It was the first of the month, and I slipped the usual note under the door of several of my tenants, including Erica. She responded after lunch, knocking on the door of my office.
"It's Erica, Mary Susan. You asked to see me."
"Yes, come in and welcome."
She carefully closed the door behind her and on my invitation sat down.
"It's nothing serious," I said. "Well, it is important, but in a positive sort of way. Your father paid your bill for next month, and included some money for you." I handed her the envelope from her father. "I don't particularly like that arrangement, although I know it's the usual way things are done. I suspect your father expects me to dole it out to you a quarter at a time asking you each time what you are spending it on. I won't have that, and I regret having anything at all to do with your spending money."
"You're quite right about my father. I'm sure he expects you to monitor my spending rather closely."
"That won't do. Financial supervision of the tenants is not part of the contract. I have enough to worry about with my own finances without taking on those of others. On another subject, have you made any progress identifying our antagonist?"
"Not very much. Someone entered my room while we were on our trip to Hannibal and once again since then. It wasn't you, I don't suppose?"
"I don't enter a tenant's room without prior notice. It angers me to learn that someone else has done this. The rule is that if your door is open or unlocked, by common consent one may enter to retrieve or leave something, supposedly with permission. If your door is locked, no one should enter the room. How do you know it happened? I assume you lock your door when you are not in your room."
"I certainly do, very carefully, and every time I leave it, even to go to meals or the bath room."
She showed me the key she had on a chain around her neck. "I know that won't actually stop anybody, almost everyone's key fits everyone else's door, but it does reduce the chance of accidental or casual entry. The second time took place, I think, yesterday. Some of the things in my desk drawer were moved around. I've been very careful about that, knowing where I put things. I've been expecting this since I found out that the antigonist, as you call him, was quite possibly living in this building. What I don't know yet is why this is happening. What does anyone expect to find in my room? I am involved in no political activities here in America, and have nothing but school notes in my desk."
"In any case, I will put it to the group and possibly print something up for posting, although I hate to do that on general principles. My tenants are supposed to be above such behavior. It should not be necessary to remind them not to enter each other's rooms without permission. If I find out who it was that used a key or something to enter your room through a locked door, that person will no longer live here."
"I wish you wouldn't do that." She paused, then went on, "I would rather know who it was without warning them."
"Since we believe that someone has set himself the task of murdering you. I would think you would want that person removed from the premises."
"I want him removed," Erica said quietly, "but not necessarily in the way that you mean. The person searching my room is taking orders from the gang that murdered Klaus."
"You wish vengence rather than protection?"
I was astounded. Now I had a real problem on my hands. Erica was setting herself up for a very bad time. She is offering herself as bait in some way, and if she lives through that, then what? I didn't like the possibilities at all. The last thing I want in my peaceful little haven for young and inexperienced idealists is violence, taking any form whatever, and directed at anyone whomever.
"Promise me you won't take matters into your own hands."
What was I saying? I was asking her to offer herself as a target and then not giving her permission to defend herself.
"Promise me instead that you will consult with me before taking any action. Promise me that you will keep me informed."
I didn't like that much either, but it was better than what I had said before.
She looked at me for a long time before responding. She seemed to be sizing me up, deciding whether I could be trusted, really trusted, with whatever she was planning or planned to plan. Apparently I passed the test.
"I promise. Now you must promise to keep whatever I tell you to yourself. I can tell you this much. I will not be the innocent in this from now on."