The lunch options that were available at the CUNY cafeteria were nothing short of amazing. When Jesse was an undergraduate in Colorado, his meal plan could net him a couple of pizza slices, a burger, or maybe a bit of stirfry. If he wanted something that actually satisfied his nutritional needs, he would need to find time in the day to visit the local grocery or farmers' market and find a place to cook the food. It was a subpar situation, and Jesse was glad to move into his first apartment where he had access to a kitchen that was larger than a linen closet. The CUNY students, on the other hand, had it made. They swiped their student cards at the door and walked into a plaza that offered no fewer than eight food stations, each offering a unique couisine. If a student was in the mood for sushi, Thai food, Chicago-style pizza, vegetarian entrees, or a peanut butter sandwich, she only needed to wander to the correct counter and point a finger. The hot food was prepared while she waited, and the ingredients were purchased fresh from area farmers as much as possible. CUNY had its share of problems, but they always got the food right.
Jesse stood under the Thai Bear banner, waiting for a plate of pork satay. He admired the skill of the brown-haired student who had taken his order and thrown it onto the large, circular cooking surface behind the counter. A six-foot diameter vent mounted on the ceiling took care of the smoke and excess heat from the food as it cooked. I need one of those in my kitchen, he thought. Maybe I can cook for her next time. Jesse had barely finished the thought when he saw someone approach on his left. He saw a middle-aged man with a gray beard and a full head of white hair. The man was wearing a flannel shirt and had his sleeves rolled up neatly at the elbow.
"Mr. Winter, I'm Dr. Ian Blair from the Department of Philosophy," the man said, offering his hand.
Jesse nodded, shaking Dr. Blair's hand. This must be the guy who's suing me, Jesse thought. "It's nice to meet you, Dr. Blair. How are you doing today?"
"Fine, just fine," Blair said. "Please call me Ian. I was wondering if I could talk to you for a moment. I have a table over by the window." Ian motioned to a place near the main entrance to the cafeteria.
"Umm, sure. I'll be right there. My food will be ready in a couple of minutes."
The man walked back to his seat, picking up a magazine and picking at his food while he read. Before Jesse could come up with a suitable excuse to get out of what promised to be an awkward conversation, his tray of food was pushed across the counter toward him. He thanked the cashier by name and headed toward the table where Ian Blair sat, engrossed in a magazine article.
"What's the occasion, professor?" Jesse said, sitting down across from Ian.
"Ah, yes. Mr. Winter, I... understand that one of my colleagues might be making some trouble for you. We philosophers argue about a lot of inconsequential things, and sometimes our zeal for debate and ideology spills over into the real world. I assume that you know what I'm referring to."
"I think so. I learned yesterday that there was another suit being brought against me, and this time it was from a professor in your department. The charges are serious. Not your run-of-the-mill philosophy discussion."
"Yes, that's why I asked you to chat with me. I think that the rabbit hole goes deeper than anyone is willing to admit. My colleague is known to mingle with some folks from Europe and southeast Asia. I find them shady, and I know I'm not the only one who does. Nothing has ever been proven, but there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that could be used to piece together a case if it was necessary. I don't know the details of your case for obvious reasons. But you should know that this man doesn't do anything half-ass. If he's after you, then you'll need all the allies you can gather."
"I appreciate the insight, Ian. But why are you helping me like this?"
Ian looked up at Jesse and then out the window. "He came after me once," he said finally. "I didn't defend myself as well as I might have, and it cost me a year's salary and a series of publications in good venues. My reputation took a big hit, and it consumed a lot of my time. The department didn't give me any protection. Everyone cowered like scared cats. It's time for the culture to change, and I want to be part of the solution."
Jesse raised his glass of iced tea in a gesture of respect. "Thanks. Do you have a business card? I'll be in touch."