Chapter 242

                By Dean Blaine’s standards, the agent meeting had gone well. He was always wary of that profession, having heard many a horror story from Heroes who had their images mishandled, but it was impossible to deny that some of them did make life easier on their clients. As an administrator, Dean Blaine never allowed any of the agents with unsavory reputations to set foot on his campus, however people who were respectable one year might slide down the moral scale by the next, leaving the students who had signed with them in the lurch. This meeting he considered good because nearly everyone had either found an agent they felt comfortable with or walked away with some solid leads.

                It was no surprise that after traipsing around the room, Shane had ended up returning to Lenny. He was a smart boy, and no doubt took note of how many other students swarmed Mr. Nicolo the minute his initial group broke up. Even Chad, who was catching more than a bit of woo from the various agents, had worked his way through the line to have a talk with Lenny. To the man’s credit, he’d made no promises to anyone beyond his initial group of four, stating that he had to wait until he’d visited all the schools before deciding how many new clients to take on.

                Once it was finally over, Dean Blaine was glad to be done with the session, as he had plenty more on his plate. This evening he’d have to head to Washington for another meeting with Graham and be back by morning for more school work. Technically he could take a day away from campus if needed, but that had always been a challenge for Dean Blaine. After seeing his school attacked, the very notion was preposterous. Even if some part of him knew that sooner or later Lander would have to function without him present, that was a hurdle he was putting off dealing with until it was necessary. Although that didn’t mean he wasn’t laying the groundwork.

                Professor Ariel Baker was already waiting for him in his office. Punctuality was one of her many admirable traits, as was preparedness. He saw that she had a pen and paper in hand, ready to take notes in their meeting. Hard as it was to imagine this school without him at the helm, the small moments of readiness she displayed did help ease his fears. It wasn’t that he lacked faith in Ariel, or that he would have preferred to hand the reins off to someone else. It was simply that Dean Blaine had grown accustomed to walking with the weight of this school and its students on his back, and he was unsure how he’d step forward once it was removed.

                “That was one of the better agent meetings I’ve had,” he announced, shutting the door behind him as he headed for his desk. “Be prepared for some of them to be less than cordial, or to try and sell students a bill of goods you know they won’t deliver on. There are few who really last long-term in the job, but those that do are usually excellent resources for finding out which of their colleagues are worth dealing with.”

                “Wouldn’t they try to steer you away from inviting any real competition?” Professor Baker asked.

                “The new ones would, certainly. Those who have been around for a while have learned better though. They understand the value in having an HCP dean show them some trust, and most of the truly established agents already have more Heroes wanting to be clients than they have spots to fill. For them, it’s about the quality of the client, not the quantity. Or did you not notice Mr. Nicolo playing coy?”

                The scratch of a pen running across paper briefly interrupted them as Professor Baker scrawled quick notes. “I saw. So be ready for trouble, and prepared to take action. Historically you have them publicly thrown out of the building. Is that standard HCP procedure, or just you?”

                “Sort of hard to say,” Dean Blaine replied. “It’s not exactly written down anywhere, but all the deans tend to take the same approach. Makes sure the other agents understand there are swift and immediate consequences for abusing our hospitality. When you’re the dean, you’ll be free to handle it in whatever way you deem appropriate.”

                More scratching, which Dean Blaine was well-accustomed to by now. There was no easy way to train someone on the job of being dean for an HCP. While the new deans would know the school and procedures from having worked as teachers, it didn’t change the fact that being in charge came with its own slew of challenges and tasks. The best method he’d come up with was the same one used by his own predecessor: allowing Lander’s next dean to watch his myriad of tasks, taking notes and asking questions all the while. It wouldn’t be a perfect system, there were always unforeseen issues that popped up when one was running the show instead of watching it, but it should give Professor Baker a good head start. Besides, dealing with the unexpected was a core part of a dean’s job. If he thought she couldn’t handle that, he’d have never nominated her for the position in the first place.

                “Probably won’t rock the boat my first year, but I may try a slightly more gentle approach down the line.” Professor Baker looked up from her pad at last. “Letting one of the agents have an advanced crack at several students was an interesting move, I’ve never seen you do that before. Should I expect Mr. Nicolo to request similar treatment in the years to come?”

                “I doubt it. He is nothing if not a man who understands the push and pull of favors. Even this would have been more than I might have permitted if not for the circumstances the three from Melbrook face. They will need a strong hand to guide them though, and I’ve found few agents with a reputation like Mr. Nicolo’s. If there is an agent out there who can help them, he’s the most likely candidate.”

                “Got it, so he knows it was a one-time deal,” Professor Baker said.

                With some effort, Dean Blaine suppressed a snicker. “Oh no, I’m sure he’ll want to pull a similar move in the years to come. My point is that he’s wise enough to understand such things don’t come free. He’ll try to barter favors for the privilege, like coming to speak here again. Whether he makes it worthwhile is up to you to decide. Just remember, the man negotiates professionally and is renowned for it, so be ready to dig in for a long haggle.”

                “I’ve been known to make some pretty good deals myself.” Professor Baker added a few brief words to the end of her page. “That’s all the questions I had on the agent session. What’s next?”

                From within his desk, Dean Blaine produced a single page and slid it across the desk. “What’s next is that it’s time to take you downstairs. Your conditional approval has come through, meaning you now have clearance to access some of the more protected areas where only deans are permitted. Today I have a meeting with the heads of the other HCP schools to go over details for Intramurals, and I think it’s a perfect opportunity to make introductions. Not to mention, it will let you see how much work goes into the task of coordinating Intramurals. I won’t be surprised if you withdraw your application for the job after we tackle that.”

                “Somehow, I think I’ll find the inner strength to hang on.” Professor Baker took her pen and pad as she rose, heading to the door. “Lead the way, sir.”

                Dean Blaine got up as well, motioning for her to leave and turning to firmly shut the door behind them. As he did, his eyes fell upon the empty office, his empty office. Except it wasn’t really his, just like it hadn’t belonged to any of the deans before him. It belonged to the school, and the person who headed it, which meant it was always on loan at best. One day, he’d have to come here and see Ariel’s version of the room, although deep down he knew he’d avoid that moment for as long as possible. Because when that happened, it would be the day he knew in his heart he was no longer the dean of Lander’s HCP.

                Closing the door firmly, Dean Blaine set his sights on the hallway ahead. Sentimental musings could wait until he had the spare time to indulge them. For now, there was still plenty of work that demanded the dean’s attention.