Missoula by Steven Ford - HTML preview
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My wife Kathy, who probably made a terrible mistake marrying me, but stayed by my side for so many years regardless.
My daughter Lauren, a source of eternal delight. Becoming her father was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
My mother, whose enduring gentleness and sense of humor is a model for many.
My father, an imperfect, tormented man who I only understood completely after he died.
My friend Dave Patterson, who I disliked when we met in the second grade. He soon became more of a brother than a friend. Chapter 1 Welcome to Canaan
Epiphany can occur with a vision, or with the lack thereof (think of Saul on the road to Damascus). The soul can be liberated with a sound. The promise of a new future can be communicated in a single touch.
But for Jeff Louden, epiphany arrived with an aroma—the fragrance of hot roofing tar. He savored the pungent vapor as he stood on the campus of the University of Montana on a crisp September morning in 1973. Just 100 feet away an asphalt kettle boiled and sputtered as grim men in denim jackets ascended their ladders. To Jeff their stoic expressions only served to mask the depths of their despair.“Poor exploited bastards,” he whispered.
The object of their labor was the blistered rooftop of a dormitory known as Duniway Hall, an architecturally nondescript rectangle of bricks and windows that linked stately Elrod Hall to the south with Craig Hall to the east.
As Jeff paused on the concrete portico that formed Duniway’s north entrance, he turned slowly and took in the vista of the campus, the city and the mountains beyond. He was slightly disappointed with the mountains; they didn’t sport the jagged alpine peaks he had expected. Magnificent as they were, the summits that ringed the city of Missoula were rounded with pine trees and yellowish grass. In the far distance, Jeff saw at least one peak crowned with bare, gray rock, but it was the exception.
No matter. Until he and Paul Jepson had reached Wyoming on their westward journey, neither had seen mountains in the flesh. Now Jeff found himself in the bosom of the Rockies, preparing to embark on what he felt would be the greatest adventure of his life. It was his childhood dream come true—best friends together at the threshold of adulthood, far away from home and free from parents at last.
“Ow da way,” Paul Jepson mumbled as he labored up the short flight of steps. He carried a load of record albums beneath one arm and a small loudspeaker under the other. His bearded face was almost completely hidden by a sheet of paper clenched between his teeth.“Ofen da door,” was the nearest thing to speech that Paul could manage.
Jeff dutifully pulled open one of the heavy steel doors.
“So what are our room assignments?” Jeff asked.
Paul jerked his chin up sharply. “Tay it. Tay it and read.”
Jeff gingerly plucked the form from Paul’s mouth. He grimaced as he
“Hey!” Jeff cried as he quickly scanned the paper. “We’re not in the same room. Hell, we’re not even in the same hall! You’re in Craig.”
“Yep. That’s a drag, but it’s the hand we’ve been dealt,” Paul replied as he stepped aside to let another student pass. “Look on the bright side—they didn’t assign roommates. We’ll have our rooms to ourselves. Besides, Craig is attached to Duniway; I’ll be just down the hallway.”
Paul disappeared into the shadows, the sounds of his hiking boots echoing in the stairwell. “Better get your stuff out of the car,” he said. “The campus cops might give us a ticket for parking here.”
“But what about the rooms?” Jeff called out. “This isn’t what we planned. Are we going to try to change the assignments?” There was no response.
Jeff grabbed his suitcase and started up the stairs. He found his room about 15 feet down a narrow corridor made institutionally ugly through the flagrant use of brown outdoor carpeting. Dusty yellow ceiling lamps drew a dotted line of light on the fading carpet, creating an airport runway effect that stretched the entire length of the hallway.
Although it lacked visual grace, the first floor of Duniway Hall radiated warmth and welcome. All the room doors were standing open; rock music blared from dozens of stereo systems and radios. Students brushed by with their possessions piled in their arms. Everyone exchanged glances, usually followed with smiles.
A student wearing a knit wool cap atop a chaotic riot of chestnut hair squeezed past Jeff, flattening himself in exaggerated fashion against the wall.
“Excuse me,” the student said with a toothy grin. He disappeared into a room immediately adjacent to the one that the U of M Resident Hall Assignment form had decreed for Jeff.
Jeff stepped into the doorway of his new home and shook his head. Room 149 was roughly twice the size of a walk-in closet at his parent’s house. At the moment, it was furnished in a decor that might be charitably described as unpretentious. A fitful breeze stirred a set of gauzy white curtains that fluttered over a bare wooden desk and bookshelves. A single bed—little more than a mattress on a steel frame--was nestled against yellow plaster walls in the shadow of a towering pine cabinet.
Again, Jeff relished the scent of roofing tar. It was carried on the same wind that swept music and voices through the windows.
“Here I am,” he sighed. Jeff threw his suitcase on the bed and popped the latches.
“Your clothes go in the cabinet, my man,” a voice said from the behind. The knit cap student walked rapidly into Jeff’s room and peered out the windows.
“Rich Runyon, your new best friend. You’re lucky, man. You have a set of windows that actually work. Mine are painted shut. We share a delightful view of Miller Hall, though. That’s the hideous block building across the courtyard. I’ve been told it’s mostly a home for homos, but you know how rumors go.”
“Ah…hello. I’m Jeff Louden, from Indiana.”
“Damn glad to meet you Jeff Louden from Indiana,” Rich said as he pumped Jeff’s hand. His smile was dazzling—a salesman’s smile. “We’re going to have great times together.”
“Okay. Whatever you say.”
“I’m here all the way from Florida, Mr Louden. Can you believe it? I wasn’t very keen on going to college in the first place. I just needed to get away from home. My step dad was so pissed with me, he was happy to foot the bill. Strong incentive to do my best, huh?”
“Ah, sure,” Jeff stammered. “I…drove here…with my friend.”
Rich’s eyes widened. “Do tell! That would be wicked far. Thanks to my asshole step dad, I was able to fly to Missoula. I’d go nuts crawling across the continent in a car.”
“It isn’t that bad. You see, my friend…well…we’ve known each other since childhood. His name is Paul Jepson and his room is somewhere in Craig Hall. I’m a journalism major and Paul is into forestry. We were supposed to be--”
Rich suddenly placed his hand on Jeff’s shoulder. “You’re babbling, son. You must be tired and tense. Drag all your crap into the room and I’ll finish setting up my little corner of the universe. Then we’ll talk.”
Jeff spent the next hour rescuing his stereo system and other treasures from the trunk of Paul Jepson’s car, a rusting Ford Mustang that had ferried them safely across 1700 miles. He removed each loudspeaker with great care so as not to scratch the wood finish. Jeff carried the speakers to his room, wrapped in blankets like sleeping children, and placed them on the highest planks of his bookshelves.
Next came the stereo receiver and turntable, the heart and soul of his system. They too occupied places of honor on his bookshelves. Only after the stereo system was wired and checked could Jeff concern himself with less critical items such as his books, clothing and an aging Selectric typewriter.
By noon, Jeff had completely settled in. Now he could relax, sitting by the open window, listening to the Moody Blues on his stereo and watching students in the courtyard below. His door remained open so that he could also enjoy the ever-present buzz of activity in the hallway.
When his door suddenly slammed shut, Jeff leaped from his chair and bumped the turntable, sending the needle skating across the record grooves with a hideous screech. Rich Runyon was standing in the middle of the room, scowling.
“Never leave a door open when you’re about to consume illegal substances,” he said, and then smiled.
“Hash oil,” Rich replied as he pulled up a chair. “Ever try it?” Jeff shook his head.
“You need to have your horizons expanded,” Rich said as he fumbled in the pocket of his leather jacket. He soon produced a tiny spoon, the melted stub of a candle and a vial containing a thick black fluid. He placed the candle on the desk and struck a match.
“Do you think this is a good idea?” Jeff asked.
Rich froze in mid-motion with the lighted match hovering above the candlewick. “It is your room, Jeff. You call the shots. Hurry before this match burns down to my fingers.”
Before Jeff could reply, there was a knock at the door. Rich blew out the match and closed his fist around the vial.
“Come in!” Jeff said.
To Jeff’s relief, Paul Jepson strolled into the room. Rich rose quickly and grabbed his hand. “You must be the childhood buddy of my friend Jeff,” he said.
“If you say so,” Paul replied with a grin.
“I do indeed! Do you smoke hash oil?” Rich asked.
“Sure,” Paul said. “But I don’t have any.”
Rich produced the vial and wiggled it in the air between his thumb and forefinger. Paul’s eyes widened.
“Close that door, Mr Jepson, and join us.”
Soon the candle was burning and the tiny spoon was floating in the flame. The black liquid it held began to boil.
“Take your places on the bed, otherwise known as Jeff’s couch,” Rich said as he resumed his seat at the desk. “It’s show time.”
The liquid suddenly erupted in flame. Rich raised the spoon to his lips and blew out the fire with a practiced puff. Smoke billowed from the spoon.
“Hurry!” he said as he inhaled the gray smoke. Paul leaned in and eagerly drew the fumes into his nostrils. Jeff approached slowly. Rich nodded his encouragement as Jeff inhaled through his mouth.
They sat silently, holding their breaths for as long as possible. Jeff was the first to begin coughing, bending forward with a choked spasm that almost sent him to the floor. Paul slapped him on the back and laughed.
“Good man,” Rich said between coughs. “Hold that precious smoke. It’ll do you good.” He waved the spoon under their noses and again they filled their lungs and sinuses.
As the new round of coughs subsided, Jeff noticed that the omnipresent odor of roofing tar had been replaced by the sweet smell of burning hashish. He settled into the mattress with his back to the wall and watched a white haze descend from the ceiling, slowly filling his entire field of vision.
Rich and Paul were chatting, but Jeff didn’t follow their conversation. He simply watched Paul’s shoulder-length hair bouncing with every gesture. When he turned to Rich, it seemed as though his knit cap was floating on his hair, not quite touching his scalp. His deep brown eyes flashed and his teeth— his perfect teeth—seemed to gleam.
From somewhere in the distance, the Moody Blues were singing in perfect harmony. Jeff closed his eyes and found himself standing on a concert stage in a vast arena. There were spotlights in his eyes and a guitar slung low across his waist. Jeff grabbed the guitar and began ripping into “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock ‘n Roll Band,” shooting sly glances to Justin Hayward and John Lodge as he strutted about the stage. He was hot. They were hot. It was the greatest performance the Moody Blues had ever delivered.
Their time in the lights complete (to the roar of the crowd begging for more), the Moody Blues made their exit and Jeff stayed behind to jam with Johnny Winter. Before Jeff knew it, Johnny had departed as well, to be replaced by Eric Clapton, who warmly shook his hand and invited him to launch into a powerful rendition of “Layla.”
Rich Runyon slapped Jeff hard across the knee. The music abruptly stopped and the arena disappeared. Jeff sat blinking in astonishment; two hours had passed.
“Get up, Jeff,” Rich said. “We’re hungry. Aren’t you?”
“Sure,” Jeff replied. He could feel himself smiling too widely. Rich returned the smile just as broadly.
“Up,” Paul said as he gently nudged Jeff’s elbow.
“I’m moving,” Jeff answered quietly. As they entered the hallway, Rich shot past them with wide strides.
“Hang on, guys. Let me get Grady.” Paul and Jeff exchanged bemused glances. A moment later, Rich reappeared with a gaunt figure wearing what appeared to be an ankle-length gray trench coat.
“Grady Wallace, meet the gang from Indiana. These two upstanding gentlemen are Jeff and Paul.” Grady smiled with closed lips and merely nodded. Jeff thought he heard something that sounded like a grunt, but couldn’t be sure.
“Grady is a math major,” Rich continued. “Go figure!” They all laughed, except for Grady who emitted more grunts.
By the time they reached the cafeteria, it was brimming with students, hundreds of conversations taking place at once amid the sounds of colliding tableware. Paul ushered Jeff through the food line like a caretaker leading a blind man. He gestured to various types of food and Jeff obediently piled them onto his tray, smiling all the while.
They found a table and, for several minutes, fed furiously in silence. Jeff was fascinated by Grady’s mechanical eating style. He would place a forkful in his mouth, sit upright and chew, glance at his plate, then repeat the actions precisely.
“So Grady,” Jeff began, “are you from around here?”
Grady’s head pivoted in a disturbingly mechanical fashion. Jeff thought he could hear servomotors. “Yes,” he replied quietly. “My parents live about 20 miles from here in Frenchtown.”
“I see. But if your parents are in Frenchtown,” Jeff asked, “why do you live on campus? Couldn’t you just drive back and forth?”
Grady seemed to hesitate as he processed the question. “I like the campus atmosphere. I like people.”
Jeff shrugged. “Okay.”
Rich Runyon leaned across the table. “He wants to be with the cool people, the people who are going to make a difference in the world.”
Paul tossed a tuna sandwich onto his plate with a frown. “The first thing we need to do when we improve the world is improve the food in this cafeteria,” he said.
“Damn right,” Rich replied. “It’ll take time, but be patient. Over the next couple of decades, we’ll worm our way into power and shape the country to our liking—cafeterias included. Look at what’s happening in Vietnam. We took to the streets and spoke our minds. Now the war is winding down.”
“There is still Nixon and Agnew,” Paul said.
“Bumps in the road,” Rich replied through a mouthful of salad. “Nothing more.”
Jeff arranged pats of butter wrapped in paper as he listened. “I’m tired of waiting. I’m here to make a difference now, not years later,” he said at last.
Rich and Paul stopped in mid chew.
“Bullshit. You’re here for the same reason I am,” Paul said with a chuckle. “You don’t want to end up digging ditches for a living.”
“Not true,” Jeff replied without taking his eyes off his butter pats. “I’m here to make changes. That’s what the revolution is all about.”
Rich raised his eyebrows. “Whoa! Revolution? That sounds like way too much trouble and angst for me. Sorry, man, but I’m gonna play the cards I’m holding in my hands right now. That means enjoying life as it is and working to change the system from the inside, more or less.”
“And you’ll lose,” Jeff murmured. “The deck is already stacked against you.”
Grady had stopped eating and was observing the conversation with clinical fascination. “Jeff, are you a hippy?” he asked.
Everyone seemed surprised to hear Grady speak. “You didn’t notice?” Jeff answered, pointing at the hair that fell behind his shoulders.
“Hair don’t make the hippy,” Paul sneered. “And trust me, Grady. We’re no hippies—at least not the political variety.”
Jeff glanced at Paul and blushed. “That sure sounds like a departure from what we talked about on the way to Missoula. Remember?”
Paul shook his head. “I don’t recall doing that much talking myself, but I clearly remember you talking. Mile after mile you bored me to tears going on and on about how we’d join the protests, about how uplifting it would be. Well, I don’t see much protesting on this campus. Be sure to give me a heads up when it starts, though.”
Rich and Paul laughed. Grady grunted. Jeff could only shrug before returning to his butter pats.
Across the cafeteria, a glass tumbler flew off a table and struck the ceramic tile floor. It bounced once, twice then shattered. There was a round of applause.
“How idiotic,” Jeff said.
“No, no,” Rich replied. “I’ll show you idiotic.” He snatched Jeff’s butter pats and proceeded to roll them in a paper table napkin.
“What are you doing?” Jeff asked.
“Rolling a joint, a doobie, a marijuana cigarette, as they say.”
Rich displayed his cigar-like creation and Paul produced a cigarette lighter. Within seconds, the end of the napkin was aflame.
“Oh, man,” Jeff exclaimed. “You’re going to get us thrown out of here.” The orange flame began to dance in the lenses of Grady’s wire-frame glasses.
“Don’t worry, Jeff. This is what you came for, ” Paul laughed. “Hail the revolution! Burn baby burn!”
Grady leapt to his feet, clutching his tray. “I gotta go,” he announced. Rich began beating the flaming end of the butter-pat joint on the edge of the table. Burning bits of paper took to the air and floated to the floor.
By now, they had an audience and several began to applaud. Rich extinguished the napkin in the remnants of Grady’s Coke. That was Grady’s cue to exit as rapidly as possible.
Rich bowed deeply to his fans and nodded. Paul clapped enthusiastically. “Long live the revolution,” Rich shouted. “Power to the people, and various animals.”
Jeff sat back in his chair with his arms folded across his chest. “That’s pretty cute,” he muttered as the applause died and everyone returned to their meals.
“Jeff, my man, we really have to work on you,” Rich said with frown. He turned to Paul and jerked a thumb at Jeff. “How long have you known this guy?”
“Too long,” Paul said, then looked hard at Jeff. “I’m joking, man.”
Jeff nodded, but didn’t smile. “About 13 years,” he said to Rich. “We met in kindergarten.”
“Cool,” Rich replied. “It’s great to have a friend that you’ve known most of your life. Me, I go from one friend and one place to the next. Everything is temporary in life, after all. Nothing lasts.”
Rich and Paul began another animated conversation while Jeff stared into the distance. Beyond the cafeteria windows, the sun was settling into the mountains. Long shadows were already stretching into the city.
“I’m done,” Jeff said as he stood with his tray. Rich nodded and Paul stabbed an errant french fry with his fork
“What are you guys doing next?” Jeff asked.
“More drugs,” Rich replied, rolling his eyes. “Always more drugs.”
“We’ll stop by your room later,” Paul said with a dismissive wave.
With that, Jeff weaved through the gauntlet of students and made his way out of the cafeteria. He walked aimlessly through the parking lot, then eventually found himself in the green, leaf-littered expanse of the Oval commons.
The Oval was aptly named for it was literally a large oval of grass encircled and bisected by concrete sidewalks. The western end of the Oval met a stylized sculpture of a grizzly bear, the University of Montana mascot, which stood on a circular dais, glowering at passing students with its forepaws raised in angry challenge. At the eastern end stood the imposing redbrick University Hall with its bells and clock.
Revolution was supposed to be about throwing off hoary traditions, but Jeff couldn’t help but appreciate this faux Ivy League tableau. This wasn’t a truly ancient campus like Yale or Harvard, but the University of Montana still managed to project a kind of elder stateliness that Jeff found captivating.
He stood beneath a spreading maple tree and watched a pair of hang gliders as they soared from the top of Sentinel, a 2000-foot mountain that stood guard at the eastern edge of the campus. Behind towering Aber Hall, a hiking trail zigzagged its way up the side of Sentinel, ending halfway to the summit at the base of a white concrete “M” cast into the very soil of the mountain.
The sudden appearance of a woman with straight, waist-length hair interrupted Jeff’s mediation. She walked slowly past him and smiled. Jeff nodded in return. He opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing. Jeff stared with his mouth ajar and simply watched her disappear into the dusky shadows.
Jeff wandered back to his room and put the Moody Blues’ A Question of Balance on the turntable. He stretched out on his narrow unmade bed as the music merged with the oncoming night. It was only 7 o’clock, but Jeff would soon be asleep. Rich and Paul never arrived.
Chapter 2 Scott Davies
Jeff sat just beyond the edge of the Oval, trying desperately to look nonchalant. His back was supported by the rough trunk of a maple tree and its bark pressed painfully through his fatigue jacket. Jeff would shift position, wait for the pain to return, then shift again. He was highly uncomfortable, but he looked good.
Jeff was particularly proud of his fatigue jacket, with its faded sergeant chevrons on the shoulders and LOUDEN sewn above the right breast pocket. (His mother had lovingly placed the letters there for him, a fact he never disclosed.) Jeff had stumbled across his army prize at a military surplus store when he was a junior in high school. He wore it every day he could, delighting in the disapproving frowns from his teachers and the glares from the handsome jocks in their lettered athletic jackets.
Jeff was quickly discovering, however, that being a revolutionary iconoclast in college presented a different challenge. In this place, he feared that he might become just one ordinary rebellious student among many. Who was authentic? Who wasn’t? As he communed with his fellow students, he was haunted by the thought that his revolutionary credentials weren’t entirely sufficient, or worse, that no one cared.
All the students he could see—revolutionary and otherwise—were scattered about the commons, mostly sitting in groups with their books and backpacks. Some were deep in quiet concentration while others talked and laughed. No one looked his way. If Jeff was waiting for an outbreak of spontaneous protest that afternoon, he would be sorely disappointed.
He picked up his dog-eared copy of the Communist Manifesto and began idly turning the pages. It was a thin book as books go—a pamphlet, really. Still, Jeff had never been able to finish it. He struggled through one page, then decided that he wasn’t in the mood to read it (again).
He glanced up as a large shadow suddenly swept across the lawn. The triangle silhouette belonged to a hang glider with enormous canary yellow wings. The pilot banked sharply just above the trees that ringed the Oval. As the glider turned, the wing fabric rippled in the slipstream. All conversations died instantly as everyone beheld the aerial spectacle.
“He’s going to land in the Oval,” a voice said behind him. “He really doesn’t have a choice at this point.” Jeff turned to see a student dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and a blue down-filled vest. He was watching impassively with his hands stuffed deep into his pockets.
“Do they do this often?” Jeff asked.
“No. It isn’t safe.”
“Then why is he doing it?”
“Beats me,” the student said with a shrug.
The pilot glided gracefully above the maples. Jeff could see the blissful
smile on this face. One particularly tall maple loomed in his path and the pilot pulled his glider skyward. The fabric flapped madly.
“He’s stalling it,” the student said quietly. “Not good.”
Sure enough, the left wing abruptly ceased flying. The glider dipped and began a corkscrew dive.
“Fuck me!” the pilot cried as grasping branches reduced his wings to a mass of yellow rags. The pilot plunged headlong through the tree, but he was ultimately saved by the remnants of his harness. The trailing straps snagged the lower branches and brought him to an abrupt stop, leaving him dangling upside down about 10 feet from the grass.
Jeff jumped to his feet. A mass of students and campus security surged to the tree.
“He’s okay,” the student said. “A few scratches, maybe. The worst injury is to his dignity.”
“Thank God,” Jeff replied.
The student grinned and extended his hand. “Hi. I’m Scott. Scott Davies from Little Rock. Geology major.”
Jeff shook his hand quickly. The grip was surprisingly warm and firm.
“I’m Jeff Louden from Indianapolis. I’m in Duniway Hall. A good friend of mine lives in Craig.”
“Which floor in Craig?”
“Cool. That’s where I am. I’ve probably seen your friend already. What’s his name?”
“Paul Jepson. He is about my height and has a beard. He isn’t nearly as pudgy as I am, though.”
Scott chucked. “Oh, yeah. I’ve met Paul. I was on my way to his room just now.”
“Really?” Jeff said with a frown. “I thought he had a late-afternoon class.”
“Maybe it was cancelled. I saw him in the University Center about 30 minutes ago.”
“Whatever. I’m still trying to figure out the schedules. If you’re going to see Paul, mind if I tag along?”
“Works for me,” Scott grinned.
They found Paul in his room, his face buried in the pages of a textbook. His feet were propped on his desk.
“Hey, Scott!” he said when he heard them enter the room. “I see you ran into my buddy Jeff.”
“Yep,” Scott replied as he slid onto a chair. Jeff took his place on the bed. “Going to the Beach Boys concert Saturday?” Paul asked.
“I think so,” Scott answered. “I’m waiting on some cash from home. Are you going, Jeff?”
Jeff shook his head. “Not my kind of music.”
“Of course not. It isn’t revolutionary enough,” Paul said as he glanced out the window.
“To each his own,” Scott said with a smile. “By the way, there was an item in Kaimin about a Grateful Dead show coming in the spring.”
“Now that would be cool,” Jeff replied.
Paul shrugged. “Three hours of self-indulgent musical noodling. I’ll pass.”
“I thought you liked the Dead,” Jeff said.
“They do indeed,” Scott chirped. “When we’re middle-aged men, our petty concerns about music and politics will seem very silly. We’ll have other things to worry about.”
Before Jeff could respond, Rich Runyon came bouncing into the room with Grady Wallace in tow. “Gentlemen, gentlemen. I have a new invention. Jeff, jump up and close the door, please.”
As Jeff eased the door shut, Rich pulled an ancient military surplus gas mask from a drawstring bag.
“Wow!” Scott said.
“Expecting teargas?” Jeff asked. He reached for the mask, but Rich drew away.
“No, no, no. Not gas.” He held up the end of the hose, which had been fitted with a brass bowl.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Paul said with a laugh.
“Grady, take a seat.” Grady obeyed without comment. Rich pulled the mask down over the top of Grady’s head squeezed it onto his face. Grady appeared to be smiling, but it was difficult to tell.
“Comfy?” Rich asked. Grady nodded.
Rich produced a thick cellophane bag filled with marijuana. He pinched some of the dried leaves between his fingers and began stuffing them vigorously into the bowl. He struck a match and held the flame next to the leaves.
“Breathe!” Rich coaxed. “Deep breaths!”
Scott and Paul watched in wide-eyed fascination. Jeff hovered near the end of the bed, glancing out the window and expecting to see a campus security car at any moment.
The fragrance of burning leaves rapidly overwhelmed the room as smoke rose from the bowl. Soon Grady’s eyes vanished behind the mask lenses, lost in swirling gray clouds.
Grady struggled and coughed.
“Isn’t this great?” Rich shouted. Paul laughed uncontrollably while Scott simply gaped.
Tendrils of smoke leaked from the edges of the mask, curling up from Grady’s head. He looked like a heaving medusa.
Within a minute, a fist began pounding on the door. “No one’s home,” Rich called out.
“Tell me you locked the door, Jeff,” Rich whispered. “Right?”
Just as Jeff was answering in the negative, the door flew open. Steve Grindel, the Craig Hall resident advisor, stood at the threshold, his eyes wide. Grady turned, gasped and waved.
“What the hell is going on here?” Steve shouted.
Paul had gone beet red with laughter. He could barely catch his breath and speech was impossible. Scott gazed up with a placid smile, palms skyward in puzzled innocence. Jeff quickly pulled the mask from Grady’s head and shook the glowing embers out the window.
“Don’t get your underwear in a bunch,” Rich cooed as he stepped toward Steve.
“That’s pot!” Steve shouted.
“I certainly hope so,” Grady croaked.
Jeff began waving his arms in the air, trying in vain to clear the smoke.
“You’re all doing drugs!” Steve shouted again. “You know the rules.”
“Yes,” Rich said as he gently took Steve by the arm. “But you know what they say about rules.”
“Stop that!” Steve barked.
“Now you’ll have to file a report, I suppose,” Rich began with feigned dismay. “Imagine all the paperwork. The meetings. And it is so early in the school year, after all.”
“He’s right, you know,” Scott said.
Paul had finally stopped laughing. He was wiping his eyes with his sleeve.
Steve looked around room in silence. “I…I don’t ever want to smell pot in this room again,” he said at last.
Rich began to guide Steve to the door.
“You know the rules,” Steve whined.
“We do now, sir” Rich said softly.
“Not one joint in this room! Not one puff!”
“Not one,” Rich replied. Jeff stepped aside and flattened himself against the nearest wall. Rich shot him a glance and winked.
“I can’t believe you guys did this,” Steve said.
“Shocking, isn’t it?” Rich replied. Steve didn’t seem to hear him. He stepped into the hallway as if in a daze.
“The smell of the asphalt is bad enough. And now you do this.”
“Next time we’ll use air freshener,” Rich said as he began to close the door behind Steve.
The door closed softly with a click of the latch. There was a microsecond of silence, and then everyone was convulsed with laughter, including Grady. Especially Grady.
“Oh my god,” Paul said.
Grady began bouncing on the mattress. He seemed to be gazing into the distance.
“Jeff, we need music,” Rich said.
Jeff knelt and thumbed through the peach crates that held Paul’s album collection. He found Led Zeppelin’s third album and queued it up on the turntable.
Rich eased Grady down until he was prone on the mattress. He nestled Paul’s headphones over Grady’s ears and patted his forehead. “Sweet dreams.”
He turned to Jeff and smiled. “You may fire when ready, Gridley.”
Jeff set needle to vinyl. The speakers rumbled, then exploded with “The Immigrant Song.”
“We come from the land of the ice and snow!” Grady cried hoarsely. Rich placed his forefinger on Grady’s lips. Grady smiled and nodded.
“Here,” Paul said as he shoved a tube into Grady’s hands.
“What is it?” Rich asked.
“A kaleidoscope,” Paul answered as he positioned Grady’s hands to hold the tube over Grady’s left eye. Paul twisted the end of the tube and Grady grinned. Grady soon took over and began twisting furiously.
“Huh. Huh,” he grunted.
Paul returned to his seat and lit a cigarette. “That’ll keep him out of trouble for a while.”
Rich examined the gas mask and frowned. “Grindel is right about one thing. I don’t know what the hell we were thinking. This thing is useless.”
“What do you mean ‘we’?” Scott asked.
“My partners in crime, of course! You can’t say you weren’t enjoying the show.”
“The show could have gotten us kicked out of the dorm,” Jeff said.
Paul chuckled. “Didn’t I hear you bring up the prospect of us being teargassed, Jeff? That seems a step or two above the threat of being kicked out of a dorm.”
“I was talking about possibilities. You never know when the cops will decide to use stronger stuff to keep the students quiet.”
“Sheesh,” Paul replied. “I don’t think campus security even has teargas.”
“Nonetheless,” Rich interrupted with a wave of his arm, “this antique is surplus to our needs.” He tossed the mask out the window. It landed on the sidewalk with plop.
Jeff turned to Scott. “Have you been to any of the dorm parties?”
“There was an serious party in Knowles Hall last night. I think they had about 200 people crammed onto the second floor.”
“You were there?”
“Paul and I were there too. How did we miss you?”
Scott folded his hands in his lap and smiled. “I’m not obnoxious when I socialize. I find the beer, draw a healthy glassful, then slink into a corner to watch the action.”
“You party incognito,” Rich said.
“That’s right,” Scott chuckled. “I’m always incognito. In fact, I conduct my life incognito.”
Paul drew on the cigarette and attempted to blow a smoke ring. “I like the way Scott thinks. He is a very smooth operator; you can tell that already.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Scott said and rose from the chair. “Guys, I need to head over to the University Center and grab a snack. Maybe shoot some pool, too. Anyone want to come with me?”
Paul shook his head and picked up his book.
“I’d better stay with Grady,” Rich replied.
“Come on, Jeff,” Scott said as he pinched the sleeve of his jacket. “You aren’t doing anything.”
Jeff glanced at Paul. “Paul, what do you think about--”?
Paul shook his head without looking up from the pages.
Jeff and Scott shared the remains of a small joint as they crossed the Oval in twilight. If Jeff had been uncomfortable with smoking marijuana in Paul’s room, he was downright paranoid in the middle of the Oval. His eyes darted to every movement, looking for the telltale silhouette of a campus security cop.
For his part, Scott seemed totally at ease. Jeff tried to walk faster, hoping that Scott would quicken his pace as well, but Scott refused. He would slow to a shuffle, take a drag on the loosely rolled joint, then pass it to Jeff as he smiled and strained to hold his breath.
To Jeff’s dismay, Scott stopped suddenly at the center of the commons where four sidewalks joined. There was a raised medallion cast in concrete with a hand holding a flaming torch. It gleamed dully in the reflected lights.
“Lux et veritas,” Scott said as he pointed to the inscription. “Do you know what that means?”
Jeff shook his head.
“Light and truth. I like the sentiment, don’t you?”
Jeff shrugged. “I never thought about it.”
“Well you should,” Scott replied. The clock bells in the University Hall began to toll.
Jeff nodded quickly. The bells added to his growing agitation. Scott stared at him for a moment, seeming to sense that Jeff was nearing panic—which he was. To Jeff’s relief, Scott turned and continued their journey.
“Why are you here, Jeff?” Scott asked as they slipped into a small grove of trees that separated the Oval from the University Center.
“To eventually become a journalist.”
“Really? Good for you. What made you pick the University of Montana, of all places?”
Jeff was silent for a moment. “They have a respected journalism school.”
“True, but there are others. Probably closer to Indiana, too. Why here?”
“Exotic? Compared to Indiana this must be like another planet.”
“Well, no. I mean, my friend Paul--”
“Your childhood friend.”
“Yeah, he wanted to come here to study forestry.”
Scott nodded silently as they stepped into the glow of the floodlights at the University Center. “So you came because Paul came,” he said.
“That’s not the only reason. This is a wonderful place.”
“Oh, I agree,” Scott said with a grin. “Just take a stroll down to the Clark Fork River some day and park yourself on the old pedestrian bridge. Where else could you walk to the edge of a college campus and revel in the pleasures of a mountain stream? It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts down there, let me tell you.
“And the women at U of M are fabulous, of course. Some of them have that cooing little accent that sounds vaguely Canadian. My sincerest dream is that I’ll soon have one of those delightful Montana ladies whispering into my ear in the private darkness of my dorm room.”
Jeff didn’t respond.
“Are you in a relationship yet?” Scott asked.
“Why do you ask? Is there some kind of deadline?”
“Not at all, but the pairing will soon begin, you know. I think that’s what the parties are really about. I mean, have you been chatting up any women at the beer-infused gatherings?”
“No. I usually prefer conversations that are more serious. I like talking politics.”
“I see. Do you know the Beatles tune ‘Revolution’?”
“Remember the line, ‘But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow’?”
“Yes,” Jeff replied flatly. “What are you getting at? Are you saying I drive women away?”
Scott clutched Jeff’s shoulder in mock surprise. “Easy boy! No offense meant. I just mean that there should be moderation in all things. It’s a philosophy that might serve you well, especially at those parties.”
They paused just outside the Center entrance. A steady rock ‘n roll backbeat was throbbing through the glass. “You know,” Scott said, “you should only do things because you want to do them. Trust your gut. Don’t try to be something you’re not. ”
Jeff stiffened. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Are you sure? Maybe you should think about it over a cheeseburger.”
“It’s getting chilly,” Jeff replied as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“True. Open the door.”
Jeff reached for the metal handle, but Scott slapped his arm away.
“What were we just talking about, man? What if I had told you to pick your nose? Would you do it?”
Jeff smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Scott.”
Chapter 3 C’est Vrai
Jeff awoke to the sound of sleet pecking at his window. It wasn’t even Halloween, but that fact didn’t prevent an early arrival of winter.
Pulling the comforter to his chin, he turned away from the clock radio as Elton John’s “Elderberry Wine” blasted from its tinny speaker. Jeff loved the song at any other time, but not now.
He really didn’t enjoy alcohol and would never drink it on a weekday night. Last night was an exception, though. Rich Runyon had burst into his room while he was studying, demanding that Jeff accompany him to the Cavern, a seedy bar and ersatz music venue in downtown Missoula. Jeff had agreed just to shut him up.
It was a long, chilly walk to the Cavern. Rich had assured him that the Missoula busses were still running between campus and downtown that evening, but, of course, he had been overly optimistic. With every step they took, Jeff prayed to see a bus looming suddenly of the darkness. When he expressed this hope to Rich, he responded by bursting into a highly irritating rendition of the Who’s song “Magic Bus.” He sang it like a marching chant as they trudged through the campus neighborhoods. No busses appeared, magical or otherwise.
Despite the rundown appearance of the Cavern, Jeff was relieved to finally step through the door and into its warmth, saturated as it was with the stench of cigarettes and beer. As they strolled past the bar, Rich shouted and waved to several people. Whether they really knew him was unclear. Some returned smiles while others frowned. Rich stopped long enough to swap small talk with the bartender and grab a couple of beers.
The tables surrounding the stage were surprisingly full, which Jeff did not expect. He had assumed the Cavern was a watering hole and little else. Rich pointed to a table immediately front of a stack of loudspeakers. The lone occupant was an elderly Blackfoot Indian. As they approached, Rich clapped the old man on the shoulder and loudly introduced himself. If the man responded, Jeff didn’t hear it.
Rich was undeterred. He sent Jeff to the bar to fetch a shot of tequila for their new companion. The old man sat bewildered at Jeff’s side, nursing the tequila unenthusiastically.
“How is it?” Jeff ventured.
“Tastes like cat piss,” the man growled.
A jazz trio calling themselves the Phourx began playing an improvisation of “Days of Wine and Roses.” This, as it turned out, was Rich’s reason for trekking to the Cavern in the first place. The Phourx were comprised of students Rich had met at a dorm party the weekend before. He clapped wildly at the end of their first number, and the Indian used the opportunity to escape to the bar.
The trio began an original piece they called “You Could Have Been Scriabin” and dedicated it to Rich Runyon. When the Phourx bassist launched into a vigorous solo, a young woman jumped from her seat and ran to the edge of the stage. She began gyrating and thrusting her hips at the band, oblivious to everyone else.
“Good god,” Jeff muttered as he reached for another drink.
“Enjoy the show!” Rich shouted above the music. “That’s Madame Bump and Grind. She is here almost every night. I thought the girl was an epileptic at first. Turns out she’s just a lunatic!”
Jeff decided to seek refuge from the deafening music and disturbing visuals in a long string of rum and Cokes. An hour later, the room was spinning and he was under the table—literally. He recalled seeing a strange pair of legs just inches from his face. They disappeared, only to be followed by another pair. The frantic music never stopped. To Jeff, every song sounded the same.
Eventually, Rich guided Jeff out of the Cavern and shoved him into a waiting cab. Jeff remembered seeing Rich’s smile fading into the night like a Cheshire Cat as the reeking taxi lurched away from the curb. Madame Bump and Grind was at Rich’s side, clutching his arm and staring vacantly at the sky.
The driver woke him when they reached campus. Jeff couldn’t operate the door handle, so the cabbie glumly pulled him from the car and left him lying on the sidewalk. Jeff couldn’t remember how long he had lain on the concrete. When the cold finally seeped through his clothes, he arose, muttered several curses and staggered into Duniway Hall.
Now, as Jeff lay sorting through scattered memories of the night’s events, his temples pounded and his stomach churned. He seriously considered blowing off his first class of the day, but decided against it. Instead, he slapped the OFF button on the top of the radio and struggled to a sitting position with a groan. The soles of his feet stung when they met the chill of the tile floor.
“Lord have mercy,” he said aloud.
The bathroom and showers were just 20 feet away, but to Jeff it was a journey of a thousand steps. He walked as quickly as possible under the circumstances and was relieved to see that he was alone when he opened the door to the shower room. Even after two months on campus, he was still uncomfortable with the idea of communal bathing. There was something about appearing nude in front of other people that set his teeth on edge.
Jeff grimaced as he stood in the shower stall. The Duniway showers weren’t blessed with the round shower heads Jeff had known at home, the kind that spewed placid streams of soothing water. No, these were strictly functional nozzles that shot high-pressure spray with all the grace and gentleness of a fire hose. Jeff opened the valves and stifled a scream as the water tore at his tingling flesh.
At the end of the torture session, Jeff opened the shower curtain and gasped at the sight of a stark-raving naked Grady Wallace. Grady was standing in front of Jeff’s stall like a bizarre version of Michelangelo’s David. His straw-colored hair was pointing in every direction.
“Rough night?” Grady asked.
Jeff snatched up a towel and quickly wrapped it around his waist. “Yeah. You?”
“Nope. Playing my bongos.”
Jeff forced a small laugh. “Don’t play them this morning or I’m liable to wrap them around your head.”
“Huh huh,” Grady grunted. Jeff turned away and began combing his hair, but Grady seemed frozen in place.
“Showers are all yours,” Jeff said. “Pick any one.”
“Are they warm?”
Jeff glanced at Grady’s reflection in the mirror. “Warm enough,” he replied with a frown. “Aren’t they always?”
“I guess so.”
“Well, you’d better get moving. People see you just standing around like that and they’ll think you’re a homo.”
“Huh,” Grady replied with a grin.
At last, Grady chose his shower and stepped into the stall. Jeff made quick work of brushing his teeth and bolted through the door.
Jeff’s duty on Wednesday mornings was to make sure that Paul was awake and ready for Introduction to Anthropology. As always, when he reached Paul’s room, Jeff didn’t bother to knock. Instead, he threw open the door with as much malice as he could muster, deliberately allowing it to smash into the opposite wall.
“Aw, man,” Paul moaned.
Jeff tore apart the curtains, allowing the gray morning light to stream into the room. Paul lay in his bed like a vampire in a casket, shielding his eyes from even the slightest reminder that a sun existed somewhere above Missoula’s clouds.
“Go to hell,” he said.
“Already there,” Jeff replied with the sound of the door still ringing painfully in his ears. Paul tried to roll into his sheets, but Jeff ripped them away. He pulled Paul to his feet with surprising ease and noticed that he was still wearing his jeans and T-shirt from the night before.
“I love you,” Paul said with a smile, just inches from Jeff’s face. The odor of pot and stale tobacco scalded his nostrils.
“I love you too, man. We gotta go.”
Paul stretched and vigorously scratched his ass. “Not enough sleep,” he muttered.
“Too bad. This is the course you thought would be so fascinating to attend at 8 AM.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Paul said. He clumsily searched the room and eventually located his notepad, coat and a pack of cigarettes. With coats zipped and ready, they stood together before the window in silence, watching the sleet turn to snow.
“Fuck this,” Paul said with a sigh. “You shouldn’t have followed me to Missoula, my friend.”
“I don’t suppose there is a college in Florida we could have attended?”
“Nah. I wanted to go after a degree in forestry,” Jeff replied as he waved his hand at the trees. “Lots of that kind of thing here.”
They leaned into the bitter wind and slowly made their way across campus. As they neared their destination, another pair of figures emerged from the swirling snow and joined them. A sideways glance told Jeff that they were women—one tall with short, black hair, the other small and somewhat stocky with wisps of long blonde hair flying in the breeze. Wool mufflers obscured both faces.
Under the shelter of the lecture hall entrance, they all stamped their feet and brushed the snow from their clothes. The muffler fell away from the face of the diminutive blonde, revealing large blue eyes set in a creamy complexion. Jeff couldn’t help but stare.
Paul took a stack of books from the brunette as she struggled with her oversized coat. “Don’t you hate this?” he asked.
“Not really,” the brunette replied. “I was born and raised in Montana. This is nothing.”
“C’est vrai,” the blonde said with a shrug.
“Say what?” Jeff asked.
The blonde regarded him with a smirk that was either bemusement or contempt. Jeff hoped for the former.
“It’s French, meaning ‘it is true.’ C’est vrai.”
“Oh. I see. Do you live on campus?” Jeff asked. He knew he had just uttered something close to a non sequitur, but he wanted to stoke the conversation and didn’t know what else to say.
The blonde frowned slightly. “Of course. Knowles Hall. You?”
“I’m in Duniway. My friend Paul hangs out in Craig.”
“Paul,” the brunette said. “I’ve seen you somewhere.”
“Probably at a party,” Paul replied. “I went to one in Knowles last weekend.”
The brunette rolled her eyes. “That was hideous. Too many people and too much beer. Some guy fell down a flight of stairs and broke his jaw.”
“Wasn’t me,” Paul said with a grin. “By the way, I’m Paul Jepson, from Indiana. That’s Jeff Louden, also late of the Hoosier State.”
“Fine,” the brunette nodded. “I’m Leigh Simmons and this is Audrey Harris.”
“I’m from Detroit,” Audrey added. “If it matters.”
A bell chimed in the hallway. Jeff winced against the sudden pain.
“Time to go,” Paul announced.
They shuffled into the cavernous auditorium along with a few dozen sleepy students. Jeff did his best to stay beside Audrey as they made their way to the their seats. The girls liked to sit closer to the front than he preferred (you were more easily noticed by the professor if you fell asleep), but Jeff decided that he wouldn’t mind this time.
The professor in charge of Introduction to Anthropology paced back and forth behind the podium. He was an emaciated, elderly man wearing blackframe eyeglasses with unbelievably thick lenses. Jeff had heard that the sun had damaged the professor’s eyesight while he was fleeing the Communist Chinese through the Gobi desert. Or was he running from the Nazis in the Alps?
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” the professor began. “It’s time to get down to business. I want to continue our discussion of human evolution with a sidetrack into the mysterious and steamy jungle of human sexuality. It is a brief sojourn that I’m sure you’ll all enjoy.” Staccato laughs echoed through the room.
“NSR,” the professor said, his voice rising, “sets us apart from the rest of the primate family. NSR is…what? Anyone?”
Audrey waved her hand.
“You!” he stabbed a gnarled finger at Audrey.
“Noncyclical Sexual Receptivity,” she called out.
The professor nodded. “Very good. The ability of the female to have sex whenever she desires. No estrus. No ‘heat.’ An alternative way to state this unusual condition would be to say that the human female does not experience a distinct period of estrus because she is in a state of constant estrus. Precious few other species' females could hold a candle to the human female in this department. No other species has so definitively uncoupled sex and reproduction as the human line.”
“That’s impressive,” Jeff whispered.
Audrey shrugged. “It’s right in the assignment, if you read it.”
“NSR,” the professor continued, “coupled with face-to-face intercourse, another trick almost unknown to other primates, may have created the social glue that started us down the path to the pyramids and the Parthenon.”
“Face-to-face intercourse is a fine trick when you can get it,” Jeff muttered, then instantly regretted it. Audrey shot a withering glance, but then smiled. Jeff returned the smile with a blush.
Jeff was quietly thrilled when Leigh and Audrey accepted Paul’s invitation to breakfast at the end of the lecture. At the cafeteria, Paul dominated the conversations while Jeff tried to chew through a stack of pancakes with feigned pleasure. His stomach was still painfully uncooperative.
He sat opposite Audrey, who seemed to spend considerable time staring at the crowds of students. She barely touched her ham and eggs.
“There is a meeting of the Students for a Democratic Society in the University Center this evening,” Jeff said. “Will you be there?”
Audrey frowned. “I don’t have time for that stuff.”
“Oh,” Jeff replied as he put down his fork. Paul and Leigh seemed to be engaged in a rapid-fire discussion about the music of Ten Years After. Jeff decided to try Audrey again.
“How do you feel about the Vietnam war?”
“It sucks. I hope it ends soon.”
“Well…thank god we’re here rather than wading through some leechinfested swamp, eh?”
Audrey smiled thinly and tilted her increasingly gorgeous head to one side. “C’est vrai.”
“So, what is your major?” Jeff asked.
“Sociology,” Audrey replied as she poked distractedly at her eggs.
“Cool. Mine is journalism.”
“Do you…have any favorite classes?” Jeff stammered.
“Only the ones that don’t meet so early in the morning,” Audrey said without looking up. She peered at her wristwatch and sighed.
“Leigh,” she said. “We have to beat feet. Spanish in 15 minutes.”
“Will I see you again?” Jeff asked as Audrey stood and pulled on her coat.
“I don’t know. Will you?” she said at last.
“I hope so. Maybe I’ll stop by Knowles Hall.”
“Okay,” Audrey said with a shrug. They quickly melted into the breakfast crowd and were gone.
Paul stabbed his fork at the space Leigh had formerly occupied. “I could do something with that lady.”
“Yeah. We could spend a lot of time joined at the hip. I like her.”
“Audrey is cool, too.”
“Yeah. A bit of a fireplug, though. She could shed a few pounds.”
Jeff frowned. “Bullshit. She’s fine the way she is.”
“Whatever works, Jeff. You think she’s hot for you?”
“Not sure,” Jeff grinned. “I hope so.”
“Jeff’s in love!” Rich Runyon shouted as he clapped Jeff on the back. Jeff jumped from his chair, sending it skittering across the floor.
“God, I wish you wouldn’t do that!” he snapped. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Long enough to hear. Your secret is safe with me.”
Paul laughed as Jeff retrieved the chair and returned to his breakfast.
“Make it home okay last night?” Rich asked as he tossed his books on the table.
“Yeah,” Jeff replied as he chewed halfheartedly. “Thanks.”
Paul looked at Jeff with raised eyebrows. “You guys went out?”
“Did we ever!” Rich answered before Jeff could reply. “My friend Jeff and I stormed the Cavern to take in the Phourx. Great jazz from some guys who live in Aber Hall. We had a fine time, but I think Jeff had a bit too much fire water.”
Paul laughed. “Jeff? Drunk? It’s a sign of the apocalypse.”
“Poor guy spent a lot of time checking out the dry chewing gum under our table.”
“You should know better,” Paul said as he shook his head. “You and mind-altering substances never get along.”
“Enough!” Jeff said as he held up his hand. “Let’s talk about something else.”
“Well,” Rich began as he picked up a nearby sugar dispenser, “I have something interesting to show you.”
“Not another butter joint,” Paul said.
Rich waved the dispenser in the air like a wand. “What you see here is an ordinary jar of sugar, the type found in almost any diner. Note the fine cylindrical shape. That’s important.”
“Why?” Jeff sighed.
“Well, with a basic cylinder like this, the top looks much like the bottom when you remove the cap.” Rich unscrewed the stainless-steel lid and set it aside. He plucked a napkin from the table, draped it over the top of the jar and held it tightly.
“Follow closely,” he said with a wide grin. In a single quick motion, Rich flipped the jar and placed it upside down on the table. He withdrew the napkin carefully, then blew away any sugar granules that remained. With a triumphant flourish, he propped the cap on what was now the top of the sugar jar.
“Oh man!” Paul giggled.
Jeff shook his head. “Rich, when someone picks up the sugar, it will all spill out the bot--”
“Yes indeed! They’ll have an instant avalanche of sweetness!” “But why?”
“I don’t know,” Rich answered as he bounced out of his chair. “Because something compels me.”
Paul lowered his head and spoke in a stage whisper. “People are coming this way and I see coffee or tea on at least one tray. This would be a good time to leave.”
“Adios!” Rich called out as he skipped toward the door. Jeff and Paul hastily grabbed their books and followed.
“Slow down,” Paul whispered. “Just a moment.”
Jeff opened his anthropology textbook and pretended to search through the pages. “Find what you’re looking for?” Paul asked with mock concern.
Jeff glanced back at the table. “Not quite yet.”
“Start heading for the exit,” Paul said.
The steel doors opened with a blast of cold air and stinging snow. “Shit!” someone yelled. “Who fucked with the sugar? God damn it!”
The doors closed on a roar of applause.
Chapter 4 KRAP
At first, there was a rumble like distant thunder in the dormitory hallways. Then came the shouts.
Paul threw down his book and leaped for the door. Jeff was close behind. Paul took one step into the hallway, then stumbled backward just in time. A stream of humanity, filling the entire width of the hall and extending out of sight around the corner into Duniway, shot past their door at breakneck speed.
“Jesus!” Paul cried.
They waited for the mob to pass, then joined it at the tail end, running as fast as possible to keep up. The screaming testosterone-fueled multitude burst through the lobby doors and fanned out across the field between Craig Hall and the distant journalism building.
Jeff and Paul tried an end-run around the crowd to get a glimpse, but were rewarded with only the dwindling bare backsides of three fleeing women.
“Shit,” Paul spat.
Jeff bent over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Grady Wallace approaching in his trademark trench coat.
“I missed everything,” Grady said.
“You missed a nice trio of butts,” Jeff sighed. “Nothing more.”
“When you have naked women on campus, Grady, you can’t waste time buttoning your coat,” Paul added.
“But it’s cold,” Grady replied softly.
Paul laughed and pointed in the direction the women had gone. “Not cold enough, apparently!”
An orange Frisbee sailed over Grady’s head and he caught it in a surprisingly graceful movement. “Who does this belong to?” Grady called.
“Here!” Rich Runyon shouted. “All the way, Grady!”
Grady dropped to a half crouch and let the Frisbee fly. Rich was at least 50 yards away, but the Frisbee flew directly into his outstretched arms.
“Wow, Grady,” Jeff said. “Where’d you ever learn to throw a Frisbee like that?” Grady only shrugged and smiled.
“Well, hells bells,” Paul spat. “I can’t believe we missed the show. I’m sure they aren’t going to make another pass.”
“Not likely,” Jeff replied.
The rest of the crowd was giving up hope of a repeat performance as well. They began filing back into Craig Hall, disappointment written on many faces.
“I’m not going to stand out here playing Frisbee,” Paul said. “I have a riveting textbook to read.”
Paul returned sullenly to his room, Rich disappeared with his Frisbee, but Jeff and Grady chose to linger in the Craig Hall lounge. They shared a couch that faced floor-to-ceiling windows and Mount Sentinel beyond.
“Have you ever streaked?” Grady asked.
“No. And never will. You?”
Grady smiled. “No, but I’m thinking about it.”
“Are you serious?”
“Huh,” Grady grunted. “It would be cool. You should do it, too. Women love it.”
“I’m not sure about that,” Jeff replied. “When guys streak around campus, I don’t usually see stampeding women at their heels.”
“Hey,” Scott Davies said as he strolled into view. “This looks like a couple of sexually frustrated gents trying to cool their ardor.”
“Huh,” Grady grunted again.
“I hear that I missed something important,” Scott said.
“Oh, highly important,” Jeff replied with a grin.
Scott nodded and sat cross-legged on the floor in front of them. He gathered his hair into a ponytail and secured it with a rubber band in one smooth motion. “While you guys are floating back down to reality, I want to share something with you.”
“A joint?” Grady asked.
“Not hardly,” Scott chuckled. “It’s something I picked up in Philosophy 101 this afternoon. First, some questions. What time is it?”
Jeff glanced at his wristwatch. “Five minutes past three.”
“Okay. Is this the past, present or future?”
“Present,” Grady replied.
“What is the present, Grady? Define it.”
Grady frowned. “The present is now.”
Scott nodded. “What is ‘now’?”
“Now is…” Grady paused to look at the wall clock behind them, “six minutes after three.”
Scott turned to Grady. “How long do you think it took for the light to reflect off the hands of the clock, reach your eyes and be recognized as an image in your brain?”
“I don’t know.”
“Let’s say it’s a delay of a millionth of a second,” Scott offered. “So I ask again, what is ‘now’?”
Grady ran his hands through his matted hair and sighed. “Now is when I told you the time.”
“But that was a minute ago,” Jeff said, smiling.
“No, I mean at the instant I told Scott what time it was.”
“But Grady,” Scott began, “what about the time it took your brain to process what the clock was showing you, and the time necessary for you to speak your words to me? What about the time it took for the sound of your voice to reach my ears? Among all those different spans of time, where is now?”
Grady’s normally pale cheeks seemed to redden. “Are you trying to say that there is no such thing as ‘now’?”
Scott nodded. “It’s even more profound than that. I’m trying to tell you that you can never step in the same river twice. The idea of a ‘present’ is an illusion. Reality is continually in flux. You’re not even the same person you were a second ago. All the electrons in all the atoms in your body have changed position since then. Incredible, isn’t it? The question of who we really are at any given moment is always up for grabs!”
“Bullshit!” Grady snapped as he bolted to his feet.
“What’s wrong?” Jeff asked.
“This is stupid bullshit,” Grady repeated.
“You’re right,” Scott said. “It really is just bullshit. Why don’t you sit down and--”
“Fuck you,” Grady barked and quickly walked away.
“Wow,” Jeff said with a whistle. “What was that about?”
Scott frowned and stared as Grady disappeared up the stairs. “I don’t know. I didn’t mean to piss the guy off. Something about the discussion really got to Grady. God only knows.”
Jeff shook his head. “Grady is weird.”
“Oh, he may be hauling some unusual mental baggage, but Grady is basically a good guy. I just need to remember never to discuss philosophy around him!”
“Hey,” Jeff said, “Wanna see something cool?”
“Why not?” Scott answered with a shrug.
Jeff led Scott to his room and proudly unveiled his latest creation. To Scott it was little more than a tangle of wire nesting atop Jeff’s stereo receiver. Another wire arced upward from the electronic clutter and crossed the curtain rods above the windows.
Scott chuckled. “I have no idea--”
“You are gazing upon K-R-A-P.”
Jeff laughed. “KRAP—the Duniway Hall FM alternative.”
“I don’t understand.”
“This,” Jeff pointed at the wires and hardware, “is what is known as an FM wireless microphone. I picked it up at Radio Shack, chopped off the microphone part and wired the transmitter directly into an audio output on the back of my stereo amplifier. The wireless mike is wireless because it creates a radio signal on the FM band.”
Jeff pointed to a black case the size of a small book. “This little gem takes the tiny FM radio signal from the microphone and kicks it up quite a few notches, about 10 watts, in fact. So, all the sound that goes through my stereo also goes out over the airwaves on 88.5 on your FM dial.”
Scott gaped. “You mean it’s a pirate radio station?”
“Yep. The people’s radio.”
“How cool! Is it on?”
Jeff grabbed a small square battery and snapped it into a dangling clip. A tiny red light on the transmitter began to glow. “It is now. Pick an album.”
Scott rummaged through Jeff’s meager collection and found T-Rex Electric Warrior. Jeff threw it on the turntable, switched on the stereo and picked up another small microphone that had once belonged to a cassette tape recorder.
“Students of the world unite!” Jeff shouted. “This is KRAP radio, the FM alternative for Duniway Hall. Music for the proletariat!” He lowered the needle to the record and toggled. Marc Bolan’s wispy voice filled the room.
Scott clapped his hands and cackled. “Oh, that’s wonderful!”
“But what do you really think?”
“I’m serious. FM radio in Missoula is essentially awful. This will help mucho grande.”
Jeff parted the curtains and peered out the window. “I don’t know how far the signal goes. It probably covers most of the campus. The only problem is that it’s mono.”
“That’s okay, my man. Most students have their speakers crammed so close together, they can’t tell if they are listening to stereo or mono anyway. Believe me, this is far better than nothing.”
Later that evening, Jeff discovered that less talk and more music was the best approach. He had begun KRAP’s broadcast schedule by reading the Communist Manifesto aloud, but the Manifesto turned out to be even more boring spoken than it was read. Jeff made it as far as the second page this time, but he found himself desperately seeking a reason to stop. When Marx or Engels (who was it, anyway?) stopped ranting long enough to require a paragraph break, Jeff delicately lowered the needle to the first groove of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Trilogy.
“Whew!” he sighed as he switched off the microphone.
It was obvious to Jeff that he wouldn’t be able to find enough inspiring revolutionary reading material to fill the gaps between records. So, when side one of Trilogy ran its course, Jeff simply shared his opinions on the news of the day while he flipped the record and queued it up again. Short and sweet.
KRAP wasn’t Radio Moscow, but Jeff had a feeling that his little radio station was a rising star. With so little to hear in the way of rock ‘n roll FM radio in Missoula, Jeff thought KRAP might serve as a peanut-whistle beacon in the darkness, even without dual-channel stereo audio. Students would return from dinner, switch on their radios, scan the FM band as they always did and—surprise!—find KRAP. As it turned out, Jeff was right.
At Scott’s suggestion, Jeff began announcing his telephone number during the album-changing sessions. Thirty minutes later, the telephone rang with a song request. Another followed within 10 minutes.
The rapidly expanding listening audience turned into a mixed blessing, though. If studying was difficult before, it was impossible now. Jeff was juggling albums, answering the telephone and trying desperately to finish his reading assignment.
When the phone rang for the fifteenth time, Jeff cursed. “Hello?”
“I have an announcement I’d like to put on the air.”
Jeff reached for his pen and paper. “Okay. What is it?”
“There is going to be a party this evening.”
“Where?” Jeff’s pen was poised.
“In your pants, fool!”
“Jeff, it’s Rich Runyon. Don’t you recognize me?”
Jeff groaned. “Now I do.”
“I’m serious. There is a party on this very floor tonight. You’re the minister of party propaganda. Open your door, put out the word on KRAP and crank it up! Gotta go see a man about a record. Love ya madly! Bye!”
Jeff stared at the handset, then hung it up. For a moment, he seemed lost. “This is not what KRAP was supposed to be about,” he said aloud.
He reluctantly picked up the microphone and interrupted the record. “Okay. The soundtrack of the revolution is suspended for the evening. This is an important announcement. A party is starting on the first floor of Duniway Hall, right outside KRAP studios at room 149. Everyone is invited.”
Jeff gripped the microphone and sighed. “Aw, hell,” he said at last. “Fuck the revolution for now. Let’s party.”
Rich Runyon’s scream reverberated through the hallway. “Crank! It! Up!”
Jeff set the needle down at the beginning of the Rolling Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil” and turned up the speakers until the walls began to tremble. Mick Jagger was still ramping up when Paul and Grady rolled a keg of beer into Rich’s room. The sweet fragrance of burning marijuana began creeping down the corridor.
“Hoo hoo!” Grady sang in chorus with the Stones. “Tell me baby! What’s my name?”
Arriving students quickly formed a conga line, snaking through the rooms and screaming “hoo hoo” while splashing beer from overfilled plastic cups. Friday night was officially underway.
Song requests were still coming in by telephone and now they were also arriving in the form of shouts and screams from the hallway. Jeff juggled albums as best he could while Rich kept him well supplied with beer and the occasional joint. Neither of these helped Jeff keep the flood of requests straight in his memory, but his on-air patter improved remarkably.
An hour later, Paul tapped him on the shoulder. Jeff turned and found himself facing Audrey Harris and Leigh Simmons.
“Whoa! Hi!” he said.
“Evening,” Leigh replied. Audrey just smiled.
“I found these two wondering around lost,” Paul said. “I think they need beers.”
“C’est vrai,” Audrey chirped.
Jeff handed them cups overflowing with white, foaming heads. Audrey held her cup at arms length and waited for the bubbles to subside.
“How long has this been going on?” Leigh shouted over a blast of music.
“Not long enough,” Jeff shouted in reply. “Let’s go somewhere else.”
They navigated a maze of students by Jeff’s door, deftly dodging spilled beer and lighted cigarettes, before ducking into the relative peace of Rich Runyon’s room. They found Rich frantically searching a chest of drawers while Scott paged through a book of Renaissance poetry.
“Rich,” Paul called, “meet Audrey Harris and Leigh Simmons from Knowles Hall.”
Rich looked up and grinned. “Excuse me, ladies. I’m on a mission.”
“From God,” Scott added. “By the way, I’m Scott Davies. As usual, I’m partying incognito.”
“Incognito?” Audrey asked.
“Of course. No one knows who I really am, or where I am.”
“Okay,” Audrey said with a laugh.
“Success!” Rich cried as he held up a fistful of small plastic condiment bags filled with ketchup and mustard.
“What are you doing with those?” Scott asked.
Rich simply grinned and dashed into the hallway.
“Shall we follow?” Paul asked.
They found Rich kneeling in front of the closed door at Grady Wallace’s room. Rich was ripping small holes in each bag, then lining them up in single file on the floor with the torn ends jutting under the door and into the room. When Rich was finished, he stood and knocked.
“Go away,” Grady moaned. “I’m sick.”
“Come on, Grady,” Rich shouted. “The party is just getting started. What you need is more drugs and beer, not less.”
“Go away,” Grady repeated.
“We can’t have a party without you. This is your last warning.”
“Grady, you’re a w-i-l-d fucker!” Rich giggled as he slammed his foot on each bag in rapid succession. “Bombs away!”
Everyone erupted in laughter. Somewhere beneath the chorus, Grady moaned again.
“What just happened?” Leigh asked.
Scott shook his head. “Grady’s floor now resembles a Jackson Pollack painting.”
“That’s cruel,” Leigh protested.
“I think it is hilarious,” Audrey said.
“Now, now,” Rich replied as they made their way back up the hallway. “Grady loves the attention. He expects this. Hell, he’d feel left out otherwise.”
By 2 AM the music finally ceased, the beer supply was exhausted and the party disbanded. The last of the students staggered away, leaving the carpets littered with vomit, cigarette butts and empty cups. Even Paul had called it quits after squandering the night in a futile attempt to lure Leigh back to his lair.
Rich and Scott were carrying on an animated debate in Rich’s room. Jeff had tried to turn the topic of conversation to Nixon and Watergate, but Rich insisted on needling Scott about his love of bluegrass music. Scott was mounting a half-hearted defense that was seriously hampered by the fact that he and Rich had just consumed a bowlful of potent pot.
“My god, how do you stand the nasal whining?” Rich asked, holding his hands to the side of his head. “And what is with the clod dancing, or whatever the hell they call it?”
“Clog dancing,” Scott corrected. “And what you’re calling a ‘nasal whine’ is just a different kind of harmony. You have to develop a taste for it, I admit, but I can just as easily say the same thing about the vocals of Rod Stewart. How can anyone stand that?”
Through all this, Audrey was silent, slipping in and out of a drunken stupor as she sat on Rich’s bed and leaned against Jeff’s shoulder. Jeff was not intoxicated in the least. He had sobered up completely around midnight and was now thoroughly enjoying the sensation of Audrey’s body against his.
Audrey suddenly moaned and sat bolt upright. “I need to get to a bathroom.”
“Aw, man!” Rich exclaimed. “Get her off my bed. Quick!”
Jeff took Audrey’s hands and jerked her to her feet. With considerable difficulty, he guided her down the hall to the nearest bathroom. Since it was the men’s bathroom—Duniway Hall was an all-male dorm—Jeff elected to accompany Audrey and wait outside the toilet stalls.
Audrey slammed the steel door behind her and began vomiting like a creature possessed. She was on her knees before the porcelain god, disgorging every ounce of beer and snacks she had consumed. Jeff paced the tiles, grimacing with every choked spasm and splash.
Rich skipped into the bathroom and Jeff tried to shoo him away, to no effect. Rich silently gestured to Audrey’s stall and tilted his head as if to say, “Is she in there?”
Jeff nodded, but then shook his head emphatically. Rich ignored him, entering the stall adjacent to Audrey’s. He flushed the toilet, then began grunting and groaning loudly.
“Oh, god,” Rich moaned. “I’ll never have eggplant for dinner again! If I was a math major, I’d work it out with a slide rule. Where’s my laxative? Arrggh!”
Audrey responded by sending forth another prodigious stream of puke. “Hey, who’s doing Technicolor yawns?” Rich cried. “I’m practically dying in here! Have a little courtesy.”
Rich kicked open the stall leaped out with his arms flying forward like a ballet dancer. “My work here is done,” he laughed, snapping a quick salute. Jeff chuckled in spite of himself.
“Take care of her,” Rich added softly, before slipping out the door.
Over the next few minutes, Audrey made the transition from wet vomiting, to dry heaves, to silence. “Are you okay?” Jeff asked.
“No,” she said faintly. “But I’m done.”
Audrey lurched out of the stall and Jeff handed her a wad of paper towels. Even with drool dripping off her pale chin, Jeff still thought she was lovely. Audrey gazed at him with watery eyes and mustered a thin smile.
Jeff guided her arms into the sleeves of her jacket. “I think I need to go back to my room,” she muttered.
“Do you want company along the way?” Jeff asked hopefully.
“Sure,” she replied.
Jeff eased into the hallway, taking Audrey by the hand.
“Run!” someone screamed. Jeff spun to the source of the warning and saw Scott and Rich half-stumbling, half-running toward him. They were not smiling. In fact, their faces were contorted by pure panic.
Audrey yelped as Jeff shoved her back into the restroom. Rich and Scott jostled around him in desperate flight.
“What the hell?” Jeff cried, but as they passed, he immediately saw the cause of their fear. An ashen Grady Wallace, wearing only a vomit-stained Tshirt, was plodding up the hallway gripping his erect penis in his right hand. Grady wore a feral smile that Dr Sardonicus would have admired, and with every step he sprayed a stream of clear urine.
Jeff slammed the bathroom door and put his full weight behind it. Grady began pounding furiously.
“I have to pee!” he shouted.
“Go somewhere else,” Jeff answered.
“Where?” Grady wailed.
“I don’t know, Grady. How about your room? Use your dick to hose all the crap off your floor.”
“Oh god,” Audrey moaned.
“Fuckin’ Rich,” Grady slurred.
Jeff heard him staggering away. He hoped Grady hadn’t taken him seriously.
“Let’s go,” Audrey said, and they made a rapid exit into the cold November night. The brisk air seemed to sober Audrey somewhat, but she remained quiet all the way to Knowles Hall. When they finally reached her room, Audrey creaked open the door and paused.
“Shhh!” she answered with her forefinger on her lips. “My roommate is asleep.”
Jeff lowered his voice to a whisper. “Are you okay?”
“Sure,” Audrey said with a shrug.
In his imagination Jeff replied, “Great! Would you like to stay up until dawn having sex like two rabid animals?”
But what came out of his mouth was, “Okay. Guess I’ll see you later.”
Audrey turned without another word and closed the door. For a moment, Jeff stood in the hallway and stared at the carpet. Finally, he made his way to the lobby and back out into the frozen, starry night. It was a long walk home.
Jeff stepped into Duniway and found it quiet as a tomb. He plodded up the short flight of stairs, catching the faint hints of roofing tar still lingering in the air. He turned into the hallway and saw Rich seated on the floor with his back resting against the wall. Rich’s head was bowed almost to his knees and he didn’t look up as Jeff approached.
“You okay, Rich?” he asked softly.
Rich shook his head. “I’m horny.”
“I’m horny,” Rich said with a sob. “The bars are closed, everyone’s gone home and I’m horny.” As Rich looked up, Jeff saw tears streaking down his pale cheeks.
“Can’t help you, man,” Jeff replied.
He squatted in front of Rich and repositioned the knit cap that was now wildly askew on his head. Rich only nodded.
“You need to go to bed,” Jeff sighed. “Alone. Just like me.”
Jeff pulled Rich upright and put an arm around his shoulder. With his free hand, he opened Rich’s door and steered him to the bed. Rich fell solidly onto the mattress and didn’t stir. His knit cap lay on the floor beside him.
“Yet another casualty of the evening,” Jeff said. Rich responded with a long snore. “Goodnight sweet prince,” Jeff whispered as he switched off the light. “And flights of horny angels sing thee to thy rest.”
Chapter 5 Let Us Give Thanks
Jeff and Paul sat huddled on a white concrete slab, their coat collars turned up against the chilling breeze. The slab upon which they sat comprised the right descending leg of the famous “M,” high on the flank of Mount Sentinel. Far beneath their feet—miles beneath, it seemed to Jeff—the University of Montana campus spread from the base of the mountain. Beyond the borders of the campus, the lights of the city of Missoula filled the remainder of the valley, stretching west and disappearing into the evening haze.
They had started up the switchback trail to the M more than 30 minutes ago. Like most bad ideas, hiking to the M seemed like good one at the time. But Jeff and Paul had grossly underestimated the steepness of the trail. What they assumed would be a quick jaunt up the side of the grassy mountain turned out to be a grueling struggle that rendered their legs to gelatin by the time they had completed only half the journey. The remaining climb was slow, painful and silent—expect for groans and occasional obscenities.
Now that they had achieved their goal, they were reluctant to give it up, even in the face of freezing cold and deepening twilight. Paul squinted into the wind, eagerly sucking down his cigarette, its tip flaring bright orange. He released the smoke and it was instantly torn away from his lips.
“I never did ask you how things went with Leigh last Friday,” Jeff said. Paul chuckled. “Things went nowhere.”
“Have you called her since?”
“Yeah. We’ve talked a little.”
Jeff nodded and shivered.
“I heard you took Audrey back to her room,” Paul said as he took another
“And that’s all I did,” Jeff replied.
“God, I wish I had been there to see Grady pissing his way up the
Jeff smiled. “Amazing is the word for it. Now it’s probably going to cost us.”
“What do you mean?”
“I awoke Saturday morning around 9 o’clock to the sound of Grindel screaming. He was walking up and down the hallway, scooping up trash and pounding on doors. Even in my room, I could smell Grady’s stale piss. Grindel was raving that we’d all have to pay to have the carpets cleaned.”
Paul laughed. “Grindel’s precious dogshit-brown carpets.” He drew the burning tobacco down to his fingers, then crushed the butt beneath his boots.
“I need to take a break from this place,” Paul sighed as the smoke streamed out of his nostrils. “Thanksgiving vacation is coming up and I need to go somewhere.”
“Back to Indiana?” Jeff asked.
“No. I’m driving to Seattle.”
“Well, we drove this far, Paul. What’s a little farther for us to go Seattle, eh?”
“Are you coming along?” Paul asked, staring straight ahead.
“Well…I just assumed…you know.”
“I thought you had a huge paper to write.”
“Yeah, but I’m about three-quarters done.”
Paul nodded. “I guess you might be able to squeeze into the back seat with Audrey and Rich. Leigh is sitting up front with me.”
Jeff frowned. “So…everyone’s already set to go?”
“I see. Well, let me look at…my schedule. Maybe you’re right about getting my paper done. I’ll let you know.”
Jeff bowed his head and gazed through his knees. “Paul,” he said last, “why--”
“The world is moving on,” Paul interrupted.
“Things are changing really fast, Jeff. I just had that thought come to me.”
“Think about it. The war will probably be over soon, one way or the other. Janis and Jimi are dead. Woodstock was eclipsed by the Altamont debacle. Need I say more?”
“But the revolution continues,” Jeff mumbled.
“Oh please,” Paul laughed. “The revolution is dying in front of your eyes. You arrived way too late to the party, Jeff.”
Jeff stared at the side of Paul’s face. “If you really believe that, Paul, what are you doing here?”
“Jeff, I’m not here to fight a war against the establishment. I never said that. I’m here to get a degree so that I can snag a decent job. And have as much fun along the way as possible. I’ve told you this.”
“But when we were in high school, you were--”
“Stupid. Young and stupid. High school is a million light years away. Maybe if we had been born about 6 years earlier, things would have been different. As it is, we’re too late, Jeff. The world is moving on. I don’t want to live in the past.”
Paul fumbled for his cigarettes, then changed his mind. “Let’s get off this mountain. I’m cold enough.”
Twenty minutes later, they stumbled off the end of the path, exhausted. The descent had been easier than the ascent, but only by degrees. Legs still weak from the climb had to step carefully to avoid tumbling down the steep paths. More than once they stumbled into each other, only to recover just in time.
Scott Davies met them as they dragged themselves across the Oval.
“Hi Scott,” Paul said wearily.
“You two look like you’ve been rode hard and put away wet.”
“That’s an apt metaphor,” Jeff replied.
Paul jerked his thumb back at Mount Sentinel. “We just came down from the M.”
“Wow!” Scott said. “Whatever possessed you guys to do that?”
“It was Jeff’s idiotic idea. He sees people on the track team actually sprinting up the trail. He figured it would be a leisurely stroll in the park.”
Jeff looked as though he had been slapped. “But you--”
“Yeah, yeah,” Paul interrupted. “I was an equal idiot for following him.”
Scott looked from one to the other, then shrugged. “Think of it as exercise—physical and spiritual.”
“Hey,” Scott said. “The SDS is having a poster sale. Kind of a fundraiser, I guess. I was just headed over to the UC now and--”
“I’ll pass,” Paul said flatly.
Scott held his smile and turned to Jeff. “You?”
Paul departed with a desultory wave, leaving Scott and Jeff standing in the lengthening shadows.
“Paul looks like he’s beat to hell,” Scott said. “He needs to rest. Are you sure you really want to go to the sale, Jeff?”
Jeff stared after Paul and didn’t speak for several seconds. “That’s fine,” he said quietly. “I’ve nothing else to do.”
The SDS poster sale was taking place in a small room at the far northern end of the University Center. Jeff had been in love with the UC since first setting foot in it. Multiple floors with balconies ringed its interior courtyard. You could climb the broad staircase to reach them, or ride the glass-enclosed elevator (Jeff’s favorite). Large ferns and other tropical plants were growing in great planters throughout the ground-floor level, creating a kind of jungle Eden where students sat and studied. The vegetation grew prodigiously, thanks to skylights that allowed the sun to penetrate every level.
The University Center was the focal point for special events, entertainment, recreation and various student groups—including the radical Students for a Democratic Society. Truth to tell, Jeff Louden had still not joined the University of Montana chapter of the SDS. Even he wasn’t sure why that was so. Jeff only knew that he liked the idea of the SDS; becoming part of it was a step he wasn’t yet prepared to take.
“Not a huge turnout,” Scott commented as they walked into the room. He was right. There were a few tables tended by bored-looking students. Several other students browsed listlessly. Bob Dylan’s plaintive wail issued from a tiny stereo system.
Jeff flipped through reproductions of Soviet posters from World War II— each filled with clenched fists, earnest faces and the delightfully incomprehensible Cyrillic alphabet. Then there were the obligatory Nixon posters—Nixon as Hitler, Nixon as Satan and so on.
Scott seemed to be concentrating on one poster in particular. He unrolled it slowly, revealing a striking photograph of astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing on the lunar surface. As Scott reached the bottom of the poster, large bold letters appeared.
Scott jerked back as if he’d been struck. “So what?” he murmured. “Do you like that one?” an SDS student asked. Scott looked around the edge of the poster and saw a student who was clearly auditioning for the role of the next Che Guevara, right down to the signature black beret.
“I don’t understand it,” Scott replied. He turned to Jeff. “Did you see this?”
Jeff gazed at the poster and frowned. “I don’t get it, either.”
“It is a statement about the screwed up priorities in our nation,” Che said cheerfully. “Billions were spent sending a few white men to the Moon while millions of human beings starved on our own planet.”
Scott scratched his head. “Yeah, but the poster screams ‘So What.’”
“Right,” Che continued with a smile. “So what if a couple of bourgeoisie stand around on the Moon?”
Scott released the bottom of the poster and it rolled up like a window shade.
“Life on Earth spent four billion years raising itself from the slime,” Scott began. “In just the last few years, we finally reached the point in our evolution where we could create the technology necessary to leave our planet and stand with our feet planted firmly on another world. I don’t care whose feet were involved—white, black, yellow. It was an incredible achievement for all humanity. You can’t dismiss it with a simple ‘So What’.”
“It’s just a political statement, man.” Che had suddenly misplaced his cheerfulness.
“It’s anti-intellectual obscenity, man,” Scott replied.
Jeff moved closer and tried to intervene. “Colliding opinions,” he said with a forced smile. “That’s what I like about campus life.”
Che made a kind of short hiss between his teeth. “I’ve seen you at some SDS meetings,” he said, pointing his chin at Jeff.
“Yeah, a few.”
“Are you a member?”
“Don’t wait too long. Your brothers need you.” Che said firmly.
“To sell more absurd posters?” Scott quipped.
“You don’t get it,” Che said with a snarl. “You’re like the rest of the sheep that follow wherever the Man and his pigs want to lead you.”
“Baaaa,” Scott replied with a grin.
Jeff grabbed Scott above the elbow and guided him back into the courtyard. “I was just getting started,” Scott said at last.
“Don’t get me frozen out of the SDS, Scott.”
“Jeff, listen to your heart. Is it telling you that you really have anything in common with someone like him?”
“No,” Jeff said with a sigh. “But I want to be part of the revolution— before its too late.”
“You already are,” Scott grinned. “Man, you’re living it every day. Look at KRAP.”
Jeff chucked. “Good old KRAP, radio for the masses.”
“There you go.”
“Yeah, but I want to--”
“Be with them? Be like them? Remember that talk we had, Jeff?”
“Yes, yes, yes. Are you hungry?”
“Sure, Jeff. I’ll be happy to abruptly change the subject to food.”
Jeff sighed. “Let’s grab cheeseburgers upstairs.”
Scott gave him a thumbs up.
Jeff awoke on Thanksgiving to find that the University of Montana had been nearly abandoned. Duniway Hall was eerily quiet. Every so often, he would hear the distant thump of a door, or the soft ticking of the radiators beneath his window.
He had met Paul Jepson and Rich Runyon the night before. They all shared a joint in Paul’s room and soon the conversation drifted to a discussion of their plans for the Seattle trip. Jeff had listened quietly while he paged through the latest issue of the National Lampoon. In truth, he had finished his political philosophy paper days before and was very much available for the journey, but that was a revelation he had decided to keep to himself.
While his companions made their way to Seattle that morning, Jeff sat alone at his window. He was finishing a letter to mother with Jethro Tull’s Aqualung providing the bitter soundtrack. It seemed oddly appropriate.
I can’t blame Paul, he thought. Even good friends need to take occasional breaks from each other.
A sharp knock at the door jarred Jeff from his reflections and nearly caused him to fall backward in his chair. He pulled on his jeans and sealed the envelope to his mother, carefully inserting a Polaroid photo taken a week before.
He opened the door expecting to see Steve Grindel demanding payment for the ruinous party several weeks ago. Instead, Jeff was face to face with Grady Wallace.
“Hi,” Grady grunted.
“Oh. Hi. You want to come in?”
Grady sat on the edge of the bed, eyeing Jeff’s record collection and the KRAP equipment. Jeff resumed his seat by the window.
“I didn’t expect to see you,” Jeff began.
“Huh. No, I guess not. I didn’t have anywhere to go. You?”
Jeff shook his head. “Me neither.”
“Paul and Rich gone to Seattle?”
“Yep. Scott went back to Little Rock.”
“But Grady, you said you lived in Frenchtown. Couldn’t you just go there?”
“No,” he replied with a slight smile. “Well, I could. I just don’t want to.”
“Oh,” Jeff replied.
The turntable reached the end of Aqualung, the needle lifted automatically from the album and the arm returned to its resting point. The room was plunged into awkward silence.
“So,” Jeff almost shouted, rubbing his hands together, “do you have a car handy?”
“Yep. A 1972 Camaro.”
“Cool. Want to go somewhere? Maybe to Pauline’s Lounge downtown?”
“If its open, sure.”
Jeff summoned as much enthusiasm as was possible under the circumstances and slapped Grady on the knee. “Let’s go. You drive, I’ll buy.”
In contrast to the Cavern, which was a large dump, Pauline’s was a small dump. It was your basic neighborhood bar with the requisite TVs and pool tables. To Jeff’s astonishment, Pauline’s was open, although he and Grady were the only customers in the place. Pauline, the grandmotherly owner, seemed genuinely glad to see them.
“By god, look what has washed up here. Two UM brats alone on Thanksgiving!”
“Got any turkey?” Jeff asked.
“Shots of Wild Turkey, yes. Otherwise you’re gonna have to be satisfied with buffalo wings and fries.”
The menu sounded just fine to Jeff and Grady. They grabbed a table within sight of a TV that was displaying a college football game. It hardly mattered that they couldn’t hear the audio over the blaring country western music.
After gorging themselves on greasy wings and fries, they retired to the pool tables. Grady racked the balls and Jeff fired the breaking shot to the accompaniment of Loretta Lynn.
“Don’t play much pool,” Grady mumbled.
“Me neither. It beats sitting around the dorm, though.”
Jeff tried to put a solid red ball into a corner pocket. He missed and sent the cue ball into the pocket instead. Grady laughed and retrieved the ball.
“Grady, what do you hope to get out of college?”
“A good job,” he replied quietly as he studied his shot.
“That’s what I hear from a lot of students these days.”
“It’s the truth,” Grady said, and shot a yellow-striped ball neatly into a side pocket. “Well, I suppose there is the knowledge, too.”
“Oh, yes, that too” Jeff grinned.
Grady stepped to the other side of the table, considering his next shot. “You know, Jeff, you think too much.”
Jeff raised his eyebrows. An assessment of anyone’s personality by Grady Wallace was a rare thing indeed.
“You just think too much about too many things. Thinking too much can lead you to dark places.”
“Dark places?” Jeff said with a frown.
Grady lined up another shot and drove a red-striped ball the length of the table and into a corner pocket. “Uh-huh. The world is full of dark places, mostly things better left unknown or unsaid. Secrets people keep to themselves, and are better off kept.”
Hank Williams poured from the overhead speakers as Grady surveyed the table.
“We all have secrets,” Jeff said.
“True,” Grady said as he chalked his cue. “And too much talking and thinking tends to turn them loose. People get hurt.”
“Perhaps,” Jeff replied. Grady only nodded.
After drubbing Jeff twice at pool, Grady suggested that it was time to find a new venue. They made their goodbyes to Pauline, climbed back into Grady’s Camaro and meandered slowly through the city. They hoped that one of their favorite hangouts, the Heidlehaus, would still open on the 93 Strip, but it was not to be. There was nothing else to do but return to campus.
The TV lounge in Craig Hall was dark and empty. Even the ashtrays were clean, which was highly unusual at any other time. Jeff turned on the big TV and flipped through the channels until he found the ideal Thanksgiving Day entertainment: a badly dubbed Chinese martial arts movie. Grady grabbed a couple of Cokes and they both settled into one of the overstuffed couches.
“You know, I don’t think these were intended to be comedies,” Grady said.
“I doubt it. In China, this is probably serious melodrama. There might be people in Shanghai crying over this movie.”
Grady mumbled something during the opening fight scene. Jeff really didn’t understand, but shrugged his shoulders anyway. A couple of minutes passed and suddenly Jeff felt pressure on his groin. He looked in his lap and saw Grady’s hand.
“Uh, Grady…” he said. Grady was staring at him in the darkness, smiling broadly.
“You’re a good friend to me, Jeff,” Grady whispered.
The tips of his fingers began to search, caressing Jeff’s penis and testicles. To Jeff’s increasing horror, he realized that he was beginning to have an erection.
“Why not? Aren’t we friends?”
“We’re friends, Grady, but not those kinds of friends.”
“Friends share secrets, Jeff. We can have a secret together.”
Jeff firmly gripped Grady’s hand and lifted it away. “No, we can’t.” He stood quickly and gathered his coat. Grady was staring with wide eyes.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Just stay and watch the rest of the movie,” Grady said. “I’ll be okay. I promise.”
Jeff pressed his lips together and flashed his best rendition of a smile. “No, I’m tired anyway. It’s getting late.”
“Jeff,” Grady began in a choked voice, “you won’t say--”
“Not a word, Grady,” Jeff replied, moving out into the light of the lobby. “Trust me, it’s our secret. Okay?”
When Jeff reached the top of the lobby stairs, he looked back into the flickering blue light of the TV lounge. The silhouette of Grady’s head was tilted to one side and laying on the top of the couch cushion.
Chapter 6 Bow Wow
Jeff spent the rest of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend shuttling between his room and the vending machines. The cafeteria was closed, so he had to chase down his own meals. He ordered a few Sharif’s delivery pizzas, which he despised, but otherwise dined on Doritos corn chips and Cokes.
Sometimes Jeff would roam the deserted campus, following sidewalks he had never traveled before. Saturday afternoon found him on the pedestrian bridge over the Clark Fork River, hypnotized by the gurgling, ice-cold water below.
A few snowflakes drifted out of the winter overcast as Jeff lingered on the bridge. Common sense told him that it was probably snowing heavily at higher elevations and he was momentarily grateful to be at the bottom of the Missoula Valley. As if to illustrate the point, an armada of clouds scuttled over Mount Sentinel. They obscured the summit temporarily, then cleared to reveal a white crown of newly fallen snow.
As Jeff made his way back to Duniway, he belted out the chorus of the Rolling Stones’ “Time is On My Side” over and over. A professor (or so Jeff assumed) passed him outside the Adams field house. Jeff didn’t stop singing, but waved instead. His erstwhile audience merely frowned and walked swiftly by.
He considered looking up Grady Wallace, just to reassure him, if nothing else. But Jeff hadn’t seen a peep of Grady since that awkward Thanksgiving evening. Grady’s room was utterly silent, so Jeff assumed that he had fled for the remainder of the holiday.
There’ll be time enough for reassurance after everyone returns , Jeff thought.
Life began flowing back into the campus on Sunday. What was a trickle of returning students in the morning became a torrent by late afternoon. By evening Duniway was alive once again with the sounds of music, shouts and laughter.
Rich, Paul, Audrey and Leigh didn’t drift in until late. Jeff heard Leigh giggling in the hallway and opened his door to find them all huddled around the top of the stairs. Paul seemed slightly startled to see him.
“Hey, Jeff,” he said. The others smiled and nodded.
“So how was it?”
“Once we got though the passes and the blizzards, it was fine,” Paul laughed.
“At least we didn’t get stuck and resort to cannibalism,” Leigh added. “Too bad you couldn’t come with us.”
“Yeah,” Jeff said. “Too bad.” His gaze shifted to Rich and Audrey. They were standing together; Rich had his arm around her waist.
Why am I not surprised? Jeff thought.
They immediately resumed their cheerful, animated discussion. Jeff watched for a while, then slipped quietly back into his room. He dug out his copy of the Moody Blue’s To Our Children’s Children’s Children, turned out the lights, lit a single candle and stretched out on the bed.
Hours later, the record long since finished and the candle burned to a stub, Jeff awoke to the sound of moaning. It was the backing vocal to the rhythmic squeak and thump of Rich’s bed frame on the other side of the wall.
“Bow wow! Bow wow!” a female voice called out. He was sure the voice belonged to Audrey.
“What the fuck?” Jeff snapped. He grabbed an extra pillow and held it tightly over his head. In time, the bed frame backbeat ceased, followed by soft laughter, and then silence.
The lovers are likely asleep—and in each other’s arms, no doubt, Jeff thought.
Jeff, however, was wide-awake. He slipped on his headphones, switched the stereo receiver to AM and tuned through the static hiss, listening to one distant radio station after another. He was astonished to finally pick up WIBC (“1070 on your dial!”) in Indianapolis. The signal wasn’t strong and it faded up and down like a sailboat bobbing on a rolling sea. Still, it was a soothing voice from home on a lonely night. Rocked in his cradle of sound, Jeff Louden finally escaped into the relief of sleep.
The next morning Jeff shuffled through his routine, which included, again, the irritating task of rousing Paul for breakfast. They joined a long line of students in the cafeteria, moving past the cheerless servers in single file and accepting their rations of eggs and sausage. They found Rich at a table by the coffee urns, hanging his head over a steaming bowl of oatmeal.
“You look like you still haven’t recovered from the road,” Paul said.
Rich shook his head and grinned. “I tell you, Audrey needs to leave me alone for a while. That girl damn near drained me dry last night. I only managed three hours of sleep and I have a geography paper to turn in this afternoon.”
“I can imagine how you feel,” Jeff said flatly. “You guys kept me up quite a bit, too.”
“Oh,” Rich replied with a sheepish smile. “I’m really sorry, man. If I had known Audrey was going to be a screamer--”
“A screamer?” Paul asked. “Really?”
“More of a loud moaner,” Rich replied through a mouthful of oatmeal. “You give her a little pot and her motor really gets going. Audrey has some kinky baggage, too.”
Jeff grabbed a handful of saltine crackers and began crunching loudly. He didn’t want to hear this, but…
Rich leaned in closer and lowered his voice to a fierce whisper. “At one point, I can’t remember if it was our first fuck or second, she starts telling me that she wants me to be her master. I have no idea what the hell she is talking about. It struck me so strange, I nearly wilted inside her.
“So I’m pounding away, trying to ignore her babble. She keeps moaning for me to ‘command’ her. Finally, I asked what the fuck she wanted me to do. She says, ‘Give me orders. Command me as your slave.’”
Paul was staring with wide eyes. Jeff stopped in mid chew.
“My mind was a total blank,” Rich continued. “I was wilting big time, so I just told her to bark like a dog. She starts yelling, ‘Bow wow.’”
Jeff instantly spewed a shower of cracker crumbs across the table. Paul was braying with laughter.
“What else did she say?” Paul asked between gasps.
“Thankfully, nothing! When we were finished, I went right to sleep.”
“See, Jeff? Aren’t you glad you didn’t keep going after Audrey?” Paul asked.
Jeff winced as he wiped up the cracker crumbs. The smile suddenly ran away from Rich’s face. “Oh, I didn’t know, Jeff.”
“There’s nothing to know,” Jeff said with a shrug.
“Jeff’s cool with all that,” Paul said. “Free love, stop the war, you know.”
Jeff grabbed his tray and stepped away from the table. His appetite had suddenly vanished.
“Jeff,” Rich called, “Audrey and Leigh said that there are plans for a monster party in Jesse Hall sometime in the next couple of weeks. Keep your ear to the ground. We shouldn’t miss this one.”
“Thanks” Jeff replied as he walked away.
On his way out of the cafeteria, he ran into Grady Wallace. Grady stared warily and didn’t speak.
“Hey, Grady!” Jeff said, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Man, last weekend was deadly dull without you. At least you could have taken me out to eat.”
Grady finally allowed himself to smile. “Yeah, I wasn’t doing that much better myself, really.”
“Well, you should know that Rich Runyon just told me about a big-ass party that’s supposed to go down in Jesse Hall. Maybe this weekend; maybe the next. It’s still up in the air.”
“I don’t know yet, Grady. I’m sure we’ll hear more about it.”
“Are you going?”
“I think so. If you see Scott, be sure to tell him, too.”
Grady had brightened considerably. His blue eyes were almost glowing behind his glasses. “Yes. Yes, I will.”
“Bon appetite,” Jeff said as he stepped through the doorway. Jeff could feel Grady staring after him like a grateful puppy.
“Just like it never happened, Grady,” he muttered under his breath. “Just like it never happened at all.”
The days crept by as autumn slouched into winter. It was early December and they found themselves on the downhill run to the end of the quarter. Many students had suddenly discovered that poor grades, or even failure, had become distinct possibilities. Among the freshmen in Duniway and Craig Halls, the angst was particularly acute. Most of them were at U of M on Mom and Dad’s nickels, so Fs in the first quarters of their college careers were not options.
Smoking and drinking buddies were otherwise occupied, either slumped over books in their rooms, or slumped over even more books in the library. Grady and Paul haunted the study lounges while Scott spent evenings in his room with the door locked. As for Rich Runyon, he seemed unconcerned. Jeff could hear him listening to music or calling friends on the telephone, making plans for weekend debauchery. Audrey showed up occasionally for more “obedience training,” as Rich called it.
Jeff kept an open-door policy—the door to his room was almost always open. That way, Jeff could always be on top of the action. The hallway was like a artery and information was the lifeblood that flowed within it. By keeping his door wide open, Jeff could tap that information at a moment’s notice.
The downside to Jeff’s open-door policy was that he neglected to close the door when he left the room, usually to grab a snack from the vending machines or use the bathroom. Jeff believed that his Duniway brethren were trustworthy, and for the most part, he was correct. But Rich Runyon would never allow trust to stand in the way of a delicious practical joke.
Rich unleashed his Jeff Louden magnum opus on Thursday evening. It wasn’t even one of his best pranks as pranks go, but the planets were no doubt in spectacular alignment. Coincidence was in play and the results would be remembered for decades to come.
Rich had been studying in his room all evening and was in need of nonintellectual stimulation. He’d kept one ear on the sounds outside, hoping to hear something, anything, that would offer a distraction. When he heard Jeff leave his room for the toilets, he knew his opportunity had arrived.
He jumped from his bed and grabbed a can of shaving cream. As the restroom door swung shut, Rich bolted through Jeff’s doorway.
All the rooms in Duniway Hall were blessed with generic black telephones that hung on the walls beside the doors. Rich gingerly, but quickly, lifted the handset of Jeff’s phone and blasted a generous pile of Gillette Foamy shaving cream into the earpiece. He replaced the handset and carefully wiped away any obvious signs of cream.
Rich was back in his room and seated nonchalantly at his desk when Jeff exited the restroom.
“Have a nice piss?” Rich asked as Jeff walked by.
Jeff shook his head and said nothing.
Rich waited for the screech of wooden chair legs on vinyl tile, the telltale signal that Jeff had arrived at his desk. Rich crammed his fist into this mouth to block the rising laughter. It was almost time to spring the trap.
Jeff’s “human geography” textbook had to be the most boring tome he had ever read in his life—even worse than the Communist Manifesto, if such a thing were possible. He would struggle through a couple of paragraphs, then feel his eyelids start to descend. So, when the telephone rang, he welcomed the interruption. He tossed his book on the desk and hurried to door, lifting the handset while clearing his throat.
“Hel--” he began, but then abruptly pulled away. Most of the hearing in his right ear had vanished, replaced with a horrible wet sensation and a fizzing, popping sound. Jeff stared at the handset in disbelief. A dollop of shaving cream fell to the floor and landed with a moist pop.
“Fuck!” he shouted as he wiped the cream from his ear and the earpiece. Someone was still on the line and Jeff thought he knew exactly who it was.
“You son of a bitch!” he yelled into the handset. “This isn’t funny. You’re lucky I don’t take this telephone and ram it sideways up your ass!”
Jeff slammed the handset down and marched into Rich’s room. He found Rich standing in the middle of the floor with a thunderstruck look on his face.
“Asshole!” Jeff shouted.
“It wasn’t me. Well, it was kind of me.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“I…I put the shaving cream on your phone,” Rich half-stammered and giggled. “But it wasn’t me who called. I was still dialing when your phone rang.”
“Then who the fuck called? Was it Paul?”
Rich held out his hands. “I honestly don’t know.”
Jeff turned on one heel and marched back into his room, still fuming. The telephone rang again. This time Jeff lifted the handset, examined it for yet another application of Gillette Foamy (the question of how Rich might have repeated his prank in such a short time—and with Rich never leaving Jeff’s sight--was irrelevant to Jeff at that moment), then cautiously raised the handset to his ear.
“Hello honey,” his mother cooed. “Is everything okay? I tried calling a moment ago, but I dialed the wrong number. You know, there are some awfully angry people living in Montana…”
Friday couldn’t come fast enough. Jeff felt mentally drained and badly in need of a party. Fortunately, the Jesse Hall confab had finally become a reality. It was scheduled to erupt that very evening. Leigh Simmons had called and suggested frequent announcements on KRAP throughout the afternoon. Jeff was happy to oblige.
KRAP could hardly claim the credit, but an impressive gala had taken shape on the sixth floor of Jesse Hall by 9 PM that night. When the elevator doors opened, the gang of Jeff, Paul, Rich, Scott, Grady, Leigh and Audrey had to practically shove their way through the crowd. Black Sabbath was blaring at deafening volume, but students still seemed to be carrying on conversations.
Scott was the first to grab a beer and vanish into the sea of humanity. It would be hours before Jeff would see him again. Rich and Audrey strolled into another section of the dorm, hand in hand. Jeff followed the bounce of Audrey’s beautiful hair until it was lost among all the other heads.
Leigh pulled Paul into a nearby room where several people sat on the floor playing with a Ouija board. She beckoned for Jeff and Grady to follow, but it was soon obvious that the tiny room was filled beyond capacity.
“Well Grady,” Jeff shouted above the scream of Ozzie Osbourne. “Looks like we’re on our own.” Grady smiled and nodded.
Together they explored the entire floor, finally ending up in a room where the cacophony wasn’t quite so painful. Jeff fell into a beanbag chair next to an overweight girl with glasses and long, red hair. Grady sat beside him on the floor and began rolling a joint.
“Hi!” Jeff said.
“Hello,” she slurred. It was still early and yet the beer and drugs had already taken their first victim.
“I’m Jeff Louden and this is my buddy Grady Wallace.”
“Glad to meet you,” she replied. “I’m Sue.”
Grady was an amazing roller of joints, one of the few people Jeff knew who could roll a tight joint with just one hand. As if to demonstrate, Grady twirled an immaculately finished joint between his fingers and presented it to their newfound friend.
“Oh! Thank you!” she said.
“Grady is a master,” Jeff replied as Sue passed the lighted joint to him. Jeff drew deeply and held the smoke.
“Give it time to work,” Grady said as he patted Jeff’s knee. Jeff shuddered slightly and Grady snatched his hand away. As they finished one joint, Grady would roll another. Jeff had no idea how Grady could afford to be so generous with his pot. As minutes turned into hours, Jeff ceased to care.
Students drifted in and out of the room all night, their conversations lost as buzzing sounds within the flood of music. Jeff was content to sit and discuss the state of the world with Sue. He waxed poetic about the shortcomings of capitalism while Sue gazed with watery eyes. It was difficult to tell whether she fully comprehended Jeff’s endless, impassioned diatribe. She did little but nod and smile. Sue wasn’t a beautiful woman by any measure, but to Jeff her looks were magically improving by the minute.
Jeff wasn’t sure what time it was when he noticed that Grady was gone. His gut told him it was late. He stopped speaking in mid sentence and decided to change the subject.
“So,” Jeff began, “would you like to go somewhere more private and quiet?” His ability to think coherently was sorely compromised, and this was the best pick-up line he could manage.
“No,” Sue replied without breaking her stare. “We don’t really have enough in common.”
“No buts, Jeff. Just no. Okay?” She said the last word with a strange, chirpy cheerfulness.
Sue stood uncertainly and wobbled in place for a few seconds. With a broad smile still plastered on her face, she staggered through the doorway and out of Jeff’s life forever.
Quoting T.S. Elliot to no one in particular, Jeff muttered, “I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” It was at that moment he decided to go for maximum intoxication.
He roamed the floor for the next two hours, sharing joints and gulping beers. Sometime after 3AM, someone shoved Jeff into an open elevator, muttered a curse and punched the button for the ground floor.
By the time the elevator stopped, Jeff was on his hands and knees, painting the elevator floor with puke. As the doors hissed open, Jeff’s only thought was to crawl. He felt the cool metal of the plate that separated the elevator cab from the ground-floor linoleum, struggled forward a few inches and then, with only mild surprise, saw the floor rushing up to meet his face. Someone was kicking him. In fact, two people were kicking him. Their blows landed repeatedly on his ribs, making Jeff groan with pain. He tried to turn away and shield himself, but he was helpless.
Suddenly the kicking stopped and the blurred face of Scott Davies swam into his field of vision.
“Oh, Jeff. What have you done?”
“Scott. Thank god. They’ve been kicking the shit out of me.”
“Get up,” Scott said as he wrestled Jeff to his feet. Scott was substantially smaller than Jeff, so the effort was almost beyond his strength. “You’re gonna have to help me, man.”
“Be careful, they may come back,” Jeff warned.
“No one is coming back, Jeff. The elevator was beating you.”
“You’ve spent the last hour or so—God only knows how long, really-laying across the gap between the elevator and the lobby. The automatic doors kept closing on you.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Scott. I mean it.”
“I know,” Scott replied as he guided him through the lobby door. The crisp pre-dawn air worked its magic and Jeff began ascending toward a semblance of sobriety.
“Scott, I almost had a girl.”
“I saw. What happened?”
“I don’t know. I thought we were getting along, but she suddenly went contrary on me. Kicked me right between the eyes.”
“Human beings are highly unpredictable creatures, Jeff.”
Scott led Jeff across the parking lot, weaving carefully between the cars. He found that the best way to steer Jeff was to simply tug on his coat sleeves.
“I should have been with Audrey,” Jeff whimpered. “God damn Runyon.”
“No one owns another person’s affections, Jeff. People direct them to whomever they will. If it isn’t meant to be, it isn’t meant to be. Some day you might look back on this and be grateful that you didn’t wind up with Audrey.”
“She barks, you know.”
“Beg pardon?” Scott asked as they climbed the steps to Duniway.
“I could hear them screwing each other through the wall on the night they came back from Seattle. Rich told her to bark like a dog and she barked. I couldn’t believe it.”
“And you would have improved on Rich’s performance…how?”
Jeff stood swaying in the doorway with the pink glow of dawn creeping above the mountains. “Why, I…I would have told her to fetch!”
Scott unleashed a long howl of laughter and Jeff joined him.
Chapter 7 Happy Holidays
Jeff had fiercely resisted Paul’s plan to fly back to Indianapolis for Christmas. Jeff was eager to see his home and family, but traveling by air wasn’t what he had in mind.
Just as he was a sexual virgin, Jeff was also an aviation virgin. He was terrified by the thought of hurtling across the sky in an aluminum tube at more than 500 miles per hour, so much so that he had tried to persuade Paul to drive to Indianapolis instead. But Jeff lost the argument on two purely logical points: it would take too long and, with the horrible weather forecast for the Rockies and Plains, it would be too difficult.
So, to his utter dismay, Jeff found himself in the front seat of Paul’s Mustang with the low block buildings of the airport drawing ever closer in the sharp morning light. Paul was jovial, to Jeff’s extreme irritation. Worse yet, Paul seemed to take pleasure in needling Jeff along the way.
“Remember, Jeff--if an engine explodes press the call button and tell the stewardess. No big deal.”
“Bite me,” Jeff snapped.
“Cheer up, man. Look at it this way. When we slam into the mountain, you’ll be dead before the pain sensations can even reach your brain. Hell, there won’t even be a brain there to receive the messages.”
“Please, Paul. You know how I feel about this.”
Paul laughed. “Just trying to lighten the mood, man. Relax. Being tense about this just makes it worse.”
They left the car in the long-term parking lot and made their way into the terminal. Johnson-Bell Field, as it was known in those days, was a small facility with a couple of gates and few amenities. Jeff noticed immediately that there were no jetways. Aircraft simply parked on the concrete to load and unload their human cargo.
“Delightful,” Jeff muttered as they strolled across the lobby.
With duffle bags in hand, they joined a crowd of students in the cramped gate area. Muzak Christmas carols oozed from overhead speakers, sporadically interrupted by announcements for standby passengers to “please come to the Northwest desk.” Jeff stood on tiptoe to catch a glimpse of the waiting Northwest Orient 727. He saw only its crimson tail.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” Paul said.
“If you say so.”
Fifteen minutes later, a sleepy gate agent unlocked the doors and allowed the crowd to stream onto the tarmac. Jeff hesitated, but Paul shoved him forward.
“Let’s move,” Paul said softly. “Everything will be fine. Trust me.” As they made their way to the rear of the aircraft, they passed almost directly beneath one of the idling engines. Curtains of heat rose from the turbine, causing the air to shimmer like flowing water. Jeff’s gaze followed the rows of rivets in the soot-encrusted metal.
“Good lord,” he whispered, but didn’t slow his pace.
The narrow rear stairway was part of the aircraft itself, and now it stood open like the maw of a hungry beast. Jeff swallowed hard and followed Paul, who seemed to bounce up the steps. As they ducked inside the airliner, the continuous rumble and the odor of jet fuel was replaced by the sounds of animated conversations and the fragrance of brewing coffee. Gazing down the length of the cabin, Jeff saw fluttering newspapers and gesturing hands. It was like walking into a party.
Jeff asked to sit at the window, and Paul obliged. “Want to be the first person to notice that we’re going down?” Paul asked. Jeff fastened his seatbelt and didn’t reply.
Cabin lights flickered, the turbines whined and Northwest Orient flight 580 began to taxi for the runway. To Jeff’s amazement, the general buzz of conversation didn’t abate. Paul was chatting cheerfully with a cute coed on the opposite side of the aisle. The person in the seat behind him was laughing loudly. Jeff’s response to such a seemingly incongruous display was to press his face against the window and watch the wing flaps curling downward. They seemed so horribly fragile.
The 727 turned onto the active runway and paused. Paul grabbed Jeff’s arm and Jeff nearly screamed.
“Here we go, buddy!” Paul exclaimed with a grin.
The turbines spun up again, but this time the whine climbed the musical scales and quickly became a deep roar. At first, nothing happened, but then the airliner crept forward and proceeded to pile on speed at an astonishing rate.
“Yee haw!” Paul cried as his hand shoved an invisible set of cockpit throttles to their limits.
Jeff looked up and was alarmed to see the overhead luggage bins shaking. The heads and shoulders of his fellow passengers jostled with every bounce and shimmy. Even the wing was shuddering madly, not unlike a great bird flapping its way airborne.
Then, abruptly, the frantic bouncing stopped and the concrete outside Jeff’s window fell away. A second later Jeff saw the end of the runway pass far beneath them, followed by a fence and even a highway with tiny vehicles.
“Oh my god, we’re--”
“Flying!” Paul laughed.
The 727 banked majestically over Missoula, tucking in its wing flaps as it went. Jeff’s fright grudgingly yielded to rapt fascination. The thunder of the engines increased and they sliced upward through a collection of popcorn-like clouds.
“It’s…beautiful,” he whispered. Paul touched his shoulder and held out a deck of cards.
Jeff glanced out the window at the snow-covered mountains. “So, we’re on our way?”
“Better believe it. Next stop Billings, then Chicago, then home.”
“I’m sorry, Paul.”
Paul frowned. “About what?”
“Being a coward.”
Paul’s face softened into a smile. “Jeff, you’ve been afraid of so many things, but sometimes you just have to make a leap of faith. Remember when we were in fifth grade at the Glen Helen camp and you refused to cross the swinging bridge over that little creek?”
“Yes,” Jeff nodded. “You told everyone to go on, then you grabbed my arms and dragged me to the other side. I hated you for that.”
“I’m sure, but it wasn’t as bad as you thought, was it?”
“No,” Jeff smiled.
“You even went back the next day and crossed again by yourself, didn’t you?”
“So was this another swinging bridge, Jeff?”
Before he could answer, the airliner bucked and swayed. Jeff instantly clutched his armrests.
“A little rough air, Jeff. Nothing more. It comes with the territory. By the time we reach Indianapolis, you won’t even notice bumps like that one.”
Paul thumbed the latch and lowered his seat tray.
“Okay,” he began and he knocked the edge of the deck on the plastic tray top. “Five card stud. Threes are wild.”
Jeff was quietly pleased when he arrived home and realized that his mother had left his bedroom exactly as it was when he departed for Montana three months ago. To him, it felt like a shrine to a long-vanished life. His high school graduation photo and mortarboard tassel were still propped on the dresser. His yearbook still sat atop the desk.
Jeff tossed his duffle bag onto the bed and stood gazing out the window. He was also pleased to see that his father had left Jeff’s old Chevy in the same spot where he had parked it in September. Jeff could see the brown remnants of autumn leaves trapped beneath the windshield wipers. He hadn’t been around to clean them out this year.
“How does it feel to be home?” his mother asked.
“Strange,” Jeff replied. “I don’t know why.”
“You feel like a guest, don’t you?”
Jeff grinned. “That’s it, Mom. I feel like a guest in my own home, or at
His mother reached out and massaged his shoulder. “This will always be your home.”
“Yeah,” Jeff sighed, “but it will never be the same. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes, I do.”
Jeff felt a sudden need to change the subject. “Has anyone called for me?”
“No. Were you expecting to hear from someone?”
Jeff shrugged. “Some of my old classmates, maybe.”
“No, honey. I haven’t heard from a soul. Ginny told me that Jim Blankenship was married and had a child on the way.”
“Really?” Jeff replied with a chuckle. “An accidental family, eh?”
His mother blushed slightly. “I suppose so. Wait—there was one call. Just this morning, in fact.”
“I think it was an Army recruiter. Remember when they kept calling last spring?”
Jeff shuddered at the memory. Both he and Paul had drawn high draft lottery numbers and were safe from the clutches of Vietnam. Still, the Army was hungry for fresh flesh.
“Did the caller say who he was?”
“Grady was all I understood. He spoke strangely.”
“Grady?” Jeff replied with widening eyes. “Not Grady Wallace.”
His mother nodded. “That’s the one.”
“Grady Wallace lives on my floor in Duniway Hall. Why in the world would he call here?”
“Just a moment,” his mother said as she left the room. She returned with a slip of crumpled paper. “I almost threw this away. He left a telephone number. I just assumed it was an Army recruiting office.”
Jeff glanced at the number and saw immediately that it didn’t begin with Montana’s 406 area code. Instead, to Jeff’s astonishment, the number began with his area code.
As if by divine intervention, the telephone began to ring. His mother rushed to pick it up in the study.
“Jeff!” she called. “It’s for you. It’s the Wallace fellow.”
“Of course it is,” Jeff muttered. He took the telephone from his mother and forced a smile. “Hello Grady!”
“Hi,” came the grunt. “Merry Christmas. I’m in Indianapolis.”
“Naturally. Where else would you be?” Jeff replied, rolling his eyes. “Just thought I’d stop by and see you this Christmas.”
Jeff’s mother was still standing at his side, smiling curiously. Jeff felt the need to sit. He began rubbing his forehead.
“Stop by? Aren’t you in Frenchtown? Or at least supposed to be in Frenchtown?”
“Nah. My parents are away. Nothing to do.”
“But…wouldn’t they normally…take you along?”
“Not this time.”
“Obviously not.” Jeff drew a deep breath. “So where are you now?”
“At the airport Holiday Inn. I arrived last night.” Jeff wanted to ask how Grady could possibly afford to jump on a plane and fly almost all the way across the continent on a whim. He decided against it for the moment.
“Well, do you want me to come get you?” Jeff asked. He felt as though he had suddenly fallen through the looking glass and into Wonderland.
“No. I have a car.”
Of course, you do, Jeff thought.
“Just a moment, Grady.” Jeff cupped his hand over the mouthpiece. It was time once again to cross the swinging bridge.
“How do you feel about another guest at Christmas dinner tomorrow?” he asked his mother.
“Your friend Grady?”
“That’s perfectly fine,” she replied. “He can even stay here with us during Christmas. It would be better than a Holiday Inn.”
“Nice thought, Mom, but no.” Jeff returned to the telephone. “Stop by tomorrow afternoon around 2 o’clock.”
“Great,” Grady replied, then more softly added, “Thanks, Jeff.”
The next day found Grady Wallace at the Louden Christmas table. He arrived looking much the same as always, complete with trench coat. To Jeff’s surprise, Grady was a gracious guest. He helped Jeff’s mother set the table and even chopped the lettuce, onions and carrots for the salad.
“Grady,” Jeff’s father began over a cup of post-feast coffee, “your family name is familiar to me from the business news, but I can’t quite place it.”
“We are an old Montana business family,” Grady answered with a new articulate air that Jeff found creepy. He wasn’t altogether sure that this was the same Grady he had known from Missoula.
His father tapped the side of his head. “Something to do with metals. Am I right?”
“Metals?” Jeff asked as he mopped up a bit of gravy with his biscuit.
A tense look passed over Grady’s face, then disappeared. “My family owns Wallace Copper.”
“Omigosh!” his father blurted. “Are you the son of Michael Wallace?”
“Yes,” Grady replied with a tight smile.
Jeff shook his head. “Who--”
“Michael Wallace is the CEO of Wallace Copper,” his father answered without looking away from Grady. “I saw a photo of him in last night’s paper. He is about to purchase controlling shares in Northwest Power, isn’t he?”
“That’s the one,” Grady replied as he glanced at Jeff.
“Well, we’re honored to have you--”
Jeff jumped up from the table and sprinted for his coat. “Oh! I just remembered. Grady and I were supposed to be over at Paul Jepson’s house by now.”
His father’s face was frozen in a flabbergasted expression as Jeff and Grady quickly gathered their coats and bolted through the door, shouting “Merry Christmas” all the way. As soon as the they were safely in Grady’s car, Jeff punched him hard on the shoulder.
“You’re the son of a billionaire! Why didn’t you say something before?”
Grady looked downcast. “I didn’t think it mattered.”
“It doesn’t,” Jeff shouted. “That’s the point! You’ve been living a lie.”
Grady’s head jerked up suddenly. Jeff began waving his hands. “That’s not what I meant. Look, can we talk straight and cut through the bullshit?”
“Are you a homosexual?”
“Yes,” Grady replied softly.
“Okay. And I am one of the straightest people you’re likely to meet, but what you do with your sex life doesn’t matter to me. Understand?”
“Now, why aren’t you with your family for Christmas?”
“My mother and father went to the Cayman Islands for the holidays. The have a very private home on Seven Mile Beach.”
“It is, ‘cept I wasn’t invited.”
“Oh,” Jeff said. “Does your dad know about how you…are?”
“He does now. I spilled it all in a telephone call just before final exams.”
“How did he take it?” Jeff asked, although he already guessed at the answer.
“He hung up on me,” Grady replied as his eyes glistened. “Next day I got a telegram—a telegram—telling me that they were leaving for the islands. No ‘Merry Christmas,’ no nothing.”
“Oh man,” Jeff groaned. “I’m so sorry. Why don’t you stay with us until we all have to fly back?”
“No, Jeff. I wouldn’t be comfortable.”
“Yeah. My father would be greasing you up for money the whole time.”
Grady wiped his eyes and laughed softly. “I probably won’t be seeing too much of that stuff in the future either.”
“That being the case,” Jeff said as he put his Chevy in gear, “let’s hit the streets. Even on Christmas Day there has to be an open bar somewhere.”
Jeff and Grady settled into a comfortable routine of touring and barhopping. One day they drove to Cincinnati and saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer in concert at Riverfront Coliseum. On another day, they journeyed to visit a friend of Jeff’s at Purdue University. New Year’s Eve was spent at a downtown Indianapolis bar with a dozen of Jeff and Paul’s high school classmates. Paul, oddly enough, was absent.
The sexual awkwardness between Jeff and Grady was gone; everything was out in the open, which was an immense relief to them both. Although Jeff still wasn’t quite sure about Grady’s overall strangeness, he was learning to tolerate it. Jeff was beginning to suspect that the soup-bowl haircut and thick glasses could be hiding a genuinely fascinating individual.
More than a week had passed since Jeff had parted company with Paul at the Indianapolis airport and the time to return to Missoula was almost at hand. Jeff hadn’t heard a word from Paul, so he decided it was time to call his parent’s house.
Paul’s mother answered the telephone and seemed happy to hear from him. Mrs Jepson had always been like a second mother, often watching over them when his own mother was arriving late from work. She made the best grilled-cheese sandwiches and, at that moment, Jeff found himself craving one in the worst way.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs Jepson,” he said.
“Oh my! This is a surprise. How are you?”
“Fine,” Jeff replied. “And you?”
“We had quite a full house, but I loved every minute.”
“Is Paul available? Can I speak to him?”
There was a moment of strained silence that was very unlike Mrs Jepson. “Didn’t you know he left, Jeff?”
“Left?” Jeff felt a sudden sinking sensation.
“Why, yes. Paul went to Michigan the day after Christmas to do some ice
fishing with one of his cousins. He didn’t tell you?”
“Uh…no, Mrs Jepson. Did Paul say when he was returning to Missoula?” “Well, I don’t know. I don’t think he purchased his ticket yet.” Jeff nearly dropped the telephone. His head was spinning. “You mean he
didn’t buy a roundtrip ticket?”
“No, honey. Paul wasn’t sure when he was going to go back and just
couldn’t seem to make up his mind. Isn’t that funny? You how my boy is!” Jeff wanted to scream. Funny? It’s fucking hilarious! My supposed best
friend just takes his leave without so much as a “kiss my ass?” What the hell
am I supposed to do now?
But instead, Jeff said, “If Paul should call in the next day or two, Mrs
Jepson, please ask him to give me a ring at my parent’s home. You might
want to remind him that classes begin again this Wednesday.”
“Certainly, Jeff. I’m sorry about all the confusion.”
“It’s okay Mrs Jepson. These things happen.”
“I’ll be thinking of you.”
“Thanks, Mrs Jepson. Good-bye.”
Jeff suppressed the urge to slam the handset into the receiver cradle. He
turned to Grady, who was watching television in his parent’s living room. “You don’t look happy, Jeff.”
“What’s wrong?” Grady grunted.
Jeff sat in his father’s favorite recliner and muttered a curse. “Tell me,
Grady, what are your plans for winter quarter?”
Grady shrugged. “Going back to U of M and picking up where I left off, I
“Got your return flight booked?”
“Of course. Why?”
“Good man. Planning ahead and making firm decisions is a fine thing,
right? Especially where other people are affected, right?”
“Well, Grady, right now Paul is freezing his ass on a lake somewhere in
Michigan without a return ticket or, apparently, without concern about when
he’ll be returning.”
“I don’t understand,” Grady said with a frown. “I thought you two were
traveling together. Besides, It’s a lot less expensive to book a round trip than a
one way. Paul should know that.”
“Well,” Jeff replied with a bitter laugh, “I guess Paul had other ideas.” Grady’s range of facial expression was limited, but this time he clearly
registered surprise. “Why wouldn’t Paul tell you of his plans? I thought you
guys were friends from way back?”
“We are good friends, but even the best relationships can unravel. Maybe
that’s part of what is going on here. I don’t know.”
“Scott told me something once,” Jeff continued, “about not always
following the lead of others. Maybe this is one of those times.” “Sounds like you’ll be going back to campus without Paul.” “Yep. But I tell you, Grady, I feel adrift. Really adrift.”
Grady reached into his coat pocket and produced a Western Airlines
ticket envelope. “I could use some company on my flight,” he said. Jeff shook his head. “I can’t afford to change my ticket. My parents paid
for it. The penalty charges would eat them alive.”
“I think I can take care of that,” Grady said with a grin.
Chapter 8 Winter
Paul finally returned to campus nearly a week after the winter quarter was underway. Jeff didn’t ask for an explanation, and none was offered.
The first weeks of January were solemn. The sun rarely showed itself and snow blanketed the city. The very air had become stagnant in the Missoula Valley, trapping fumes from the great pulp mills. Cones of light from the street lamps outlined the noxious fog at night. The result was an omnipresent stench that Grady Wallace had described as “God’s fart.”
Jeff had just settled down for an evening of scintillating study when Rich Runyon bounced into his room. Before Jeff could protest, Rich closed the door and put his forefinger to his lips.
“Shhh! Top secret.”
Rich removed his knit cap—which had acquired more holes and hanging threads since September—and produced a sandwich bag bulging with marijuana.
“Look closely, Jeff. You’ve never seen weed like this.”
Jeff marked the page in his textbook, then took the bag from Rich’s outstretched hands. Rich was right. Rather than the usual brownish-green color, this pot was almost canary yellow.
“What is this stuff?”
Rich grinned. “Acapulco gold. The real deal.”
“Holy shit! Where did you get it?”
“From this old coot I met in the Cavern last weekend.”
Jeff frowned. “Are you sure it is okay?”
“Okay?” Rich said as he rolled his eyes. “Are you serious? This shit is much more than okay. This pot is a total mind fuck. Try some and find out.”
Jeff stared at the golden leaves, then glanced at the textbook laying on his bed.
“Tick tock tick tock,” Rich said with a grin. “Decisions, decisions.”
“Oh hell,” Jeff said. “My reporting class is still two days away. Do you think my brain cells will regenerate by then?”
“Most definitely,” Rich replied as he spilled his joint-rolling tools on Jeff’s desk. Jeff opened the window as much as he dared and flicked the thermostat up several notches. As soon as he had the joint finished, Rich lit a candle and extinguished the desk lamp.
“Is KRAP on the air?” he asked.
“Yes. I’m playing side one of the Steely Dan Countdown to Ecstasy album.”
“Excellent! Turn it up!”
A snare drum set the beat for “Bodhisattva” as Rich eased the tip of the golden joint into the candle flame. He blew out the small fire that had taken root where the paper twisted to a point, then drew the first hit.
“Ohhhh,” he sighed as be exhaled the smoke toward the open window. He handed the smoldering joint to Jeff, who drew the smoke as deeply into his lungs as possible. He held it for a moment, savoring the sweet aroma, then coughed the excess out the window.
“Isn’t this stuff fabulous?” Rich asked.
Jeff nodded. “I can already feel it going to my head.”
Rich took another drag, then waved the joint at the speakers. “That’s the music of the future, man. Jazzy, sophisticated rock.”
Jeff plucked the joint from Rich’s fingers and inhaled eagerly. “I wouldn’t bet on it. There is other stuff coming along. Not sure I like what I’m hearing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Repetitive tracks with constant backbeats. Music for dancing, not thinking.”
Rich shrugged. “Music is music.”
At that instant, something flew past the window. Jeff saw only a white blur with a long, shimmering tail (thanks to the Acapulco Gold).
“I think I’m hallucinating,” Jeff said.
“I just saw—there goes another one!”
Rich followed his stare and scowled. “Hell, it’s a snowball. There’s another.”
While the needle tracked Countdown to Ecstasy on the turntable, a snowball battle was taking shape in the canyon between Duniway and Miller halls. Rich and Jeff sucked down the remains of the joint and watched as more students joined the melee.
“This is cool,” Rich said with a giggle. “Shall we take our places on the firing line?”
Minutes later, they stumbled outside, their feet scrambling for purchase on the snow-covered sidewalk. When they made it to the relative stability of the softer snow, they found that they could do little more than gape at the spectacle.
It looked like a wintry re-enactment of a Civil War battle. As many as 100 Duniway denizens formed a ragged line that extended almost the entire length of the building. The Millerites (“Not to be confused with the founders of the Seventh Day Adventist Church,” Rich was quick to caution) were fewer in number and had sought the shelter of the Miller Hall main entrance. They were in the process of being driven into the snow under a continuous hail of Duniway artillery.
“Destroy them! Destroy them all!” Rich shouted.
An enormous cheer went up when the last of the Millerites gave up the fight, crawling and staggering to reach the safety of the hall’s steel doors. Suddenly, Rich ran into the middle of the courtyard.
“Hile, snow slingers!” he shouted. “To me! To me!”
Jeff, along with the rest of the Duniway contingent, watched in rapt fascination as a longhaired lunatic without a coat screamed for their attention.
“Follow me!” Rich cried. “To Knowles!”
Rich began sprinting toward Knowles Hall without looking back. The crowd, including Jeff, was frozen in place for about two seconds and then, with a roar, they swarmed after him. Jeff found himself screaming as well, although later he couldn’t remember what he was shouting.
The students of Knowles Hall couldn’t have guessed what was coming their way. Had they been listening, however, they would likely have heard it. The Duniway army was on the march, and Rich Runyon was leading them in song.
“I don’t know, but I’ve been told”
(I don’t know, but I’ve been told)
“Eskimo ass is mighty cold”
(Eskimo ass is mighty cold)
Their first victims were two students in a third-floor room who had the temerity to tell them to “shut the fuck up.” Rich pointed to their window and an artillery barrage commenced. The window screen buckled and flew backward into the room.
Another student made the terrible mistake of leaving Knowles via the front entrance, destination unknown. He was carrying a briefcase in one hand and a notebook in the other.
“It’s a twerp! Tear him up!” Rich cried.
Their target had just enough time to turn slightly and utter, “Huh?”
The snowballs flew in the next heartbeat, blasting the notebook from his hand and sending him sprawling to the salt-encrusted concrete. He tried to get to his knees, but Jeff—who had finally gathered his wits sufficiently to pack a dense snowball—threw a bomb that exploded on the back of the hapless student’s skull and drove him down again.
“Fuck!” the victim yelled as he scrambled back into the dorm.
Rich waved his arms above his head. “We have them on the run, boys! Fire as your guns bear!”
Snowballs by the dozens thudded against windows, and more than a couple shattered. Shouts and screams echoed from Knowles in response, but no one dared to challenge them outside.
Then the sirens began wailing.
A Missoula police cruiser and a campus security truck, red lights whirling, crashed over the parking lot curb and careened through a stand of pine trees. Headlights and flashlights swept across the crowd.
An amplified voice boomed, “This is the police! Stop immediately!”
“Run!” Rich yelled, but it really wasn’t necessary. What was once an unstoppable advance instantly turned into panicked retreat. Jeff stood transfixed with an idiotic grin on his face as students stampeded around him. He saw Rich flying toward him and laughed.
“Go, go, go!” Rich shouted as he snagged Jeff by the crook of his elbow. Jeff spun in place, but Rich retained his grip, jerking Jeff off his feet and dragging him several yards.
As Jeff recovered his footing, they both broke into a run, giggling uncontrollably. When they reached the shadows behind the Alumni Center, they stopped, shivering and laughing, in the middle of a snowdrift.
By the time they felt it was safe to emerge from hiding, Jeff’s feet were nearly frostbitten and Rich’s skin had turned a disturbing shade of blue. Police were still talking and gesturing in front of Knowles Hall, but the Duniway Army had vanished completely and they didn’t seem eager to pursue.
Rich led Jeff to the south side of the journalism building where there they stood under a towering pine while Rich prepared another joint. Jeff stamped his feet and rubbed his hands above the flame provided by Rich’s cigarette lighter.
“War is hell,” Rich said, “but I love it so.”
“I can’t believe what just happened,” Jeff replied. “I felt so strange.”
“Give thanks to Acapulco Gold.”
“No,” Jeff said, “it wasn’t just that. I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. It was the most exhilarating sensation.”
“You’ve never had sex, have you?” Rich said as he squinted against the smoke.
“Don’t answer that,” Rich interrupted as he took a long hit from the joint. He held the smoke for a few seconds, then launched it upward through the overhanging branches.
“Let me tell you, Jeff, sex is much better. Trust me.”
“With Audrey, I imagine it would be,” Jeff replied softly, taking the joint from Rich’s trembling hands.
Rich only nodded and stared into the distance. Before he could speak again, there was a shout from somewhere above their heads, followed by the sound of frozen branches snapping away from the tree. The cascading destruction began somewhere near the top, but moved downward with astonishing speed. Jeff looked up just in time to see a large, dark object twisting and crashing through the branches. In his befuddled state, Jeff could only manage a few steps backward.
The object emerged from the lowest branches in the shape of a man with his arms flailing. The man fell through seven feet of open air and landed face down in the snow. A miniature snow shower followed close behind.
“Jesus Christ! We’re busted!” Rich shrieked and broke into a stumbling run.
“Wait,” the prone figure gasped. “It’s me.”
Rich was already well beyond hearing and nearly out of sight. Jeff couldn’t will his legs to move. Instead, he stood in place and screamed incoherently.
“Jeff!” the figure shouted. “For god’s sake shut up! It’s me.”
Jeff fell silent, but continued to hyperventilate.
“It’s me. It’s Scott, you stoned fool.”
Scott Davies groaned and rolled onto his back.
“What…what the hell were you doing up there?” Jeff stammered.
“I climbed into the tree to meditate,” Scott said as he stood and slapped the snow from his clothes. “I dozed off instead and slipped. It was a rude awakening to say the least.”
“Are you okay?” Jeff asked.
“I’ll be sore tomorrow, but I’m alright.” He gazed at Jeff and shook his head. “Why are you out here without a coat?”
“Rich has this most amazing pot and we--”
Scott held up his hand. “That answers my question. Come on.”
He walked Jeff back to the dorm and picked up two cups of hot coffee in the lounge, plus a large bag of Doritos. Jeff was particularly grateful for the Doritos.
“Sometimes Rich can be an asshole,” Scott said as they warmed themselves on the couch. “He should know better than to smoke weed on a weekday night. It never goes well.”
Jeff nodded. “I don’t know what I was thinking. That stuff kicked my ass. I’m still pretty buzzed.”
“I know,” Scott said with a smile. “Were you and Rich involved in that riot I saw going on at Knowles Hall? Should I even ask?”
Jeff grinned and reached for another handful of Doritos. “Yep. Rich was leading it.”
“Of course. Do you think any of the cops identified you or Rich? That could be very bad.”
“No,” Jeff replied. “It was too dark.”
“You’re lucky. You guys could have been expelled.”
Jeff wolfed down another handful of chips. “You know what I really don’t understand?” he said, dribbling orange crumbs from his lips.
“Well, yes, now that you mention it.”
Jeff hesitated and looked as though he really expected Scott to offer an impromptu physics lecture. Scott shook his head and made a twirling motion with his right hand.
“Go on, Jeff.”
“I don’t understand how Audrey can be in a relationship with Rich Runyon.”
“Now there is a true scientific mystery,” Scott laughed.
“No, really. Rich is one of the least sincere people I’ve ever met. What can someone like Audrey possibly see in him?”
“Maybe insincerity is the attraction, Jeff. A good-time guy, you know?”
Jeff looked hurt. “I can be a good-time guy,” he said petulantly.
Scott turned to face Jeff directly. “I think you need to give up on Audrey,” he said. “If it is meant to happen, it will. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for grief. This campus is filled to the gills with fascinating women. Go find another.”
“Easy for you to say.”
Scott’s eyebrows arched suddenly. “What do you mean? I’m not involved with anyone. What makes you think I am?”
“I just assumed,” Jeff shrugged. “You’re the mysterious Scott. Women are attracted to mystery.”
Scott wagged his finger. “Only certain women, Jeff. Special, mysterious wo--”
“Oh my god!” Jeff shouted.
“Now what?” Scott snapped as he followed Jeff’s wide-eyed stare. He was rewarded with the sight of Rich Runyon pressed against the one of the enormous of floor-to-ceiling glass panels adjacent to the lobby doorway. As they watched, Rich slid across the glass in slow, liquid fashion, eyes agog and lips puckered. His palms were spread upon the glass as well, fingers open wide.
“You are an idiot,” Scott shouted. Rich slipped his hands above his head and seemed to stumble slightly. Silvery cracks suddenly appeared beneath his fingers and ran to the far edges of the glass before Jeff could even blink.
From Jeff’s perspective, time slowed to a crawl. More cracks shot across the glass while Rich still held his clownish grin. The reflections of the lobby lamps shuddered, then fractured into distorted shards. Scott was on his feet in a split second, but he was too late. The glass seemed to fold in the middle, then collapse onto the granite floor with a thunderous crash.
Rich’s luck was still with him. As the glass panel fell inward, he continued to stumble backward, falling into a row of dwarf shrubbery.
Scott jumped and skipped over shards of glass that careered across the lobby. “Are you okay, Rich?” he cried. Rich’s giggle supplied the answer. He turned back to Jeff, who was in a state of apparent shock.
“Follow me, Jeff. Run!” Scott shouted.
“Where are we going?” Jeff gasped as he sprinted through the hallway behind Scott.
“To your room, fool!”
Shouts echoed behind them, along with the sounds of doors opening violently. Jeff recognized one of the voices as belonging to Steve Grindel.
They turned the first-floor corner and skidded to a halt in front of Jeff’s room. Jeff fumbled with the lock, then threw the door wide. Scott slammed it behind them and fell to his knees.
“Oh, man! This is bad,” he groaned.
“You think Rich got away?” Jeff asked.
“I hope to hell so.”
Scott sat on the floor with his head in his hands. “Poor Rich. Proceed directly to jail. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.”
Jeff noticed that the KRAP transmitter was still on the air. He flipped Countdown to Ecstasy to side two and didn’t care where he dropped the needle.
Scott tilted his head back and sighed. “I swear, Jeff. We’re never gonna survive to be sophomores at this rate.”
Jeff fell heavily onto the bed and his textbook bounced to the floor. “You have my word, Scott. No more pot on weekday nights.”
“Bingo” Scott replied.