He reminded Karen, "There are some more interviews I have to go through before the offer's firm."
"You'll sail through them."
* * *
A succession of interviews took place, the most important with the university's provost, Dr. Gavin Lawrence~uiet spoken and small in stature, but with a firm no-nonsense presence. The provost, with a file open in front of him, looked up from it and commented, "You're certainly academically prepared to go this route."
"There's one thing I have to make sure you know." Ainslie repeated the nonbelief declaration he had made to Allardyce.
"That's in here, too." The provost touched the file. "Hartley wrote a report, saying he appreciated your honesty. So do I, and I agree it's not a barrier." Lawrence leaned back, bringing his fingertips together as he spoke. "Actually, I hear rumors that some of our religion and philosophy professors have discovered their faith waning as they've accumulated more knowledge, of which in religion there's been a great deal these past two decades. That happens sometimes, don't you think?"
"It happened to me."
"Well, it makes no difference here, because we simply don't ask about the religious leanings of our faculty. What we do care about, of course, is scholarship and honest teaching. I trust that's clear."
Ainslie nodded. "Perfectly."
"There's something else we'd ask of you. From time to time we would like you to give public lectures on your subject. I think, with your name, you'd draw quite a crowd, and since we charge admission..." The provost smiled benignly.
As to Ainslie's three-year commitment, "At the end, if everything has worked well, there might be a faculty opening, or some other institution might want you. It's always a help if students like you, and I have a feeling they will. The students really are the key.
"There's one final thing," the provost said. "Tell me a bit about how you would teach comparative religions."
Ainslie was startled. "I've done no preparation . . ."
"Never mind, just off the cuff."
Ainslie thought briefly. "What I would teach is fact whatever fact is known. As you said earlier, so much fresh knowledge about religions has emerged in the past twenty years and needs examining. What I'd avoid is judgments. Students, if they choose, can make those on their own. Above all, I wouldn't proselytize; that and the study of religions don't go together."
Lawrence nodded thoughtfully. "And in the larger educational scheme the university's purpose as a whole how do you see comparative religions?"
"Oh, without question, as important history human history over roughly five thousand years. And throughout that time, religions have caused countless changes innovation and destruction, wars and peace, justice and tyranny. Most religions have had their share of saints and scoundrels. Those in high places have used religions emperors, politicians, armies, mercenaries usually to gain power."
"Religions, of course, abound with positives and negatives. How do you balance those? Which are greater? Isn't that a judgment call?"
"If it is, I'm not up to making it; I doubt that anyone is. What I do know is that no matter how we view the record of religions in history, no other facet of human behavior through the ages has been so all-pervasive or longlasting." Ainslie chuckled. "I guess that alone shows the importance of comparative religions in present-day life and education."
There was a silence, then the provost said, "Well done! Thank you, Dr. Ainslie, and you may count on me as an early attendee when your lectures begin."
Their parting was cordial. "I understand that Hartley is planning a reception at his house for you and your wife a chance to meet others. I look forward to seeing you both there."
* * *
When his post at South Florida University was confirmed, Ainslie submitted his resignation to the Police Department, and during his final few days in Homicide, many who knew him, including senior officers, dropped in to wish him well. For his slightly more than ten years' service he would receive a pension not large, but, as he put it to Karen, "enough to buy us a bottle of Opus One occasionally."
One thing Ainslie did not do was retain his Glock automatic pistol, as was his privilege as a retiring police officer. Instead he returned it to the armory. He had had enough of firearms to last him the rest of his life, and he did not want a gun in his home, especially with children.
Karen was ecstatic at the final news. She looked forward to having more of Malcolm's time, to be shared with Jason, and their second child, now due in four months. Recently they had learned through ultrasound tests that the baby was a girl. They planned to name her Ruby.
At length the day arrived for the reception at Hartley Allardyce's home. More than a hundred guests were expected.
"A little overwhelming, I'm afraid," Allardyce explained to Malcolm and Karen soon after they reached his large and rambling Tudor-style mansion in Gables Estates in Coral Gables. "I started with sixty invitations, then word got around, and so many people wanted to meet you that I had to increase the numbers."
Even as they spoke, early arrivals were coming into an elegant, spacious room with soaring ceilings, opening onto a garden terrace. Outside, off-duty campus police had been recruited to organize parking. Inside, waiters began to circulate with gourmet hors d'oeuvres and Dom Perignon champagne.
"Hartley always does things rather well, don't you think?" Ainslie overheard a tall blond woman say, and he agreed. He and Karen were kept busy with introductions as guests were brought their way by Dr. Allardyce. With bewildering speed they met Southern Florida University's president and several trustees, vice presidents, deans, and senior faculty members. Among those introduced was Dr. Glen Milbury, a university criminology professor. "When my students heard I'd be meeting you," he said, "they begged me to ask will you take a breather from religions once in a while and come talk to us? I can guarantee a crowded lecture hall." Ainslie promised he would do his best.
Politicians were present; two city commissioners had been introduced, and the mayor was expected. A U.S. congresswoman was in conversation nearby, and the chief of police, in plain clothes, had just arrived when Ainslie felt a touch on his arm and saw Hartley Allardyce once more beside him.
"There's someone special who wants to meet you," he said, and escorted Ainslie to the far side of the room. "It's the donor of our new building and, of course, your comparative religions endowment, who has decided to shed anonymity after all."
They eased through several groups and, near a mullioned window, an attractive, immaculately groomed woman faced them. "Mrs. Davanal, may I introduce Dr. Malcolm Ainslie?"
"Actually, Hartley," Felicia said, smiling, "we've al ready met. You could even say we're old friends."
At the sight of Felicia so unexpected Ainslie found himself startled and breathless. The same alluring and beautiful Felicia who had lied that her husband was murdered, until Ainslie proved he had committed suicide... Felicia, who had offered him a place in the Davanal empire, with a not-so-subtle hint of intimacy to come . . . and of whom the socially wise Beth Embry had predicted, "Felicia eats men . . . If she fancies the taste of you, she'll try again."
He told her, "I had no idea..." Allardyce quietly drifted away.
"I made sure of that," Felicia said. "I thought if you had, you might not have accepted. But don't you remember, Malcolm? I predicted our paths would cross again someday."
She reached out, touching his hand, moving her fingers slightly, and as before, her touch was like gossamer. Again Malcolm felt his senses stirring. It had been that way, he recalled, at the beginning with Cynthia.
From across the room he heard Karen's voice and laughter. He glanced over and their eyes met. Did she sense the sudden wave of temptation within him? He doubted it, but wasn't sure.
"We really should meet soon," Felicia said. "I'd like to hear your ideas about the lecture themes you'll follow. Could you have lunch at my house next week, say, Tuesday at noon?"
Ainslie weighed his response. As always with life, doors opened and some closed. This one was still ajar. Quite clearly.
He answered, "May I let you know?"
Felicia smiled again. "Please come."