Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Chapter 52

This Saturday, after Tech lost the football game to Oklahoma State in an early afternoon trouncing, Colin and I walked from Jones Stadium to the Administration Building. Although the temperature hovered around the mid-forties, the sun had been warm on our faces for most of the game, and my nose was a little red. My black Tech cap had helped shield my eyes. Walking in the shade of the numerous campus trees, I was glad I’d worn my heavy red wool jacket, black cashmere scarf and fur-lined leather gloves. Colin, presumably past the age of male pigheadedness about appropriately warm clothing, wore a sensible brown suede bomber jacket and his old Notre Dame cap I had finally returned.
  
When questioned earlier about his school spirit by a completely red-and-black-dressed Sharon, he pointed to the red scarf he’d tied around his neck and tucked inside his jacket saying, “My Tech spirit shows enough in this muffler. I wear the ND cap because its comfortable. And I yell just as loud as you do, Miss Red Raider. Do you have a Red Raider bobblehead on your dash?”
   Sharon’s eyes widened. “You have a Tech bobblehead on your truck’s dash?” 
   Colin didn’t know why he’d mentioned it and wished he hadn’t, but now that he had, he stood straight and defended it, “Yes. A gift from the Saddle Tramp president. So?”
   “So, I take it back,” she said laughing. Besides, she admitted silently to herself, he did yell as loudly as she did, even heckling the referees at the right times. 
   “Good,” was all he said. 
   Playing musical chairs with Sean and Doug and Sharon throughout the game, Colin and I sat together during the first and third quarters, meeting at the southwest gate when the fourth quarter was over.  Colin had promised to show me the Saddle Tramp tower, but I’d agreed to go that day only if they lost. I didn’t want to interrupt the victory bells, nor was I sure I wanted to be so close when they were ringing. If victory was on our side, the tour could wait until another time. Unfortunately, victory was as illusive as rain this past summer.
   As we walked, I asked, “Do you really have a bobblehead doll in your truck?”
   Embarrassed, he admitted he did. Jamie Chavez had given it to him last week, insisting it was perfect for his mentor’s dashboard. He’d seemed so genuinely excited about it and so few things these days made Jamie smile, that Colin couldn’t bear to refuse. So there it sat and there it would stay, bobbing its silly head up and down, up and down.
   “I think that’s sweet,” I told him.
  “Hmmph,” was his only answer.
   Walking onto the north-south esplanade, in front of the long, narrow Civil Engineering Building, we had a view of the Administration Building, majestically anchoring the two-pronged key, Memorial Circle in the middle.
  
I never tire of looking at the architecture. “It’s really a beautiful campus, isn’t it?” I asked, looking at how the red and gold leaves on the hundreds of campus trees enhanced the setting. Thousands of yellow chrysanthemums lined the walkways and gardens all across campus.
  “That it is. The Admin Building looks like the fa├žade of the University at Alcala de Henares, east of Madrid.”
  I looked up at him, questioningly. “You’ve been to Spain?”
  “Cool, today. Isn’t it?” he said. 
   I didn’t press. There were so many things I don’t know about this man — especially about those twenty years of doin’ stuff for the FBI — but if he wants to tell me more, I knew he would when he was ready.
   The east door of the Administration Building was unlocked, and we headed up the old stone steps to the top floor.
   On the third floor landing across from the entrance to the main hallway, seven narrow black steps led to a small plain white door, inconspicuous among the more stately wide oak doors throughout the building. Colin walked up and unlocked it. Stale, cool air rushed out, making me pull my jacket tighter aroundme.  Evidently, the towers had no heating or air conditioning. 
   The open door revealed a small landing and then a continuation of the steep stairs to the left, only much more narrow ... seven steps to the first turn, then seven or eight to each of the five landings thereafter. The steps were covered in tattered red carpet with black rubber edges. 
    Climbing up the first set of tower stairs, we passed an east-facing double window on the right, providing light and a splendid view over the treetops of the east esplanade down to Broadway Street. On the left, halfway up, the stairwell’s open space had been filled in with a platform of sorts, about four feet square, tiled in black with a red Double T and edged with a foot-tall thin picket fence, painted red and black. A red door bordered the platform to the left — probably leading to a storage area under the staircase continuing up to the tower, I surmised. The platform and storage area looked like later additions to the stairwell. 
   The walls to our right were painted black for the first three or so feet up from the floor, then bordered with a wide red stripe before white paint extended up to the black and red ceiling high above. A huge Saddle Tramp cloth banner hung on the wall over the second set of stairs.  A ten-foot Double T was expertly painted on the wall over the third flight. Then on the right, at the next landing, was another small door, this one painted black, leading into the attic area to the west. 
   In all, 53 steps led to the tower from the main building’s third floor landing, making one and three quarter complete revolutions. On the final level, a wooden platform had been built about five feet high, painted red on the outside and white on the underside.  A heavy brass railing outlined the top of the platform for safety. 
   Two long wooden black benches sat in the narrow spaces between the platform and the dozen floor-to-ceiling ornate casement windows providing spectacular views of the campus in all directions. Between the windows, numerous Saddle Tramp plaques were hung, engraved with names of the organization’s officers and those honored throughout the years. 
   Walking around the platform, I could see a second Double T centered in the five-foot-square tiled top. On the far side of the platform, a narrow black metal ladder began on the floor, rungs extending up across the edge of the platform to a red metal trap door in middle of the ceiling high up above, directly over the tiled Double T. 
   Two thick chains hung from the ceiling next to the metal door – I supposed these are attached to the bells. Two worn pairs of leather gloves lay near the ends of the chains. By climbing one-fourth of the way up the ladder and standing on the Double T platform, but never on the Double T — Colin explained it was sacred — the chains could be pulled to ring out victory on the bells above. Today they were silent.
   One spotlight hung from the ceiling and I sensed it was rather dark up here at night, especially in the stairwell. The switch was down the stairs a ways. I hadn’t noticed any other lights or switches. Maybe the lights from outside on the tower helped. Or were there lights on the towers? I’d have to look next time I was outside after dark.

   Impressed with the view, although it was a little diffused through the dirty windows — I hesitated when Colin asked if I wanted to sit down after our long climb. 
   “I’m afraid I might stick,” I said, looking down at the offered bench in amused disgust.
   “What?” he asked, examining it. The bench was, in fact, grimy with not only dirt and dust, but old food stuff, spilled drink residue and other unidentifiable splotches. “Oh, yeah, it’s a little dirty. You know, guys don’t always clean up after themselves.”
   “Raised two sons, remember?” I said looking around the interior. “But really, Colin, they bring dates up here? Isn’t this a ...” I stopped, just shaking my head and wrinkling my nose, hesitating to accurately describe the dilapidated “club house,” not wanting to embarrass him.
    He looked around, too, now more focused, and seemed astonished at what he saw, wrinkling his nose, too. How could he have missed it? Scraps of discarded paper and food wrappers were strewn here and there, faded streamers hung from the corners, the shabby carpet was worn, dirty and unraveling in several places, the plaster walls were peeling, and the paint — completely gone in several places in the wake of old masking tape — was years beyond need of a fresh coat. Every inch of the place seemed to be neglected, and it was clear a broom or vacuum hadn’t been used in quite some time.  
   “It’s a pig sty!” he said in surprise. “I’m so sorry. I’ve never even noticed it. I’m not up here often. Guess I’d better talk to the guys about it. It’s embarrassing ... um, want to see the bells?” Maybe a diversion was in order. 
   “Of course,” I said smiling and looked up instinctively. 
   Colin climbed the thin metal ladder, which bowed under his weight but was securely bolted to the floor, platform edge and ceiling. Pushing up the trap door, even colder air rushed in to the small tower space. I gazed up at the bottom of the smallest of the two bells, which Colin said weighed in at “a mere” three-hundred pounds, impressive clapper dangling, almost expectantly, as if waiting to fulfill its purpose.    
   Above it, the larger bell hung, all nine-hundred pounds, he said, of thick metal. A clear cloudless sky showed around the edges of the bells through the graceful, ornately carved open archways. I could only imagine how loudly the bells sounded to those Tramps lucky enough to be chosen as victory ringers. Hope they wear ear plugs, I thought as Colin closed the trap door and came back down the ladder.
   Looking out across the administration building’s red roof to the west, I studied the other tower. Its matching open archways revealed not just two, but a series of bells, the carillon bells that could produce melodic tunes, including of course, the Red Raider fight song. I am pretty certain those bells were played electronically rather than manually. 
   Shivering a little in the unheated tower, I suggested we find a warm place for dinner, and Colin agreed. He stepped back to allow me to go down the stairs first, and in doing so, accidently kicked one of the benches, moving it a little away from the wall. We heard something drop and both bent down to see what it was, bumping heads on the way.
  “Yeowch!” Colin said, rubbing his head and laughing. “You’ve got a hard head, Margaret Grant!”
  “And I’m not even Irish, unlike you who, ow, ow, ow, also has a hard head,” I laughed, rubbing my own. “What fell?”
  “I don’t know ... all I saw was stars!”
   “Ha ... ha ... it wasn’t that hard!”
  
He reached down under the bench and pulled out a small dusty black frame, glass cracked long ago. Brushing it off gingerly with his palm, he read it aloud:


“Like the soul of man, you can’t put a finger on it, can’t draw a picture of it. School Spirit just appears, when you need it, then disappears until it is needed again.”
—Arch Lamb, founder of the Saddle Tramps

   “I’ll get a cleaning crew up here tomorrow,” Colin said, shaking his head. 

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