anyone ought to be on Storrow’s side, Charlie should. Silently she’d observed the influence the professor had been having on her friend: the gingham plaid that Charlie decked himself out in now, those gestures he’d adopted--whistling as he walked, the rousing claps, and those Storrowisms--that there’s the max . . . bone up, spoon up, tie up . . . what’s the skinny? Such fidelity to the man’s style should imply a deeper loyalty--enough to withstand even news of Storrow’s affair with her.

They’d lied to Charlie, yes; but that didn’t make Storrow a monster any more than it made her one.

Lombardi turned on the tape recorder and announced the date: “Friday, May ninth, nineteen ninety-seven.” For the record, he asked Georgia to provide her name and address.

“Mather House, 10 Cowperthwaite Street.”

“Any roommates?”

“I have a single.” Though she supposed she ought to mention Alice: “A friend had been staying with me recently. Alice Kovac. But you’ve already spoken with her, haven’t you?”

Lombardi faced her, deadpan: clearly information was meant to flow only one way.

“She must be the one who tipped you off about me.”

“Why? She was aware of your relationship with Storrow?”

“I never told her what he was.”

“Your boyfriend, you mean.”

Boyfriend. Language adopted for her sake: the sort of naive designation Lombardi would expect from a young girl. “Nothing so conventional. Given our respective positions.”

“Student and master?” Lombardi’s lips twitched.

“Storrow was not my master, no.”

She studied the officer from across the desk. Not much older than Storrow, she guessed, but his face was bloated and creased; his breathing was heavy and he smelled of stale coffee and rank sweat, whereas Storrow--you could tell even from the pictures they’d run in the Globe--smelled of aftershave and fresh linen and strong health. A man who was meticulous in his habits and hygiene, who treated himself with care that suggested both optimism and self-importance. If Storrow could inspire jealousy even in his most privileged students, what sort of ire would he arouse in a man like this?

Lombardi was studying her, too. Her hair was wild--she’d neglected to brush it--and she wore the same cutoffs and peasant blouse she’d worn the past two days. Despite the recent strain, still she looked like herself, like what she was: the precocious, overindulged daughter of an artist.

“I’m curious, Miss Calvin. You mentioned your relations with Storrow weren’t normal--”

“--Conventional was the word I think I used. And I don’t consider that a bad thing.”

“Nothing that bothered you?”

“Nope.”

“Come on now.” Lombardi smirked. “With women, there’s always something.”

There were no pictures on his desk, no smiling children or pretty wife. Possibly officers didn’t risk displaying personal items, but she couldn’t imagine, anyway, that such a man had acquired more in his romantic life than an embittered ex or two and maybe an angry, dispersed litter.

“Any difficulties we had were a result of circumstances.”

“That you had to keep your affair hidden.”

“Yes.”

“And would you say Storrow was good at it? Hiding and pretending?”

“Apparently not good enough.”

Lombardi laughed; his pen tapped, skipping, against the desk. “Good enough to hide something from you?”

“He wasn’t sleeping with Julie Patel, if that’s what you’re getting at. She was his student: plain and simple.”

“Maybe not so simple.”

He was referring, she supposed, to the one weak motive ascribed to Storrow: Julie Patel had complained about him, repeatedly and publicly, taking offense at statements he’d made during his lectures. “Whatever their argument, he didn’t get into that with me. But you’ve got Julie wrong if you think she’d sleep with her professor.”

“So you knew Julie Patel then?”

“Not really. We were classmates, obviously. Sophmore year I started volunteering with her program, but it didn’t work out.” She’d had the chance to observe Julie closely only once: her practical, contained manner--hair done in a girlish braid and those dowdy clothes that didn’t quite conceal the womanly body beneath them. For half an hour, one single afternoon, they’d sat alone in a room in Phillips Brooks House, the student community service organization, so that Julie could explain Georgia’s unfitness for work with troubled kids: How you dress, even your laugh--I’m not saying it’s inappropriate in general; I’m not making a judgment or anything. “We were different types, is my point. So nothing that went on in my case would be relevant.”

“That may be. But I can’t be sure until I know what went on in your case.”

Lombardi’s voice was low, falsely solemn, as if he meant to conceal from her the pleasure he was taking in this meeting, his readiness to hear from her a tale of abuse and depravity, to confirm the narrative already being composed round the clock, inside these rooms, among these officers, and with assistance from the press, to bring down a man whom his men instinctively disliked, just because Storrow had a striking resume behind him and a bright career ahead of him and because he’d enjoyed the attentions of a young woman like her.

Lombardi and the rest might pretend they were above such temptations, but she didn’t buy it. How many of the officers here would have resisted her the way Storrow had initially?

“He never pressured me. He actively tried to avoid me, if you really want to know.” The tape recorder sat beside her, reels turning.

How odd it was: for four months she’d kept her secret, though she’d wanted, often, to confess, to share even one small, salacious detail. There were times she’d told herself the story of her affair, narrating it in her head, merely for the satisfaction of recounting the tale. But in all her fantasies--of telling Alice, or Charlie, or her father, or even a complete stranger--never had she pictured a first audience like this man across the desk.

One unseasonably warm October afternoon, she’d gone for a late-morning run along the Charles River with Alice; the pair of them had returned to campus starving and without cash, so Alice had suggested they stop at the Adams House dining hall to pocket whatever she could gather for their lunch. Alice had been a resident of Adams sophomore year, but had since moved out and skipped the meal plan. Georgia proposed they double back to her dining hall at Mather House, but Alice had no qualms about stealing, least of all from a university as well endowed as Harvard.

The pair easily followed a group in through C-entry and Georgia waited, stretching her legs, inside the dark, wood-paneled hall, while Alice went ahead to the dining room. Just as Alice was returning, booty hidden in her bag, a man entered behind them: midforties, with a wiry, athletic build. His hair was red and brushed back off a high forehead; his skin was softly freckled, his features refined: a long jaw and sharp chin, fine light brows above green eyes. He was carrying a squash racquet and dressed in tennis whites--pressed shorts and a gleaming polo. Like a vision of Harvard past he came striding between the slouching jocks in sweats and the alternative scenesters sporting stringy hair and Salvation Army flannel.

“Jasmine, Pam, Shawn . . . afternoon . . . afternoon.” He spoke slowly, with a slight twang, addressing each student he passed by name. “Alice, nice surprise seeing you here.”

As soon as he’d moved out of earshot, Alice turned to Georgia, cursing at the closeness of the call: “I was sure he was going to fucking search me.”

The man (Sterling or Stern, something like that) was the new interim housemaster of Adams: a lecturer in both the Law School and the History Department, he was someone who’d aroused enough speculation that even Alice, who never set foot in Adams, except to pinch a fat-free yogurt or green apple, had heard talk about him among the students: West Point, JAG Corps--rule freak of the first rank.

They’d left it there, though Georgia remained curious: the man had struck her as both bizarre and somehow familiar. Was it possible she’d seen him before? Though if she had, hard to believe she’d have forgotten.

It was only after she and Alice had dispensed with their light lunch and parted ways that Georgia managed to place Storrow at last. He’d made less of an impression stripped of his preppy outfits, striking red hair tucked inside a swimming cap, merely one among the thin crowd of swimmers she’d seen often at the Malkin Athletic Center.

“The practice pool,” she told Lombardi, “was where I first noticed him.”

He was attractive: lean and handsome, in an anodyne way, though his body looked ghostly white inside the water and she found those pale brows of his unnerving; they made his gaze seem both blank and much too bold.

Each morning he stepped in from the changing room, goggles dangling from his grasp, dressed in flip-flops, white swimming cap, and matching white trunks. He kept to himself, likely choosing early hours, as Georgia did, to avoid the crowds. For forty minutes Storrow performed laps, crawl then butterfly, always the same routine. A man of routine generally, it seemed: he was there every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at exactly eight a.m.

“Did it occur to you,” Lombardi asked, “that his swimming when you did might not have been coincidental?”

“There were five or six others always there at the same time. Habits form, it’s like that.”

Not really true: she had wondered, feeling Storrow’s eyes on her, whether their schedules had conjoined purely by accident. If she hadn’t shared the same inkling as Lombardi, she’d probably never have been as forward with Storrow as she’d been.

“And when did he first approach you?”

“He didn’t. I spoke first. Standard chitchat. Compliments on swimming. We didn’t say much.” There wasn’t opportunity for long conversation while dripping at the side of the pool. During their most sustained exchange, they’d spoken about racing and she’d explained her lack of interest: when something is pure pleasure, why would you want to rush it? “Small provocations. To test his courage, I guess.”

“And what was the result?”

“He disappeared.”

Several weeks before Christmas, Storrow had stopped showing up at the pool: she hadn’t given it much thought--too preoccupied with finals, and arrangements for winter break.

“So when did you next see him?”

“Just before vacation.” He’d simply shown up again one morning, already in the water when she entered to do her laps. On the walk back to the locker room, she’d heard whistling behind her.

“He followed you?”

“Only to wish me a good holiday. And then I guess it must have come up that neither of us was going home. I mentioned I was staying with an old friend in New York.” A solitary New York Christmas was preferable, she’d decided, to one in Mexico with her dad and whichever latest girlfriend was hanging off him. Her mother’s invitation was no more tempting: two weeks at home with stepdad William, where she’d be subject to constant questions about her plans--or lack of plans--following graduation.

“So you led Storrow to believe you’d be on your own--and available,” Lombardi said.