1

It was Monday. A small group of transfer students and interns had arrived. Half of them to the mathematics department, the other half to science. There were ten in all- direct from Saint Petersburg, Russia. The tallest one was Vadim Tartovski, a chemistry major. The group was following the science department administrator, who was in quite a hurry as he had an important meeting to attend to in two hours, and an interpreter who was getting flustered with rapidly translating English to Russian and vice versa- they all turned left around the corner. Whether it be by fate or coincidence Vadim got sidetracked and turned right towards the biology wing.

Oddly enough, nobody had noticed that he had been separated from the others and had gone the wrong way. Well, nobody from the group noticed, anyway. Vadim glanced at the papers in his hand. His surroundings were not what was being described. He could read and understand enough English to know he was in the wrong place. Suddenly, a portly, older gentleman pulled him aside. His face had Oriental features. Was he Tatar? Kalmyk? Vadim wasn't quite sure. "The board told me you would be coming today," the man finally said. "I was just hoping that I could find you in time for the meeting." His accent wasn't Russian, it sounded more east Asian.

Regardless of where he was from, Vadim was confused. A meeting? The board? What was going on here? "So, what is this all about?" he asked, making sure he pronounced each word correctly. "Just follow me." the man said again, "Sorry for not introducing myself earlier, my name is Lee Chen. But you'll have to call me Dr. Chen." Because he was clearly needed for something, Vadim tried not to ask too many questions. He simply followed Dr. Chen to wherever it was they were supposed to be going. Hopefully, it was back with the others who, by now, were probably wondering where he had wandered off to.

Thirty minutes prior, Sandra LeRoy, head of the post-mortem lab in the basement, arrived. Sandra was only twenty-two and had more degrees than anyone else of her age. She was small, but healthy, kept her fluffy hair short, and sported round glasses- pretty average in appearance for the most part, perhaps a bit too plain; but Sanda never thought anything of it. Taking the steps, two at a time, she descended three floors down to her office. The elevator only went up, so her only option to access her ground-level abode was to take the stairs. Her office was two doors to the right, next to a vending machine that only sometimes worked and a restroom that was always out-of-order. Carefully, she pulled a ring of keys from her pocket to unlock the door.

Sandra was suddenly interrupted by not-so-quiet whispering behind her, "The necromancer is here... What sort of spell will she cast today?" She didn't even have to look- it was a couple of biology students who were now clumsily running away up the stairs to get to a class they were probably already late to. Sandra was fully aware that there was a rumor going around the entirety of the college that she was some sort of witch who talked to the dead, simply because she spent more time with corpses than with living people. At least, Sandra often thought, dead people are not nearly as judgmental as those who are alive. But, in all honesty, that's how she preferred it- to be alone and by herself.

Now, back to subject. Sandra pushed away all the negativity and got on with unlocking the door to her office space. The problem was, however, the door was already unlocked. She slowly opened the door, in hopes that there were no intruders still there. The tiny room was quiet and dark. Sandra switched on the lights and let out a blood-curdling shriek, flinging her keys and coffee in the air. Someone had left a hideous drawing on her chalkboard- well it was actually quite good, but in Sandra's opinion it was absolutely appalling. Some clever fool had made a portrait-perfect sketch of H. R. Pufnstuf to greet her when she arrived. How did they do so well on something so awful? How did they even know she still had an irrational fear of that creature since she had seen the television show as a child? She hardly ever talked to anyone about anything. She would definitely work on figuring that out later; but now she was furiously trying to erase the abomination away. "Craig! Craig? CRAIG!" Sandra called out for her intern, who should have been here earlier.

Finally, Craig came through the office door, his eyes wide and blond hair a mess. "Sorry I'm late." he said. Sandra was still trying to erase the chalkboard. "You're always late!" she snapped, "They're at it again!" Craig was confused, what could Sandra possibly be going on about now?

"Who? The biology department? What did they do this time? Draw you, dressed as a witch, again?"

"No, they drew Pufnstuf . How did they know? I didn't tell anyone that still bothered me."

Craig set his belongings down on the floor and began cleaning up the mess of decaf coffee still on the floor before Sandra would begin raving about that as well. "The board director scheduled a meeting with you today, I had to relay the message to you. That's what took me so long to get here; and by the way, everyone knows you're afraid of that thing." he explained as he was tossing away the coffee-soaked napkins and paper towels. In all honesty, he probably wouldn't have bothered with it if he knew she wouldn't yell at him about it. Sandra was quite strange, in his opinion. She had to have everything sorted and placed just so- by color and shape and size. And, no exceptions, everything had to be spotlessly clean.

A meeting? Sandra didn't know anything about a meeting. "What do they want to talk to me about?" she inquired, "I haven't done anything wrong that I'm aware of." She finally cleaned the board and had begun writing down the tasks for the day. "I'm not sure," Craig replied, "they didn't tell me." Sandra let out an exhausted sigh; the day had only just started and it was already pure garbage. She hated meetings, they almost always had to do with how the post-mortem program was a waste of grant money and how unnecessary the presence of Sandra and her colleagues were. "Well," she told Craig, "Let's go get Louise and get this over with..."

Sandra and Craig left the office- of course Sandra made sure to lock the door behind her- after tidying up to go to the photography dark room. There wasn't a door, so they both simply knocked on the threshold instead.

"Louise, are you there?" Craig asked

"Yes, I'm here! I'm always here unless you want something!" A voice snapped from the dark room.

Out of fear of being verbally mauled again by another irritable female, Craig backed away from the doorway. "You go first, Sandy (the nickname given to her by most everyone, including her parents), she likes you."

Louise was just as high-strung as Sandra- they had initially bonded over their sarcastic vernacular, along with Sandra's constant need of someone to take pictures of her work. So, naturally, she was the better choice to speak to her. "We have another meeting." Sandra said as she walked into the photography room. "Will it be about finally letting us have a door like all the other rooms do?" Louise asked, in an obviously fake cheerful tone, as she unpinned a few photos that were hanging up to dry and expose. "No, they didn't tell me what it was about." Sandra answered, "It'll probably be about the same thing as usual." Louise was quite aware that she was mostly going to tag along as emotional support, as Craig was always a little less than helpful on that particular subject.

With that in mind, the reluctant trio had prepared themselves to be reminded once again that they were an unnecessary waste of grant funding. As they approached the meeting hall, a small huddle of suited men stopped them. "This is only for Miss LeRoy." they said, almost in unison. So, it had been decided Sandra would have to face the criticism alone this time. What was the problem then? Had the biology students made a petition to get rid of the "Necromancer," as they called her, once and for all? She would just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, Dr. Chen had instructed Vadim to wait in his office. Which would have been fine, except there was nothing for him to do to entertain himself. How long would he have to wait? What was he waiting for? Well, at least there was a stash of crackers and soda in a cooler underneath the desk.

Sandra hesitantly entered the meeting hall. The only people waiting for her were Dr. Chen and Board Director Grey: two old men who seemed as if they would fare much better if she were not there. Well, Dr. Chen tolerated her as she was ranked directly under him. Board Director Grey, whose complexion was as ashen as his name suggested, however, did not like her in the least- primarily because she was a woman twenty years younger than he was and twice as intelligent. As far as Sandra was concerned, she didn't care about their opinions, she just wanted to get this over with. She sat down in an empty chair- just close enough to listen but far enough away as to where neither party was within intimate speaking distance. "So, what am I in for this time?" she asked, unprompted. "You aren't in trouble, Sandra." Dr. Chen replied, "This is a good thing." A good thing? What good thing could come out of a meeting with Grey? Probably announcing his retirement. Sandra would have highly enjoyed that. "Actually, what Chen means is that we have, despite my objections, received more funding." Grey added, in his trademark monotone voice. "And what does that have to do with me?" Sandra inquired. "That means," Grey said, "that you will now have an assistant in the lab- permanent, not just an intern. Chen will bring them to you shortly after this meeting ends." Sandra was silent, she didn't know what else to say. "So, what do you think about having someone to work with you?" Chen asked with a smile. Still, Sandra had no words.

And so, the meeting was over. She had nothing to say, no questions to ask. She just made her way back to her tiny little office, making sure to open the door slowly, in case the biology students left some sort of gag or prank for her to find while she was gone... again.

Sandra was confused. What on earth was that about? Everyone knew she wasn't enthusiastic about associating herself with other people. Just because she finished college at eighteen didn't make her a social butterfly- just more intelligent than everyone else. Sure, she had Craig and Louise, but that was different; they understood that she didn't want to be disturbed while she worked. Besides, neither one of them would have wanted to be in the lab, surrounded by body parts in jars, anyhow.

"What do you think about having someone working with you?" What did she think? Obviously, what made them assume that she wasn't able to do her job by herself? There wouldn't be much of anything that an assistant could do. Maybe sort some paperwork; but that's what Craig was for. She already had a chimpanzee to take care of clerical work. Surely they weren't thinking of making someone take care of extractions. She was hired for the sole purpose of slicing up cadavers. For the most part, that was a one-person job- not for two or three. Unless they changed the policy and refused to tell her about it...

All that intense thinking was disturbed by a sharp knock on the door. "The office is open. State your name and business upon entering." she said. The knock was then accompanied by a voice, "Chen. I have your assistant with me." Oh, so her boss was already here with a replacement. It had to be, she didn't need any help. "Come in, then." she replied. The heavy oak door opened with a hair-raising squeak. Sandra adjusted her glasses.

Sandra immediately recognized Dr. Chen's short, rotund figure; but the wiry frame next to him was unfamiliar. "This is Vadim Tartovski, from Russia. He will assist you with your work from now on. Vadim, this is Miss Sandra LeRoy, she's your boss, you'll do whatever she tells you to." In Sandra's opinion, Vadim didn't look too assistant-like and he certainly didn't look too Russian. Other than his rather large nose and tired eyes, he had too much hair that fell over his shoulders- which was quite curly- and his clothes looked too casual: jeans, sneakers, and a geometric-printed shirt. She'd have to fix that before the board directors came around in the next few days to inspect everything, as they were very nitpicky about professional dress and conduct. Before she could make any comment or objection, however, Dr. Chen had left. Sandra and Vadim were now alone in awkward silence.

So, it now seemed that Sandra had no choice but to get her new assistant acquainted with things "Can you even speak English?" she asked, in hopes of not having to talk to more people and fetch an interpreter from the Language Arts Department. "Maybe so." Vadim said- his voice was actually rather airy despite the heavy accent. "Excellent then," Sandra continued, "I should have no problem getting you introduced to the enthralling world of post-mortem research. That means we're going to look at dead people, if you didn't already know." Vadim simply nodded and followed her to the lab, which was connected to the office space. At this point, all Sandra could do was hope that he understood what she was saying.

"Here we are, my sanctuary." Sandra led Vadim into the lab, gesturing to tables and shelves full of instruments and tubes. "What am I supposed to be doing?" Vadim asked her, still making sure to say everything the right way. "Oh, I'll figure it out. You'll always have something to do." Sandra didn't know what to tell Vadim to do. She didn't know how well he knew English, and she was pretty sure that he was more competent to do real tasks than Craig was. "Well, what are you good at?" Sandra queried, "So I know what to tell you to do..." Vadim thought hard, not because he didn't know, he just needed a second to translate. "Chemistry, mostly." he finally answered. "Oh," Sandra said, "That might be useful. I have plenty of lab equipment to sort and chemicals to play with. Ethically, of course. Not suggesting you would channel your inner Khrushchev. That didn't offend you, did it?" Vadim sneezed and blinked slowly, "No, I have heard far worse." Maybe it wouldn't be too bad to have an assistant, but it sure would be awkward.

Craig and Louise had been concerned about Sandra. She had simply walked away without saying anything to either one of them. They had both decided to check in on her. After taking three flights of stairs, they finally made it to her office. Craig knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again, then faintly heard the typical greeting "The office is open, state your name and business upon entering." "It's Craig, I was seeing if you were okay, I guess..." Sandra immediately stopped what she was doing at the moment- which was showing Vadim where all of her chemicals were stored and how to sort them- and went to answer the door "You'll want to come along, I have some people to introduce you to. No, that isn't President Kennedy's brain in that jar, it's Dr. Chen's uncle, Zhou's." More people? How many more people would Vadim have to put up with today?

Sandra poked her head outside. Craig and Louise were standing outside. Craig had a handful of papers, Louise was holding a stack of photos. "What was the deal? Are we okay?" Louise asked. Sandra opened the door all the way. "It's fine," she said "I just have another pet to take care of." She gestured to Vadim, who was studying Craig and Louise carefully. "They gave me an assistant, as if you guys weren't helpful enough. This is Vadim Tartovski, direct from the Soviet Union. And Vadim, this is my intern, Craig Grant, and the photographer, Louise Anthony... Say 'hello' Vadim." He simply waved shyly, and then flicked a stray hair out of his eyes.

Suddenly, he was drawn to the pictures in Louise's hands.

"What's the matter?" she asked, not knowing what he was staring at, "Have you never seen a black woman before?"

Vadim smiled a bit, "Actually, I was looking at your photographs. They are very good." he said.

"Oh, why thank you. He sure is nice, isn't he, Sandy?" Louise said, obviously flattered.

"What do you notice about me?" Craig chimed in, pretending to be offended.

"You? You have funny hair." Vadim answered with a deadpan expression that seemed much more menacing with his broad nose and droopy eyes, then walked back into the office. Both Craig and Louise were equally surprised.

"Oh, isn't he adorable?" Sandra asked, sarcastically.

"Sure," Craig said in a droll tone, "I can see you two hitting it off. He's just like you. Brutally honest and cold." He was sure that things would be getting much worse. There were now two people to have to clean up after.

Other than horrendous drawings on the chalkboard, meetings, and unexpected visitors, it was actually a rather slow day. Sandra really didn't have much for Vadim to do, nor did they say much to each other. She was mostly just watching him, observing the way he did things while she was checking some paperwork. He sorted files and test tubes by color- which she never told him to do specifically, but it looked pretty nice- and put everything away very neatly. He never asked her for anything. They both simply did what was necessary.

Then, there was yet another knock on the door. Sandra didn't even worry with her typical greeting, she just wanted to have at least one moment in which she was uninterrupted.

"What is it now, Craig? It better be good this time." No answer- so it wasn't Craig. "Hold on," Sandra told Vadim, who had been finished with work for a while and was now busy making a house of cards out of corpse tags.

"We have another visitor... that's quite an impressive feat, but make sure you put those things back after we return."

Vadim simply got up and followed Sandra back to the exit. The sudden draft coming from him standing up so quickly knocked the card house over. Sandra poked her head outside to greet a man who very closely resembled Dr. Chen, but greasy-looking and about thirty years younger. "I'm your assistant, Andrew Dudley. Director Grey said I would find you here." he said, in a voice that was somewhere between raspy and pure nasal. "Assistant? What? You must be mistaken. Dr. Chen said this was my assistant." Sandra quipped, pointing to a very confused Vadim. "But... oh... there must have been a sudden change. Maybe they sent me to the wrong place." Dudley continued, obviously disappointed. "I'm sorry," Sandra said, "It's not your fault you got mixed up, the board never knows what they're doing. I'm sure you'll figure things out." With that, Dudley turned around and lumbered back up the stairs. What Sandra didn't know, however, as she and Vadim made their way back in the lab to finish what they were doing and clean up for the day, was that Andrew Dudley was the real assistant assigned to her.

It was late afternoon when Sandra and Vadim left the office for the day. Sandra made sure to lock the door behind her and take the keys, and she promised Vadim that she would show him the way out. Once they exited the university building, they parted ways with a short goodbye and a modest handshake. Then, Sandra made her way through the parking lot to her tiny sea foam green 1958 Metropolitan- a college graduation gift from her father. The drive home was quiet, she didn't turn on the radio. Soon, she finally arrived to the apartment complex where she lived. Through the doors, past the doorman, into the elevators and up to the twelfth floor, third door to the right. Sandra made sure to unlock her door quietly, as her neighbor, Mrs. Wembley, was extremely nitpicky about noise. She wasn't sound sensitive, she just really had a fixation on following all building ordinances to the letter, especially when it came to noise.

Just as she managed to open the door and before she her way inside, she was greeted by Mrs. Wembley's nephew, Lyle, exiting the adjacent apartment next door. "Hi, Sandra." he said. "Oh, hello, Lyle." Sandra replied. She didn't care much for Lyle, an obvious flunkie who always spent a week with his aunt at the beginning of June every year; but she was always friendly to him whenever they passed by each other in the hall or lobby. "I'm on my way to the grocery store to pick up a few things for my Aunt Matilda." Lyle said, but there was no additional comment from Sandra. She had already gone inside her apartment.

Sandra simply set her purse on a hook by the door and sat down on the sofa. She was beyond exhausted. It had been a very long and very annoying day. More likely than not, she would just order Chinese takeout for dinner, take a shower and then go to bed. Sandra had no more than taken her shoes off and tossed them aside when she heard someone softly tapping on her door. What now? Did her shoes hit the carpeted portion of the floor too loudly, so now Mrs. Wembley had to give her another lecture about the building code and noise ordinance and how her activities could not exceed a set amount of decibels?

Sandra braced herself to get blasted by her extremely anal neighbor, only to be greeted by Vadim Tartovski with a duffel bag that she was pretty sure weighed more than he did. "What are you doing here?" Sandra asked him, surprised by his unexpected visit, "How did you figure out where I lived? Must be some Russian spy intelligence thing."

"Actually," Vadim said, "I asked Miss Louise where you lived. She is nicer than Craig- he would not talk to me. I do not even know anything about spies or how they work."

At least that explained how he got there.

"Well then," Sandra asked again, "Why are you here? I have nothing for you to do other than clean my kitchen, maybe. You're free to come in though." Vadim quietly nodded and walked in, setting his bag on the floor and kicking off his sneakers. "I have nowhere to stay," he finally said, "I cannot afford a hotel and there are no other people I could think of to talk to."

Sandra was a bit perplexed. She barely knew Vadim, so she wasn't exactly comfortable with letting him stay; but at the same time she couldn't bring herself to leave him, a foreigner in a strange place, out in the streets where he could get himself hurt or into serious trouble. "Fine," she finally said, "I suppose I could let you stay here, but, it's only for a little while. There are going to be rules though." "Rules?" Vadim asked. "Yes," Sandra continued, "First, you sleep on the sofa, not in my room. Second, I don't know about Russian food, so you'll just have to get used to eating whatever I have. Lastly, you have to be quiet. Not because of some sort of national security thing, but because my neighbor hates loud noise." Naturally, Sandra was expecting Vadim to have a lot of questions, mainly about her simplifying what she had just told him, but he only had one question in particular: "What are we going to eat then?" Sandra smiled and then picked up the phone. "How about Chinese takeout?"

"Sure. I can try that. What do they offer?"

After much deliberating and explaining what was on the menu, Vadim just settled on getting the same thing as Sandra: sesame chicken with noodles and an eggroll. Because she was a frequent customer and friends with the restaurant manager, Sandra's order arrived in only a few minutes and she got a discount. Normally, she would have eaten it on the sofa while watching television; but, because Vadim was with her, she opted to sit at the tiny table in the kitchen. "You must act civilized when you have guests." her mother often chided. Sandra was reaching in a drawer for a fork, but stopped when she saw Vadim practically inhaling his food with one of the pairs of chopsticks that always came with takeout orders.

"How can you eat with those?" she asked him, "I've never been able to figure it out." Vadim took a break from destroying his little box of noodles.

"I learned how in a little Japanese restaurant I visited during a layover in London." he replied.

"Wow," Sandra said, "That's pretty impressive." Vadim just smiled at her and continued eating.

The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful until it was time for Sandra to get ready to go to bed. "You can't stay up too late, we both have to work tomorrow." she told Vadim, who was visibly fascinated with watching the television- it was just another episode of Wheel of Fortune- which he had previously told her he'd never seen before, let alone on a color television. "I know." he said, not even breaking eye contact with what was going on in the show for a second. "One more thing," Sandra said, poking her head out of her bedroom "I should hope that you brought pajamas with you. You're not allowed to sleep in the nude in this place." That was a rule established mainly by Sandra; but she assumed he would be more willing to comply if she said it was a building code. "Don't worry," Vadim reassured her, "I have everything I need." He reached in his bag and pulled out a wad of flannel and thermal knit fabric to show Sandra he was telling the truth, his gaze was still locked on the television. Sandra simply shook her head and shut the door behind her.

Despite all that had happened to her during the day, Sandra managed to sleep soundly all night long. She even managed to wake up before her alarm clock sounded off- a habit she had formed as a result of Mrs. Wembley complaining about hearing the noise behind her wall. Though still quite groggy from sleep, Sandra was alert enough to find herself hugging on to one of the pillows, or was it a stuffed animal? She couldn't tell for sure, but it was quite warm and soft, to the point where she found herself drifting off to sleep again. And, then, whatever it was holding on to began snoring. Suddenly, Sandra was jolted awake and screamed. It was Vadim! Somehow he managed to find his way into her room while she was sleeping- and he certainly wasn't wearing pajamas. The loud noise then woke Vadim up. He looked over to see Sandra glaring at him.

"W-what are you doing in here? I told you not to come in here." she snapped.

"The sofa was not very comfortable." Vadim squeaked.

"So?" Sandra continued, "That's no reason to take my bed. Besides, you're practically naked!"

"Not exactly, I am still wearing underclothes. It got too hot for pajamas." Vadim explained, wrapping the faded gingham quilt from the bed around himself.

Just before Sandra could continue, she heard a familiar banging on her door. "Now look what you did," she told Vadim, who was still sitting on the bed, wrapped in the blanket, "Here comes Satan to torment me." Sandra quickly grabbed her glasses; and then the bathrobe off the floor, put it on over her pink polka dotted pajamas and went to go see what it was that Mrs. Wembley was going to yell at her about now.

Sandra opened her door to reveal the visibly irritated middle-aged woman standing outside, her facial expression suggested that she was most likely unhappy and her head was full of hair curlers.

"I heard a scream." Mrs. Wembley said in an acidic tone, "How many times have told you that the building superintendent has a noise ordinance?"

Sandra didn't want to tell Mrs. Wembley that she screamed because a nearly naked Russian man was in her bed, and find herself getting lectured further. So she quickly fabricated what she though might be a valid excuse.

"I'm sorry ma'am," Sandra explained as calmly as possible, "I know about the decibel limit as well as you do. It's just that I had a very bad dream last night, you know. Getting chased by H. R. Pufnstuf on a unicycle again..." Mrs. Wembley was still quite agitated but she took the bait. "You really need to see a therapist about that." she sneered, and then returned to her own apartment.

Sandra went back inside, only to be greeted by Vadim, digging through his bag of belongings to find something to wear for the day, still wrapped in a blanket.

"Are you okay?" he asked her, "Your neighbor is quite loud."

"Sure," Sandra replied, "Mrs. Wembley yells at me all the time, it's old hat to me. Oh, and make sure you take a shower and actually put on real clothes before you go to work for me today."

"I already planned to do that." Vadim said, walking back into Sandra's room- where the only bathroom in the apartment was located.

It was going to be another long, difficult day. Sandra was sure of it.