Missoula by Steven Ford - HTML preview

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Chapter 9 Audrey

Rich Runyon’s luck was indeed extraordinary. Not only did he avoid being collared by the police in the aftermath of the Battle of Knowles Hall, he survived the Great Window Implosion of 1974 without so much as a scratch. Paul and Jeff found him at his usual table in the cafeteria the next morning, making quick work of a stack of buttermilk pancakes.

“I churned up the snow like you wouldn’t believe,” he said as he described his escape. “I was like a cartoon character, you know how their legs spin madly, but they don’t get anywhere?”

Paul and Jeff nodded.
“I think my feet were throwing up rooster tails of snow—that’s how fast I was scrambling. It was total panic. I just screamed across the Oval and ducked into the University Center. God, if I hadn’t froze to death, I believe I would have had a heart attack. I shot a few games of pool with a couple of Indian students. That kept me out of harms way for about two hours.”
“Grindel and the other resident advisors put up a big sheet of plywood,” Jeff said. “Police were there until after midnight.”
Rich shrugged and stuffed a forkful of pancakes into his mouth. “It was an accident. You and Scott saw it.”
“Maybe you should just fess up, then,” Jeff replied.
Rich held his fork in mid-air and glared. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
“Good god, Jeff,” Paul said with a laugh. “They’d expel Rich in a heartbeat. What are you thinking? Besides, what’s one window?”
“Several hundred dollars, maybe more,” Jeff said.
“Shit,” Rich grumbled. “I’ll write them a check next chance I get.”
Rich and Paul laughed, but Jeff remained silent. “Let’s change the subject,” Rich said.
“Good idea,” Jeff muttered.
“Lighten up, Jeff. I have great news for you,” Rich grinned. “You can have Audrey.”
“Say what?”
“You can have her. She’s gone around the bend. Too crazy and clingy for me.” Rich wiggled his fingers in the air.
“I didn’t know she was yours to give,” Jeff replied.
“Oh, Jeff,” Rich chuckled, “you know exactly what I mean. There comes a point in every relationship where the woman goes insane. That’s the time to move on. Audrey has clearly arrived at that point.”
“Rich’s telling you the truth,” Paul interrupted. “One day it’s all fun and the next day they’re shrieking and flapping their wings like huge crows. Criticism. Demands. All that bullshit. I saw it coming with Leigh and cut her off at the pass.”
“I see,” Jeff replied.
“Well, you won’t see her around my room anymore,” Rich announced as he drained a glass of orange juice. “Life is heavy enough as it is. There is always something just under the surface, ready to drag you down. The only solution is to walk on water, my friend. That’s what I’m doing.”
Paul nodded slowly, as if receiving sage wisdom. Jeff just stared.
“And leaving you with that little nugget, I must run,” Rich said as he hopped to his feet. “By the way, Jeff, I still have plenty of that Acapulco Gold.”
Jeff smiled weakly. “Maybe this weekend.”
“Suit yourself,” Rich replied with a wave. He swept up his books and disappeared into the crowd.
“Better find Audrey and strike while the iron is hot,” Paul said as he buttered a piece of toast.
“Or what, Paul? Another man ‘gets’ her? You make Audrey sound like a piece of merchandise that has just gone on sale.”
“Whatever,” he replied as he glanced at his watch. “Time is short. I need to concentrate on knocking off breakfast.”
They both returned to their plates and finished their meals in silence.

Two weeks passed and Jeff still hadn’t gathered enough courage to make the journey to Knowles Hall and knock on Audrey’s door. It was Valentine’s Day, oddly enough, when he saw Leigh in the first-floor hallway of the liberal arts building between classes. He took a deep breath and tapped her on the shoulder.

Leigh turned and frowned. “Hello Jeff.”
“Haven’t seen you in a long time,” Jeff said with a smile.
“Yeah, well, you know how it goes.”
He did, at least as far as she was concerned, but wasn’t really eager to

discuss it. “How’s Audrey?”
Leigh shrugged. “Hanging in there, I guess. No thanks to Rich.” Jeff sighed. “Um…look, Leigh, just because I associate with those guys,

it doesn’t mean that I always share their opinions. It doesn’t mean I behave like they do. You understand?”

Her face softened slightly. “Yes, but you really do a piss poor job of picking your friends.”
The bell clanged just above their heads.
“I have to get to my next class, Jeff.”
“Leigh,” Jeff said as he touched her arm, “I’m really sorry, for all the good it does.”
“I know.”
“Do you think there is there any chance Audrey and I could…get together sometime?”
Leigh smiled at last. “You should just ask her, but I think I know where you’re coming from. Let me talk to her.”
“Just a cheeseburger in the UC. That’s all.”

That afternoon Jeff’s telephone rang while he was queuing up another album for KRAP.
“Jeff? It’s Audrey.”
“Hi!” replied, groping for just the right warm, but casual, tone of voice. “I guess you spoke to Leigh.”
“Yes. She said you wanted to take me out on a date?”
“Well,” Jeff chuckled, “I just thought we’d meet at the UC for a burger, or something.”
There was a long pause, and Jeff thought he heard a sigh. “Sure, Jeff. When?”
“Tonight? How about 6 o’clock?”
Another long pause. “Okay. I’ll meet you in the UC.”
“Great!” He hopped Audrey could hear the smile in his voice. “I’ll see you then.”
Jeff hung up the telephone and snapped his fingers. “Yes!”
He spent the next two hours rehearsing what he was going to say. Jeff planned to apologize for Rich’s boorishness, swear that at least he wasn’t a cretin, demonstrate his kindness and overall trustworthiness—and not bring up politics.
At fifteen minutes to the fateful hour, Jeff brushed out his hair as best he could. He considered tying it back into a ponytail, but then decided against it. He popped a stick of spearmint gum into his mouth, signed KRAP off the airwaves and began his pilgrimage to the University Center.
Audrey was waiting at the entrance to the second-floor restaurant, dressed in faded jeans and a bulky University of Montana sweatshirt under a light parka. Her platinum-blonde hair was flowing over her shoulders like water cascading over a fall. Jeff caught her attention with a wave; Audrey smiled.
“Hungry?” he asked.
“A little,” she replied as they took their places in line.
“I missed seeing you. It has been a long time.”
“I guess I don’t get over to Duniway all that much these days. Do you still have your little radio station?”
“KRAP, yes. Do you listen?”
“No. Sorry.”
“Well, you’re probably not missing anything,” Jeff laughed.
They chose a small table away from the other students. Jeff began eagerly tearing into his cheeseburger, but then noticed that Audrey had barely touched hers.
“I guess you really were only a ‘little’ hungry,” he said.
“C’est vrai,” Audrey replied with only the hint of a smile.
Jeff put his sandwich on his plate and gazed at Audrey, adoring how she seemed to glow in the pool of light cast by the ceiling lamps. He resisted the urge to take her hand.
“Is everything okay, Audrey?”
“Why do you ask? Do I look ‘not okay’?”
“I know that you and Rich--”
Audrey silenced him with a sudden wave of her hand. “Jeff, I don’t…”
She quickly blushed and covered her eyes. Through her fingers, Jeff saw a glint of tears.
“I don’t want to talk about Rich,” she choked as she shook her head, her hand never leaving her eyes.
“He can be a complete jerk, I know. Do you want me to speak with him? Maybe--”
“No!” she snapped.
“Okay,” Jeff said with growing alarm. “I’m confused now. I think this goes a lot deeper than being pissed over a breakup, doesn’t it?”
Audrey lowered her hand and tears trickled down her cheeks. Her eyes were swollen and bloodshot. “Jeff,” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “I’m pregnant.”
Jeff sat upright in his chair and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.
“Wow!” he said. “Why are you telling me this?”
Audrey dropped her gaze to the tabletop.
“Wait,” Jeff said quickly. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. I’m trying to ask if I’m the only person who knows. Did you tell Rich?”
Audrey shook her head. “Hell, no. He wouldn’t care anyway.”
Probably right about that, Jeff thought.
“What about Leigh?” he asked.
“No. No one but you—and just now. Isn’t that bizarre?”
“Well, yes. I guess I am an odd choice.”
Audrey wiped her cheeks and then touched his hand. Jeff almost gasped.
“I didn’t mean that the way it sounded,” she said.
“I understand,” Jeff replied. He placed his hand atop hers. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to Spokane this weekend,” she said. The choked sound was returning to her voice.
“Spokane? Why?”
Audrey looked around quickly. “It’s not easy here in Montana, Jeff. It’s better in Washington state.”
Jeff felt a chill rising up his spine. “What is better, Audrey?”
“Don’t you understand? I’m…having an…”
“Abortion?” Jeff whispered.
Audrey swallowed hard and nodded.
“Good God,” Jeff sighed. He held her hand and slowly caressed her fingers. Almost a minute passed in silence.
“How are you getting there?” he asked.
“I’m taking a bus.”
“Is Leigh going with you?”
“No,” she replied softly. “I don’t want anyone to know. If I hadn’t been so weak minded right now, you wouldn’t have known, either.”
“But since you had to tell someone, I’m glad it was me,” Jeff replied with a slight grin. “I’m honored.”
“Thank you,” Audrey replied.
“Look,” Jeff said as he cleared his throat, “why don’t you let me take you?”
“I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You didn’t. I did.”
Audrey drew a deep breath and seemed to shudder. “This won’t be pretty, Jeff.”
“I understand. When do you have to be there?”
“Nine o’clock Saturday morning. But you don’t have a car.”
Jeff shrugged. “I can borrow Paul’s car. He won’t mind.”
“You won’t tell--”
“A single soul,” Jeff said. “Not Paul, not Rich. I’ll tell Paul we’re going on a date.”
Audrey tried to laugh, but it died in her throat. “Boy, won’t they be surprised.”
“C’est vrai,” Jeff replied.
Jeff and Audrey left the University Center and strolled slowly around the Oval, moving from one lamppost to another in the gathering darkness. They talked little, and when they did it was meaningless babble about music and current events. All the most important things had already been said.
They parted at the entrance to Knowles Hall, Jeff taking her hand in his.
“I’ll be ready Saturday,” he said. “I’ll call your room at five.”
“That’s awfully early for you to wake up,” she replied.
“I’m a morning person. Don’t worry.”
Audrey nodded. “Meet me on Arthur Avenue at five, okay? Don’t come to my room. I want to leave quietly.”
“I understand.”
They hugged tightly, then Jeff watched her walk through the doors and into the warm light of the Knowles Hall lobby. As Jeff returned to his room, he noticed that Rich’s door was standing open.
“Jeff my man!” Rich called out. “What’s happening?”
“Nothing. I’m going to bed.”
Jeff’s door slammed shut.

The sky above the eastern mountaintops was stained pink as Audrey climbed into the Paul’s Mustang on Arthur Avenue. “I brought you some coffee,” Jeff said, handing her a steaming paper cup.

“I appreciate that,” she replied.

When they had merged onto westbound I-90, Jeff slipped in an eight-track tape of the Moody Blues Question of Balance. He assumed that Audrey wouldn’t be in a mood for conversation, and he was right. As they climbed Lolo Pass and onward into Idaho, the music seemed like a soundtrack selected for the moment. He thought sure Audrey would ask him to turn it off, but she didn’t.

It was a painfully long drive to Spokane, the hours spent mostly in silence. Jeff would comment on the scenic beauty, but Audrey responded in monosyllables, if she responded at all. When they finally reached the outskirts of the city, Jeff saw that Audrey had begun to cry.

“I wish to God there was something I could do,” he said softly. “You’re doing it,” she whispered.
Audrey gripped his arm as they stepped through the doors of the clinic.

The tiny waiting room was furnished with a few scattered chairs, a battered television and a fern badly in need of sunlight and water. The fact that the room was empty was a small consolation.

They sat together for several minutes until a door opened and a smiling nurse with a clipboard asked Audrey to step forward.
Audrey stood, then hesitated. The nurse asked Audrey if she wanted Jeff to accompany her.
“No. That won’t be necessary,” Audrey replied softly.
Jeff felt a stab of pain at this, but merely nodded.
“I’ll be right here. Waiting. If you need me.”
“I know,” Audrey replied before the nurse closed the door.
Jeff read every magazine in the waiting room and watched Saturday morning cartoons until he thought his eyes would bleed. He listened for any sound that might pass through the walls, but heard nothing except clicking typewriters and ringing telephones.
Two hours later, Audrey emerged. She was pale and trembling. In one hand, she carried a paper bag containing a generous supply of Kotex pads and Tylenol.
“Let’s go,” she said. “Right now.”
“Was it bad?” Jeff asked as they drove out of the parking lot.
“Very bad,” Audrey replied, then began to cry. “I will never do something like this again. Never.”
“Can you eat? Do you want to get lunch?” Jeff asked, and immediately felt ridiculous.
“No, Jeff. Let’s just go home. I have really bad cramps. I need to rest.”
Audrey eventually fell asleep with her head resting in Jeff’s lap. It was another long, quiet drive back to campus, but it gave Jeff time to shuffle through his thoughts. September 15and the glorious aroma of roofing tar seemed like a childhood dream. Only five months had passed, but it felt like five years. Jeff could sense his life changing in ways he could have never anticipated, and he knew it wasn’t over yet.
For now at least, Jeff was happy just to feel Audrey’s body against his, even if she was merely sleeping. He felt responsible and mature, but most of all—and best of all--he felt needed.
Audrey awakened as they slowed for the exit off the interstate in Missoula, and by the time they reached the campus, her glow was returning. They hugged in the parking lot, and this time she blessed him with a kiss on his cheek.
“Thank you so much, Jeff. You really are a good friend.”
“Do you think we--”
“Remember,” she said as she squeezed his hand. “Not a soul.”
“Of course.”
Audrey smiled and waved. “See you later!”
“I hope so,” Jeff answered, but she didn’t hear him. Audrey was already on the sidewalk and walking away with quick strides, the paper bag bouncing off her thigh with each step.

Chapter 10 A Friend of the Devil is a Friend of Mine

Jeff was tacking a new poster to his wall when Rich Runyon burst through the door. A tack slipped from Jeff’s hand and rolled beneath the bed.
“Don’t you ever knock?”
“Not if I can help it,” Rich replied. He eyed the poster and cocked his head to one side. “More Soviet wallpaper, eh? Who is the old lady waving her arms? What does it say?”
Jeff sighed. “The ‘old lady’ is supposed to represent Mother Russia. She’s saying ‘Mother Russian demands your help.’ It’s a World War II recruiting poster.”
“But why is it on your wall?”
Jeff jumped to the floor to retrieve his thumbtack. He had to fish among the dust bunnies beneath his bed for the prize. When his fingers closed around it, the tack sank deep into his flesh.
“Ow! God damn it!” Jeff pulled the tack free and stared at his bleeding forefinger.
“Here,” Rich said as he handed a tissue to Jeff. “Looks like you’ve shed blood for Mother Russia.”
“If you hadn’t come in my room unannounced, I probably wouldn’t have dropped the tack in the first place.”
“I’m sorry, Jeff,” Rich replied softly. “I was just coming to chat.”
“I’m sure,” Jeff shrugged as he used the bloodied tack to pin down the last corner of the poster.
“Do you want me to leave?”
Jeff considered saying “yes,” but what actually crossed his lips was, “No. I guess not. Have a seat.”
Rich pulled out Jeff’s desk chair and sat backward with his forearms resting on the top. Jeff stepped back to the center of the room with is hands on his hips, admiring his new poster.
“It does look good,” Rich said. “Full of revolutionary fervor, of course.”
Jeff nodded, then turned to Rich. “So, what did you need to talk about?”
“Girl trouble.”
“Oh?” Jeff’s stomach clenched slightly.
“It’s Madame Bump and Grind. Remember her?”
“Well,” Rich said as he lowered his voice to a whisper. “She gave me the clap!”
Jeff sat down hard on the bed. “Oh shit.”
“I’m sure of it,” Rich continued to whisper. “It burns like hell when I pee and there’s…a discharge, as they say.”
Jeff’s thoughts went instantly to Audrey, and his anger flared. “What the hell were you thinking, Rich?”
Rich shook his head. “What do you mean?”
“Did it ever occur to you that a woman like Madame Bump and Grind might have been just a little promiscuous? And it isn’t like she’s out there screwing only squeaky-clean college boys. You saw who she hangs out with.”
“I know, I know,” Rich said as he hung his head. When he looked up, his eyes were shiny with tears. “What’s gonna happen to me?”
“To you?” Jeff almost shouted. “This has gone well beyond you now. Didn’t they ever teach you about syphilis in your high school health classes? Or were you too busy goofing off?”
Rich glanced at the hallway and waved his hands at the floor. “Keep it down, please.”
Jeff walked to the door and closed it quietly. “You need to go to the university health service and get on antibiotics.”
“I can do that.”
“Yeah, but here comes the hard part: they’re going to make you name everyone you’ve had sex with in this town—everyone. They all have to start taking antibiotics.”
Rich’s face went pale. “You’re shitting me!”
“Oh, man. I don’t even know Madame Bump and Grind’s real name!”
“What about Audrey?” Jeff asked.
“What about her?”
Jeff had to bite the side of his tongue to stop himself from screaming. His next impulse was to yank Rich out of the chair by his grimy shirt collar and throw him through the window.
“You had sex with her after Madame Bump and Grind,” Jeff spat through his teeth. “Remember?”
“Yeah,” Rich grinned sheepishly. “Bow wow.”
Jeff took a step forward and stopped. Rich smiled at him stupidly, oblivious to how close he was to having a fist rammed through his teeth. Jeff drew a deep breath and clenched his hands behind his back. “Audrey has the clap now, too. Comprende? You’re going to have to name her as one of your ‘partners.’”
“Oooh!” Rich winced. “That won’t be good.”
“Damn right. Within a couple of days after you visit the health center, she’ll be getting a bad-news telephone call.”
“Jeff,” Rich began softly, “I need a favor. I don’t want Audrey to get the word that way.”
Am I hearing compassion for the woman who, until three weeks ago, was carrying your unborn child? Jeff thought. Remarkable. “What is it that you want me to do?” he said aloud.
“Audrey isn’t talking to me…”
No shit.
“…so could you possibly let her know? And tell her I’m sorry?”
Tell her yourself, you irresponsible asshole.
“Oh, why not?” Jeff sighed. “I’m a friend of the devil and everybody’s caretaker these days anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Never mind.”
Rich stood suddenly and hugged Jeff so tightly Jeff could barely breathe. Jeff resisted for a couple of seconds, then slowly patted Rich on the back.
“I really appreciate this, man,” Rich whispered.
Good God help me, Jeff thought. Why do I end up in the middle of everything?
“It’s okay,” he said. “Just get the meds and try to keep better control over your penis. Practicing celibacy for the rest of the school year might not be a bad idea.”
Rich pulled back and nodded. He stepped around Jeff and opened the door. “I owe you, man!” he called as he vanished into the hallway.
“You have no idea,” Jeff replied.

It was a sunny, early spring day when Jeff arrived at Audrey’s room on the second floor of Knowles Hall. Audrey had the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds playing on her stereo and she was puttering about the room with paper towels and a bottle of Windex. She turned to see Jeff standing in the doorway and seemed startled.

“Oh! Hi, Jeff!” she said.
“What are you up to?” Jeff replied as he surveyed the room. “Spring cleaning. Isn’t it a gorgeous day?”
“You bet,” Jeff replied.
But it’s about to take a different turn, he thought.
The Beach Boys had just started singing “God Only Knows.” Audrey

turned it down to a whisper. “So what brings you here?” she asked. “We need to talk privately,” Jeff replied as he stepped into the room and
closed the door. Audrey frowned and sat on the edge of her bed. “What’s this about?” she asked flatly.
“Rich. It’s about Rich.”
Audrey shook her head. “Oh, Jeff. What did you do?”
“Nothing,” Jeff said as he sat beside her. “But I was talking to Rich
yesterday and he told me something that you need to hear.”
“C’est vrai!” Audrey said with a bitter laugh. “He can’t live without me,
right? Poor, sad Rich. He--”
“No!” Jeff snapped. Audrey stared with wide eyes. Before she could
speak again, Jeff blurted, “Rich has syphilis.”
Audrey dropped the Windex bottle. Tears welled in her eyes. “You’ve got
to be kidding.”
“I wouldn’t make a joke about something like that and you know it.” Audrey grabbed a pillow, put it to her face and screamed. Jeff put his
hand on her shoulder, but she shook it away. “That bastard!” she screamed
When Audrey finally removed the pillow, it was stained with tears. Her
cheeks were wet and flushed. “I should have known. I’ve been
having…symptoms. Now I’m going to have to see a doctor.”
Jeff nodded.
“Shit,” she shouted as she threw the wad of paper towels toward the door.
“Now he has fucked me over twice.”
More times than that, to hear him tell it, Jeff thought.
“Do you want me to come with you to the health service?” he asked. “I’m a big girl, Jeff,” she sneered. “I can take care of this.” “Of course,” Jeff replied quietly. He could feel the tips of his ears
Audrey retrieved her Windex and tore off another towel from the roll. “I
have work to do,” she said.
In other words, get the fuck out.
Jeff opened the door, then looked back. Audrey was dabbing away tears.
“If you need me--”
“Yep. I know,” she said, and then turned up the Beach Boys. “Later,” Jeff replied, knowing that the odds of a “later” with Audrey were
slim indeed.

The weather changed abruptly, as weather in Montana often does. The early spring heat wave vanished and in its place a snowstorm buried the campus in mountains of white. By now even the freshmen had become hardened winter veterans, so they simply reverted to their routines of moving from class to class by navigating networks of ice trenches.

Paul and Rich had cut their own trench from the front of Craig Hall to the tall pines on the north side of the Alumni Center. They borrowed shovels on the pretense of digging out Paul’s car (which really was buried in snow). Once they had carved the trench to the base of the trees, they widened it into a circular platform on which they could stand and smoke pot unmolested.

All this work had been necessary because Steve Grindel had finally brought the hammer down. The defining moment was the debut of Rich Runyon’s multi-chambered water-filled pot pipe, better known as the “Mega Bong.”

The Mega Bong was designed to solve a particular set of problems: sore throats and coughing. Too much coughing was especially awkward after Grindel became savvy enough to realize that coughing fits behind closed doors often signaled pot use. Sore throats were an annoyance of smoking, but one that Rich was determined to solve as well.

He began by pilfering two large glass bottles from the chemistry lab. Both were conveniently outfitted with black rubber stoppers, each featuring two smooth holes. To his collection, Rich added a supply of plastic tubing and glass pipe. He installed a bowl at one end of a glass pipe, which was no small effort considering the fact that Rich broke several lengths of the stuff trying to adapt the brass fitting. With the bowl and its attendant pipe in place on the stopper, and the stopper secured in the first bottle, Rich inserted a plastic tube into the adjacent hole and snaked it over to the second bottle. From the second bottle stopper ran the four-foot hose that would carry the “processed” smoke to the smoker’s lips.

Rich decided to test-drive his creation in Paul’s room one snowy Friday evening. He filled both bottles with ice-cold water from the drinking fountain, then used food coloring to stain the water red in each bottle, just for dramatic effect.

Scott, Jeff, Grady and Paul were in attendance for the performance and everyone marveled at the sight of the Mega Bong. Rich had assembled the hookah on Paul’s desk, in plain sight of the window. This lack of discretion didn’t seem to concern him. Jeff was beyond mentioning such things and no one else appeared to notice.

Rich stuffed the bowl from his latest bag of pot and held a match over the mounded leaves. He put the long tube in his mouth and began drawing air with puckered lips. Other than the flush that appeared on his cheeks, nothing happened. But them, suddenly, the water in both bottles began to bubble. The match flame dipped and began to caress the marijuana. Two seconds later, the first bottle filled with smoke, which quickly shot through the connecting tube into the second bottle and then directly into Rich?

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