Chapter 16: Monday, Nov. 6

In which the Subcommittee on Appropriateness hears testimony regarding an inexplicable impulse to have sex in a storage closet.

Published August 3, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

I was frustrated today in my attempts to learn anything really pertinent about the parties involved in the date rape case that came up this morning at the hearing before the Subcommittee on Appropriateness. At the same time, details came to light that lead me to believe it has a bearing on the Ossmann-Woodley murders.

We met in one of those soulless little rooms that honeycomb Grope Tower. A platter of donuts sat on the largish square table around which, with our coffees, we exchanged pleasantries awaiting what Izzy Landes has deemed "official exercises in prurience."

That began when a side door opened and the two disputants, followed by Ms. Maria Cowe of Human Resources and an assistant, came into the room. Ms. Bobette Spronger and Mr. Moses Jones sat well apart but facing each other. Ms. Cowe thanked the Subcommittee on behalf of the department and made introductions. We in turn introduced ourselves.

I had some difficulty at first imagining the couple engaged in any kind of sexual activity together. Mr. Jones, who pivoted around in his wheelchair with a certain amount of flair, is a man of medium size, quite dark in complexion, with a rectangular face and handsome African features. He wore chino trousers and a plaid shirt with the cuffs neatly folded back, and I could not help but notice his well-muscled arms and shoulders. Ms. Spronger, decidedly plump, with cropped hair emphasizing the roundness of her face, looked to be one of those unfortunate creatures who are attracted to the low pay and opportunities for moral posturing that universities provide.

I was surprised to notice that they appeared to be fond of each other. Ms. Spronger's glances at Mr. Moses might be described as possessive in a maternal kind of way. He regarded her in turn with that healthy if somewhat naive enthusiasm of the born-again.

Ms. Luraleena Doveen of the President's Office of Outreach presented what might be called "the facts agreed upon." According to this account, during lunch time on Thursday, September 28, Ms. Bobette Spronger and Mr. Moses Matthews Jones accompanied each other to a supply closet located in the basement of Sigmund Library for the purposes of having sexual intercourse.

Ms. Doveen, reading from a prepared statement, said that while both parties had "an active talking relationship," neither had at any time previously contemplated anything like intimate relations with each other. These conversations, often intense, apparently involved attempts on the part of Ms. Spronger to convince Mr. Jones to see himself as an exploited member of "a racist patriarchal system that kept him in an ideological wheelchair." For his part, Mr. Jones tried to convince Ms. Spronger that sex between women was unnatural and "a perversion of the love Our Lord Jesus has for every living soul."

"All of a sudden," they both averred, "they felt a sharp and inexplicable need to have sex with each other." Upon arriving at the supply closet in question, they closed the door, and immediately, "with considerable urgency," prepared to have sex.

Needless to say, with that statement, the light heretofore flickering in the back of my mind turned painfully bright. Two people of utterly disparate backgrounds and inclinations in matters amatory suddenly suffer a compulsion to have sex with each other. I took the pad thoughtfully provided in front of me and started making notes.

To quote Ms. Doveen again: "The couple began intercourse with Ms. Spronger, divested of her lower undergarments, easing herself onto the lap and erect penis of Mr. Jones while he remained seated in his wheelchair with the wheels locked so as to provide stability."

At that point the written statement concludes. The accounts of what happened after that diverge. Ms. Doveen lowered the document in her hand and sat down. The verbal testimony began. By prior arrangement, it was Ms. Spronger who would go first, giving her account of what happened next.

A little nervous (who wouldn't be?), Ms. Spronger described herself as "a virgin where like the male sex is involved." In one of those modern accents often heard among young women these days, she continued, "Well like I've never gotten it on, like, with a guy. Some of my sister friends tell me it's like okay but not really that interesting. I mean like it's over before it begins.

"So when we were sitting there like having lunch and Mosy looks at me and says 'You want to go down to the book ends,' I said sure, why not. I mean I was like just thinking about the same thing. I mean I was like horny and all that but I thought maybe it would like help him get through this Jesus thing he's going through."

"What is the book ends?" Izzy asked.

"It's, like this big storage room in the basement where people like sometimes go for privacy. It's got a combination key on the outside and you can like shut it with a bolt on the inside."

She glanced significantly at Mr. Jones and continued. "So, when we got there we both like pulled down our pants. Mosy was very ready and I was, too. He showed me how to like sit on him and he like took care of all the details. And we started doing it."

She seemed to have run out of things to say. I wanted to ask her what they had for lunch, but thought it best to wait.

"Then what happened?" someone prompted gently.

"Then, I don't know. It was kind of like vigorous motion. Then I felt this like feeling go through my whole body, right into my bones. It made me feel like, you know, really strange. When I came to my senses, I said, 'please, Mosy, please stop, please.' But Moses wouldn't like let me get up."

Mr. Jones, shaking his head and smiling self-consciously, interrupted. "You kept saying stop but you wouldn't get off me."

"You wouldn't let me."

"Please, Mr. Jones," Professor Athol admonished. "You'll have your turn. Ms. Spronger, please continue."

"I mean he's like a wheelchair marathoner and he's got these like powerful arms and he just like kept me down and I like gave up trying to stop."

After a moment of silence, during which time it was more or less established that she had completed her version of things, Professor Athol, who is chair of the Subcommittee, asked, "How sure are you that Mr. Jones understood your request to stop?"

"He had to. He was like right there. I mean you can't like get any closer."

"Were you facing him or did you have your back to him?" Izzy asked.

"I had my back to him."

"Could you tell me what you had for lunch?" I asked, drawing puzzled stares and frowns from the other members of the Subcommittee.

Ms. Spronger shrugged. "I had rice."

"From a restaurant?"

"No, I made it myself."

"Is this really pertinent?" Ariel Dearth asked.

"It could be very pertinent." But glancing around at a majority of skeptical faces, I realized the morass of skepticism I would have to slog through to get to the facts. I decided to interview them privately as soon as I could. Like a cross-examining attorney, I shook my head. "No more questions."

Mr. Jones spoke next. His account accorded pretty much with what Ms. Spronger had to say except for his motivation and who would or would not desist during their congress. While admitting, like her, to a sudden, inexplicable impulse to have sex, he added a note of righteousness saying, "I thought if I could show her what she was missing by messing around with other women, I would be doing the good work of the Lord."

He said that while he did hear Ms. Spronger use the word "stop," he was unable to lift her considerable bulk off of his lap, especially as she continued "to squirm around like she was really into it." He continued, "Then I really shot my wad. I mean I had an ejaculation, like, man ... " He was shaking his head.

"Then I told Bobbers okay. I mean she could get off, I mean off of me. I said I'd had enough. I tried to push her, but she had grabbed the arms of the wheelchair and wouldn't let go."

"That's not true, Mosy, and you know it."

"Please, Ms. Spronger, allow Mr. Jones to continue," said Professor Athol. "Mr. Jones ... "

"Then, I don't know. I never did lose my woody, so we were into it again. You know what I'm saying. I think she was coming again."

From the rest of his account, it apparently went on in that fashion for some time before the couple, sexually exhausted and horrified at what had happened, were able to separate and make themselves presentable.

"What made you stop finally?" Ms. Brattle asked.

Mr. Jones shrugged. "I lost my woody."

"If the arms of the wheelchair were lowered," Izzy asked, "how did Ms. Spronger manage to stay in place?"

"I only lowered them halfway down."

By this time I was in an agony of interrogative anticipation. I had a dozen questions I could have asked them. What did they have to eat? Where did the rest of their lunch come from? How long after they started eating did this strange and sudden passion come over them? What was the exact nature of this passion? I did ask Mr. Jones, "Had you ever felt any sexual attraction to Ms. Spronger prior to this encounter?"

"No way. I mean she digs other chicks. That's not my scene. I am one with the Lord on this."

When there appeared to be no more questions, Professor Athol thanked the disputants. They in turn thanked the committee and, in the company of Ms. Cowe and her assistant, withdrew.

The Subcommittee at this point entered the deliberation phase preparatory to making a preliminary finding. By degrees and perhaps inevitably, the discussion turned to the nature of erections.

Ms. Schanke, working on the lemon-filled, stated with some force that "Erections are a social construct devised by males to punish women and keep them subservient."

Ms. Doveen gave her an eye-rolling glance. "Speak for yourself, darling."

Thad Pilty stepped into the fray, spelling out the matter in simplified biological terms. He said that from a physiological point of view, both the advent and maintenance of an erection is not entirely a voluntary act and becomes less so in the throes of intercourse. "Erections occur," he said, "when hormones cause the blood vessels leading to the penis to relax and those leading away to constrict, causing the member to become engorged with up to eleven times the amount of blood it has when flaccid."

Izzy opined somewhat wistfully that for gentlemen of a certain age natural erections are something of a gift.

"Is there a female equivalent?" someone asked.

Professor Pilty responded that there was obviously no real equivalent. "In a state of sexual arousal, however, a woman's nipples, her clitoris, and her vaginal labia do become engorged, and there's usually a concomitant secretion of lubricating moisture on the walls of the vagina."

"What's it called?" Professor Athol asked.

Thad shook his head. "I'm not sure the phenomenon has a term."

"Perhaps we should create one," someone said.

Professor Pilty shrugged his shoulders. "How does 'lubrition' sound? In the sense that a man has an erection and a woman has a lubrition?"

"Sounds good to me," Ms. Doveen said as the rest of us passed.

Izzy shook his head holding back a laugh. "Good enough to cause vagina envy."

"I'm not sure it's within the purview of the committee to decide medical terminology," Ms. Brattle stated. "I think ... "

"There are possible legal consequences," Mr. Dearth put in, interrupting the Chair.

"Or consequential legal possibilities," I muttered.

Mr. Dearth's eyebrows raised. "Yes. Yes."

"We could certainly suggest the term to the appropriate authorities," Professor Athol put in.

"I think women and women alone should decide what to call it." Ms. Schanke spoke with considerable vehemence.

"By that standard only the elderly should be allowed to coin terms for geriatric medicine."

"Surely there must be a committee on nomenclature within the medical establishment that the issue could be referred to."

"The real question is whether this body is authorized, as an official act, to suggest nomenclature to any such entity."

"It doesn't have to be an official act."

"What's the point if it's not official?"

"What do we mean when we say 'official'?"

"It means with the stamp of office."

"But we don't have an office."

"No, but we perform an office."

"That's right. An office as an official function."

"What's the etymology of the word, anyway?"

"I'm not sure. Probably from facio, Latin to make or do. You find it the root of such words as factory, manufacture, effect, efficient, feces, fact ... "

Ms. Brattle's gavel came down with a bang. "Please. We were discussing erections."

Thad Pilty remarked as to how there was something called the IIEF, the International Index of Erectile Function.

"Thank God," said Izzy. "For a moment I thought you were referring to L'Institute International d'Études Frangaises."

"But does it define an erection?" Professor Athol asked.

"Not as such. I think the accepted definition is a penis sufficiently rigid for unassisted penetration of the vagina."

"I think it's like the judge said," Ms. Doveen put in. "I can't define it, but I know one when I see one."

"Can we all agree on Professor Pilty's definition?" Professor Athol asked.

"Why do we have to agree?" someone said. "It's been established that Mr. Jones had an erection."

"I think definitions are important," Professor Athol retorted. "Without the presence of an erection, rape is impossible."

"That's not true. Men rape women mentally and culturally all the time," Ms. Schanke put in. "So-called civilization is one long rape."

Ariel Dearth, assiduously taking notes and uncharacteristically quiet, declared that "erections per se have no standing in law, as far as I know. I doubt there is a legal definition of an erection as such, but there's considerable case law as to what constitutes penetration."

"More to the point," Thad Pilty asserted, "if Mr. Jones is accusing Ms. Spronger of rape then we have to establish that not only was there an erection involved but that under the circumstances its presence was involuntary."

During the tedious back-and-forth that ensued, the issue arose as to exactly how far into the act of heterosexual intercourse in which the genitals of both partners are "in deep contact" can a woman legitimately change her mind and ask her partner to withdraw.

Professor Pilty cleared his throat and opined that once there had been "consensual penetration without any obvious trauma," it seemed unreasonable to ask the male to withdraw. Certainly, he continued, "once ejaculation has begun, it's unrealistic to think that a man can just stop and pull out."

"That's total bullshit," Ms. Berthe Schanke proclaimed, waving a sugared cruller. "Rape is rape and nothing you say changes that."

Constance Brattle reminded the Subcommittee that coitus interruptus had been practiced since ancient times and was considered a legitimate part of the sexual repertoire. She wondered aloud why Mr. Jones, if he had wanted to end the intercourse, did not simply detumesce?

I'm afraid some of the men smirked.

Ms. Brattle, noticing that response, said, "What I'm saying is that he could have thought of something to distract himself."

"Such as?"

"I don't know ... preparing his income tax ... "

"Or dipping it in ice water."

"Or battery acid."

"Or Mother Teresa."

"Or his wife."

"Please, gentlemen, this is a serious matter." Izzy Landes sensibly argued that perhaps Mr. Jones was not in a position to withdraw given Ms. Spronger's considerable weight. "If a man is expected to desist at any point along the way, then certainly women should be expected to do the same."

Ms. Doveen, in what seemed to me an attempt to keep up sexually, so to speak, with the Joneses from a gender point of view, retorted that "when a lady gets her groove going, there ain't nothing going to stop her."

Somewhat surprisingly, I was asked by Professor Athol for my opinion before I had a chance to proffer it.

I stated that whether a man is responsible or not for his erections, surely he remains responsible for what he does with them. I also remarked that I'm starting to understand more and more why those so-called old fuddy-duddies of yore insisted on both high standards of conduct and their enforcement, through chaperones if necessary. Certainly, if that young woman in the White House had been more closely supervised, there would not have been that encounter with the President and the disgrace it brought to his exalted office.

No actual finding was made as to the merits of the case. We took the matter under advisement while recommending that both parties seek counseling and that they avoid having lunch together unless others are present.

I was not long back from this meeting, which takes more out of a soul than you might think, when Mr. Castor accosted me by phone again. He asked me if I had any questions about the contract he had sent by overnight mail some days before. I told him I had no questions insofar as I had not read and did not intend to read the contract he had sent me and that my first answer was my final answer. When he tried to engage me in conversation I put him on hold long enough for him to hang up.

It should not have surprised me, but Malachy Morin lumbered into my office not long after lunch with the florid face of the freshly boozed. He lost no time in blustering on about Urgent Productions and the need to go ahead with "Brauer's project."

I told him he was wasting his time, something I have a feeling he is very good at. "I will not have the Museum turned into a setting for sensationalism."

"Norm," he said, in that fake congeniality of his that makes me clench my teeth, "we live in a new age. Any public perception is better than none. People are gonna flock here."

I told him I did not approve of flocking people.

He stood and pulled himself up to his full six foot seven or eight, a grandeur compromised somewhat by a rather rotund middle and an agitation that showed itself in the color of his ears. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to overrule you, Norm."

"You don't have the authority to overrule me, Mr. Morin. The University has no warrant here that's in any way enforceable. We have established that in court. If Mr. Castor or any of his minions as much as set foot on Museum property, I will contact the Seaboard Police Department and have him arrested on criminal trespass."

Mr. Morin shook his head with the assumed grimace of the worldly wise and turned to go. At the door, just as in a certain kind of movie, he stopped and looked back. "You just don't get it, do you, Norm. You just don't get it."

"What don't I get, Mr. Morin?"

"Mr. Morin, Mr. f..king Morin. You know how to make it sound like a put-down. Well you ought to know, Bow-tie, that there's some serious and tough, very tough money behind this thing. I'm not talking about a couple of Hollywood fags either that want to make some kind of feelgood movie ... "

"What are you trying to say, Mr. Morin?"

"I ain't going to say any more. Just remember what I told you."

"It will take an effort."

At which point he stormed out.

There still has been no word from Korky. I finally got up the courage yesterday to tell Elsbeth he had gone missing. I was forced to, really. Not only has Korky been officially listed as missing by the Seaboard Police Department, but the Bugle is to run a front-page story tomorrow with an account of his disappearance. A goodly sum has been collected as a reward to anyone coming forward with information as to his whereabouts. But as time passes, hope dims.

She took it rather well, as though in facing her own death she already knew all she needed to know about disappearing. "I hope he's all right," she said. "But if he has gone to that great restaurant in the sky, I'm sure he's telling the head chef what he thinks of the ambrosia."

Lieutenant Tracy called me this afternoon as a courtesy to fill me in on some new developments. He told me Korky was last reported seen at the White Trash Grill, which opened some months ago at the truck stop out on the bypass. According to the Lieutenant, it is a hangout for a pretty tough bunch of what he called biker and trucker guys. He said prostitutes of various persuasions cruise the trucks pulled up for the night and this attracts other unsavory types. Korky's editor at the Bugle said he may have gone out there to do a review of the restaurant, but he didn't know for sure. As for suspects in any possible foul play, I told Lieutenant Tracy he might want to check Korky's clips at the Bugle morgue. I dare say there are lots of restaurateurs out there who would love to see him choke on some indelicate morsel. At the same time, I don't know why, I cannot get out of my mind that Korky's disappearance has something to do with the Ossmann-Woodley case.

Speaking of which, I informed the Lieutenant what I had learned at the meeting of the Subcommittee on Appropriateness. We agreed the best course right now would be for me to contact the parties involved and try to find out quietly if what happened that afternoon in the storage closet at Sigmund Library has any bearing on the Ossmann-Woodley case. He told me to get back to him were I to run into any real obstacles.

Well, I think I'll wend my way home. I only hope that Sixy and Diantha will be going out tonight. The thought of listening to all that thumping dispirits me.

By Alfred Alcorn

Alfred Alcorn, formerly a journalist at the Boston Herald and CBS, is also the former director of the travel program at Harvard's Museum of Natural History. In addition to "The Love Potion Murders (in the Museum of Man)," he is the author of two previous novels, "The Pull of the Earth" (Houghton Mifflin, 1985) and "Murder in the Museum of Man" (Zoland Books, 1997). He lives in Belmont, Mass.

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