Kyle Broder has achieved his lifelong dream and is an editor at a major publishing house.
When Kyle is contacted by his favorite college professor, William Lansing, Kyle couldn’t be happier. Kyle has his mentor over for dinner to catch up and introduce him to his girlfriend, Jamie, and the three have a great time. When William mentions that he’s been writing a novel, Kyle is overjoyed. He would love to read the opus his mentor has toiled over.
Until the novel turns out to be not only horribly written, but the most depraved story Kyle has read.
After Kyle politely rejects the novel, William becomes obsessed, causing trouble between Kyle and Jamie, threatening Kyle’s career, and even his life. As Kyle delves into more of this psychopath’s work, it begins to resemble a cold case from his college town, when a girl went missing. William’s work is looking increasingly like a true crime confession.
Lee Matthew Goldberg's The Mentor is a twisty, nail-biting thriller that explores how the love of words can lead to a deadly obsession with the fate of all those connected and hanging in the balance.
FROM FAR AWAY the trees at Bentley College appeared as if on fire, crowns of nuclear leaves dotting the skyline. Professor William Lansing knew it meant that fall had firmly arrived. Once October hit, the Connecticut campus became festooned with brilliant yellows, deep reds, and Sunkist orange nature. People traveled for miles to witness the foliage, rubbernecking up I-95 and flocking to nearby Devil’s Hopyard, a giant park where the students might perform Shakespeare, or enter its forest gates at nighttime to get high and wild. William had taken a meandering hike through its labyrinthine trails that morning before his seminar on Existential Ethics in Literature. It had been over a decade since he’d entered its tree-lined arms, but today, the very day he was reaching the part in his long-gestating novel that took place in Devil’s Hopyard, seemed like a fitting time to return.
His wife Laura hadn’t stirred when he left at dawn. He slipped out of bed and closed the mystery novel propped open on her snoring chest. He often wrote early in the mornings. Before the world awoke, he’d arm himself with a steaming coffee and a buzzing laptop, the wind from off the Connecticut River pinching his cheeks. His chirping backyard would become a den of inspiration, or he’d luxuriate in the silence of Bentley at six a.m. when the only sound might be a student or two trundling down the Green to sleep off a fueled night of debauchery.
He’d been at Bentley for over twenty years, tenured and always next in line to be department chair. He refused even the notion of the position for fear it might eat into time spent writing his opus. His colleagues understood this mad devotion. They too had their sights set on publications, most of them well regarded in journals, only a few of them renowned beyond Bentley’s walls like William dreamed to be. Notoriety had dazzled him since he was a child—a time when his world seemed small and lifeless and dreams of fame were his only escape.
His colleagues often questioned him about this elusive manuscript he’d been toiling on for years, but he found it best to remain tight-lipped, to entice mystery. It was how he ran his classroom as well, letting only a few chosen students get close, keeping the rest at enough of a distance to regard him as tough and impenetrable but fair. Maybe he’d made a few students cry when a paper they stayed up all night to finish received a failing grade, or when his slashes of red pen seemed to consume one of their essays on Sartre’s Nausea, which he found trite and pedestrian; but that only made them want to do better the next time. They understood that he wanted his kingdom to be based on fear, for creativity soared in times of distress.
William’s legs were sore after his hike that morning through Devil’s Hopyard. The terrain was hilly and its jagged trails would challenge even a younger man, but he kept fit, wearing his fifty-five year old frame well. He was an athlete back in school, a runner and a boxer who still kept a punching bag in the basement and ended his day with a brisk run through his town of Killingworth, a blue-collar suburban enclave surrounding Bentley’s college-on-a-hill. He had all his hair, which was more than he could say for most of his peers, even though silver streaks now cut through the brown. He secretly believed this made him more dashing than during his youth. Women twenty years younger still gave him a second glance, and he often found Laura taking his hand at department functions and squeezing it tight, as if to indicate that she fully claimed him and there’d be no chance for even the most innocent of flirtations. He had a closet full of blazers with elbow patches and never wore ties so he could keep his collar open and expose his chest hair, which hadn’t turned white yet. He had a handsome and regal face, well proportioned, and while his eyes drooped some due to a lifetime of battling insomnia, it gave him the well-worn look of being entirely too busy to sleep. People often spoke of him as a soul who never enjoyed being idle, someone who was always moving, expounding, and expanding.
“Hi, Professor Lansing,” said Nathaniel, a tall and gangly freshman, who after three weeks into the semester had yet to look William in the eye. Nathaniel’s legs twisted over one another with each step. William guessed that the boy had recently grown into his pole-like body and his brain now struggled with how to move it properly.
“Nathaniel,” William said, wiping the sweat mustache from his top lip. He could smell his own lemony perspiration from the intense jaunt through Devil’s Hopyard. “How did your paper on The Stranger turn out?”
Nathaniel’s eyes seemed to avoid him even more. They became intent on taking in the colorful foliage, as if it had sprouted overnight.
“Well…” the boy began, still a hair away from puberty, his voice hitting a high octave, “I’m not totally sure what you meant about Meursault meeting his end because he didn’t ‘play the game’.”
William responded with a throaty laugh and a shake of his head. He placed a palm on Nathaniel’s shoulder.
“Society’s game, Nathaniel, the dos and don’ts we all must ascribe to. How, even if we slip on occasion, we’re not supposed to admit what we did for fear of being condemned. Right?”
Nathaniel nodded, his rather large Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in agreement too. He stuffed a bitten-down nail between his chapped lips and chewed away like a rat, leaving William to wonder if the boy was on some new-fangled type of speed. He liked Nathaniel, who barely spoke in class, but once in a while would give a nervous peep filled with promise. The students he paid the most attention to weren’t the heads of the lacrosse team or the stars of the theater productions, those students would have a million other mentors fawning over them. He looked for the hidden jewels, the ones who were waiting for that extra push, who’d been passed over their whole lives but would someday excel past their peers. Then they would thank him wholeheartedly for igniting a spark.
“Is that why Camus didn’t personalize the victim that Meursault killed?” Nathaniel asked, wary at first, as the two entered the doors of Fanning Hall past a swirl of other students. “So we sympathize with him despite his crime?”
William stopped in front of his classroom, its cloudy window offering a haze of students settling into their desks. He stood blocking the door so Nathaniel had no choice but to look in his eyes.
“Did you sympathize with him?”
“Yes…umm, it’s hard to penalize someone for one mistake,” Nathaniel said. “I know he shot the Arab guy, but…I don’t know, sometimes things just happen. I guess that makes me callous.”
William stared at Nathaniel for an uncomfortable extra few seconds before Kelsey, a pretty sorority girl with canary yellow hair, fluttered past them.
“Hey, Professor,” Kelsey said, without looking Nathaniel’s way. William could feel the boy’s sigh crowding the hallway.
“Come, Nathaniel, we’ll continue this debate in class.”
William led the boy into the room. The students immediately became hushed and rigid as he entered.
Nathaniel slumped into a chair in the back while Kelsey cut off another girl to get a prime seat up front.
William placed his leather satchel on the table, took out a red marker, and scribbled on the board, I didn’t know what a sin was. The handwriting looked like chicken scratch and the students had to squint a bit to decipher it; but eventually the entire class of twenty managed to correctly jot down the quote. They had gotten used to his idiosyncrasies.
“At the end of the novel, Meursault ponders that he didn’t know what a sin was,” William said. “What does that mean?”
A quarter of the class raised their hands, each one eager to be noticed. Kelsey clicked her tongue for attention, as if her desperation wasn’t obvious enough. She looked like she had to pee. In the back, Nathaniel was fully absorbed in a doodle that resembled Piglet from Winnie the Pooh.
“Nathaniel,” William barked, sending the pen flying out of the boy’s hand. Nathaniel weaved his long arms around the desk to pick up the pen and then gave a slack-jawed expression as a response.
“Why does Meursault insist to the chaplain that he didn’t know what a sin was?” William continued.
Nathaniel silently pleaded for William to call on someone else. He let out an “uuuhhhhhhh” that lasted through endless awkward seconds.
Kelsey took it upon herself to chime in.
“Professor, while Meursault understands he’s been found guilty for his crime, he doesn’t truly see that what he did was wrong.”
William turned toward Kelsey to admonish her for speaking without being called on, a nasty habit that happened more and more with this ADD-addled generation than the prior one, but a red-leaf tree outside the window captured his attention instead, its color so unreal, so absorbing. The red so vibrant like its leaves had been painted with blood.
The sound came from far away, as if hidden under the earth, screaming to be acknowledged.
Kelsey waved her arm in his direction, grounding him. She gave a pout.
“Like, am I right, or what, Professor? He doesn’t truly see that what he did was wrong.”
William cleared his throat, maintaining control over the room. He smiled at them the same way he would for a photograph.
“Yes, that’s true, Kelsey. Expressing remorse would constitute his actions as wrong. He knows his views make him a stranger to society, and he is content with this judgment. He accepts death and looks forward to it with peace. The crowds will cheer hatefully at his beheading, but they will be cheering. This is what captivates the readers almost seventy years after the book’s publication. What keeps it and Camus eternal, immortal.”
Kelsey beamed at the class, her grin smug as ever.
William went to the board, erased the quote, and replaced it with the word IMMORTAL in big block letters, this time written with the utmost perfect penmanship.
About the Author
Lee Matthew Goldberg’s novel THE MENTOR is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press in June 2017 and has been acquired by Macmillan Entertainment. The French edition will be published by Editions Hugo. His debut novel SLOW DOWN is out now. His pilot JOIN US was a finalist in Script Pipeline’s TV Writing Competition. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his fiction has also appeared in The Montreal Review, The Adirondack Review, Essays & Fictions, The New Plains Review, Verdad Magazine, BlazeVOX, and others. He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series. He lives in New York City.