Chapter 1. Sandy
The call came from the kitchen, and it jerked him awake. Glancing out the bedroom window, he could see that it looked like another sunny day, but probably a rather chilly one, which was not unusual for western Colorado in mid-April. The alarm clock read five minutes to seven.
“Just like her…,” he muttered, “wake me five minutes before the alarm—as if I’d neglected to set it.”
He threw off the covers and swung his naked feet off the edge of the bed onto the cold floor. Purposeful footsteps sounded in the hall, and soon Cassandra Betancourt’s face appeared in the bedroom doorway. With its rather close-set eyes and longish nose, that face bore a slight but distinct resemblance to a baboon—a reasonably attractive lady baboon, to be sure, but a baboon all the same.
“You’ll be late for breakfast at the Barn if you don’t get a move on.”
“Sandy, I did set the alarm.”
“Well, I’ve known you to sleep through it.”
The baboon face and the purposeful footsteps returned to the kitchen. Asher stood up and stretched, then fetched his maroon briefs, dark blue cords, and light blue turtleneck from the folding chair at the foot of the bed, and drew them on. He put on his glasses and combed his short, brown hair and his trim beard in the dresser mirror.
“Not bad for thirty-nine, actually,” he said quietly to himself. “But I think the shaver can wait another day or two.” Then he reflected with all the objectivity of a good scientist on how Cassandra, the French teacher, had entered his life. He had had a bit too much wine at the faculty New Year’s party, and a cheerful conversation with Sandy had rapidly evolved into an intimate encounter in a back room, during which he had acquiesced to her moving in with him. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but he had neglected to read the fine print.
Of course, it had been the unread fine print that had brought down the curtain on his strained, eleven-year marriage to the former Betsey Flynn a little over a year before. Being livery boy to an Arabian horse had not been his long suit. He had been a good sport, however, about his new wife’s post-honeymoon revelation that she was a horse lover. He had even come to enjoy his daily attentions to the needs of that huge, gray beast that could very easily have kicked him into the next county, but nonetheless, he had resisted Betsey’s urgings to experience the joys of riding.
Then, when the two girls were old enough to start riding lessons, a second horse had arrived, and then a third, and his livery duties had trebled along with his sense that he had transitioned from husband to stable hand. His father had recently died in a bicycle accident, and Betsey’s apparent lackluster concern about that hadn’t helped. The divorce had been messy. He had had to sue for it, she had wept profusely in court, and the female judge had shown clear signs of compassion as his wife had complained bitterly of abandonment. He had lost virtually everything but his Martin Dreadnaught guitar and his maroon 1967 Chevy Suburban, but he was relieved to be out of it.
When he ambled into the kitchen, he found Sandy standing in the middle of it, sipping from a coffee mug.
“You’ve had breakfast?” he asked.
“They’re serving flapjacks this morning; not the best thing for my girlish figure.”
She came up to him and straightened out a wrinkle in the collar of his turtleneck.
“And perhaps today you could remember to get a deadbolt for the front door? I don’t know how many times I’ve had to ask you.”
He gave her a pained look. “Sandy, we’ve discussed this. Carbondale is hardly the crime capital of Colorado.”
Her eyes flashed daggers, and it seemed to him that her voice was unnecessarily harsh. “No, it’s not, but you’ll be away all summer in Aspen on that survey, except for weekends, and I’d just feel better, having a deadbolt. If you cared about me…”
Asher nodded. “…I’d understand. OK, Sandy; I’ll pick one up in Carbondale after lunch. I can install it this afternoon.”
“Well, then…,” she said, her baboon face brightening. Deftly, she pulled her yellow jersey over her head, revealing what was, in Asher’s humble opinion, the comeliest set of breasts west of the Mississippi. Tossing the shirt aside, she knelt on the rug before him and unzipped his fly. Before long, Asher convulsed slightly as his bodily fluids found a new home in Sandy’s warm mouth.
“There,” she said, getting up. “That’s what you get for being good.”
“Thanks, pet,” he said, but Sandy frowned.
“And why must you call me ‘pet?’” she demanded. “How many times do I have to remind you I hate that?”
“Maybe it’s because you’re so petulant, ha ha. Sorry, luv.”
The frown deepened. “And ‘luv’ isn’t much better, either.”
Asher shook his head slowly. “So, what should I call you, then?”
“How about Sandy? Most people don’t seem to have a problem with that.”
“OK, Sandy,” he laughed, as he zipped himself up.
“And don’t forget, there’s more where that came from.”
“How could I forget?”
“If you’re good, that is.”
“Oh, of course….”
Asher drew on his forest green fleece jacket, left the house, and walked down the path to the Barn in the chilly morning air. As he passed the bulletin board in the hallway beyond the big, swinging front doors, he noticed that the student roster for the spring term of 1980 had already been put up. The list was as he had expected, from the last faculty meeting, but there was one surprise, and it made him chuckle. Stu Sanders, the headmaster, had mentioned that there would be an exchange student coming from Germany, but he hadn’t mentioned her name. Now, however, it was here on the roster for all the world to see:
“Angelika Bezzegg...Unfortunate. Well, at least it sounds better in German. I wonder what she looks like: Des Wirtin Töchterlein, or ein schreckliches Kriechtier? I guess we’ll soon know, won’t we?”
Just then, Stu came down the hall, through a drifting crowd of students, characteristically a-bustle. Asher couldn’t help but like him. He had a no-nonsense way about him that he found refreshing.
“Oh, Asher. Could I ask a favor of you?”
Asher smiled. “Why not?”
“Our exchange student, you know? Her flight comes in to the Aspen airport at two thirty-seven, and I’m tied up then. Do you suppose you could…,”
“Pick her up? I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’m just dying to see what an Angelika Bezzegg looks like.”
Stu chuckled. “It sounds better in German. Well…, you should know.”
“Ja, dass weiss ich schon.”
“And that’s my other reason for asking you to pick her up, not that it’s really necessary, as I understand her English is first class, but you speak German, and I don’t.”
“Close enough. You’ll do it, then?”
Asher walked down the corridor to the cafeteria at the back of the commons. For the first day of the spring term, it seemed surprisingly empty. There was a small table over by the windows on the right, at which two senior boys were seated. One was slender, and he had tousled, sandy hair and a pug nose. The other was stockier, and he had unruly, black hair and a full beard. Both wore checkered flannel shirts of different colors and Levis. Several other students were scattered at other tables around the cafeteria. Asher went over to the empty serving line, slapped three pancakes and two bacon strips on a plate, poured butter and syrup over the pancakes, added a cup of black tea to his tray, and headed over to the table with the two boys.
“Mr. Stevens; Monsieur Dew Bwah,” he said, as he took a seat between them.
“Hi, Asher,” said Chad Stevens, the sandy-haired one.
“Bonjour, Monsieur Flynn,” said Guy DuBois.
“So, what’s new and different?” Asher demanded.
“Oh,” said Guy, offhandedly, “we were just talking about the Front Chute.”
Asher looked up at the subject mentioned, which was in full view through the large, plate glass window beside which their table was sitting. The huge bulk of Wichoacan, or Mount Sopris, as it was known to most locals who cared little about Ute Indian lore, rose imposingly to the south. Obliquely facing the school, and splitting its form from tree line to snowbound summit, was a great gash, an avalanche chute still coated, on this cool, early April morning, with deep snow.
“Still nursing that death wish, eh?” Asher asked.
“Hey,” said Guy, “If Chris Landry could ski it, we can ski it.”
“That’s the spirit!” Asher replied, with a wry smile. “Isn’t it fortunate that the school came up with that outdoor activities disclaimer form for parents to sign, especially yours.”
“Yeah,” Chad agreed, somberly. But it’s too bad poor Tasha had to die before they did it.”
“Not that that changes anything,” Guy observed.
“So, what d’you think, Asher?” Chad asked. “Think it’ll be skiable by Mid-May?”
Asher shrugged. “Ain’t sayin’, not knowin’.”
“Should be pretty good corn snow by then, don’t you think?”
“Might could be. ’Pends ’pon the weathah.”
“Mm…, spoken like a true Vermontah.”
“Have to stay true to my roots, you know.”
“I checked the pitch on the topo map,” Guy said. “It averages 37 degrees! Near the top, it’s about 60.”
Asher whistled. “That’s five degrees steeper than Tuckerman’s Ravine!”
“And you’ve skied Tuckerman’s, haven’t you, Asher?”
“How was it?”
“Well, there you are. What’s another five degrees?”
“Nasty? Oh, by the way, would you two like to come to Aspen with me this afternoon to pick up our new exchange student?”
Chad chuckled. “You mean…, what’s her name, Angelika Bezzegg?”
“It sounds better in German.”
“Not bad, actually; I’ll go.”
There was a bit of a crosswind as the light passenger plane descended, crablike, to the runway, but it made a smooth landing right on time. Asher watched with mounting curiosity as the passengers disembarked via the roll-up steps. They were a mixed lot, a few in business suits, some in holey blue jeans and sweat shirts, many in ski outfits, and a couple in frayed shorts and tie-dyed T-shirts looking as if they wished they had dressed for the weather.
Now, a tall girl with long, wavy, blonde hair, and dressed in blue jeans and a brown leather jacket that was at least four sizes too big for her, appeared in the doorway and began her descent. Asher squinted in the bright afternoon Sun, trying for a better view as she came closer. It seemed, he soon realized, that either his exchange student had yet to appear, or his initial expectations had been rather far off the mark. The young woman walking toward him looked remarkably like one of those impossibly beautiful, slender Medieval figures in delicately carved limestone flanking the portal of Chartres cathedral. He had greatly admired them when he was in France several years before. This, however, was not pale, cold stone, but warm, living flesh, and as she drew near, she smiled gently, looking about expectantly for whoever had come to greet her.
Oh, my soul! If this is not the apotheosis of woman, I know not what is…, Student, student, student! Just you keep that firmly in your mind, Mr. Flynn.
She turned to look at Asher, but in spite of all his professionalism, his knees turned to dust.
“Oh, yes, yes; I am Angelika” she said, quite obviously pleased. “Are you from the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, er…, from CRMS?”
“Yes, we are.” Asher replied, his position as a teacher now fully restored in his mind. He extended a welcoming hand, which she took. “My name is Asher Flynn, and these are two of our seniors, my good friends Chad Stevens and Guy DuBois. Oh…, and hertzliches Willkommen in Amerika!”
Angelika laughed brightly. “Oh, you speak German!”
“Well…, obviously not as well as you speak English!”
“Oh, but your pronunciation is perfect! And you even pronounced my name right!”
Asher bowed slightly. “Thank you, Angelika; you are too kind. Well, then, shall we gather your luggage and be off? Come; baggage return is this way.
It’s a very good thing I’m sober, he said to himself as he walked toward the baggage claim area, thinking a little regretfully of Sandy.
With Asher, Chad, and Guy each toting one of Angelika’s three pieces of luggage, they walked over to Asher’s maroon Chevy van. He opened the back gates and stowed the luggage inside.
“Oh, what a beautiful van, Mr. Flynn. Is it your own?”
“Asher, please, Angelika! At CRMS, we’re all on first name basis. Yes, it’s mine.”
She smiled, and his firm resolve wavered a bit as she went on. “Oh, I think that is very nice, but yes, your van. It is so much nicer than our boxy, noisy VW Microbuses, and it looks brand new!”
“Oh, no, Angelika,” he laughed. “She’s an old lady, a 1967 Chevy Suburban. I just take very good care of her.”
“Oh, I think that is nice!”
Asher clapped his hands. “Okay, fellas and girls, administrative decision, here. Guy and Chad, you can hop in the back, and Angelika gets to ride shotgun, seeing as how she’s the guest of honor.”
Angelika gave a bright laugh. “You really say that?”
“I’m sorry,” Asher replied. “Say what?”
She mustered a tough look. “’Ride shotgun.’ I have heard that said in the western movies, but I never thought people actually used it.”
Asher smiled. “I guess I should have worn my cowboy hat, shouldn’t I?”
“Yes, you really should have,” she replied. “I actually thought everyone would be wearing them, but there was only one on the plane.”
“We are an enigmatic bunch, here,” Guy put in.
Angelika turned round and looked at him, quizzically. “This word you use…,”
Chad grinned. “Enigmatic? It means you can’t figure them out, just like Guy.”
“Oh…, I see. Enigmatic….”
They drove on in silence for a while, until Angelika turned to Asher.
“Would you be related to Errol Flynn, Asher?”
He smiled. “Yes, actually, I am. He was a cousin on my father’s side.”
“Oh, that is so exciting!” she said, brightly. “I am a big fan of Errol Flynn. I watch many of his movies. Do you know them?”
“I’ve seen a few, yes.”
“And do you have a family, Asher?”
“No, I don’t,” he said, guardedly.
“Oh…, that is a surprise.”
“Why is that?”
Angelika blushed. “Well…, because…,” she began, with a nervous smile.
“Well, because you are such a nice-looking man, I thought surely…,”
“Whoa, Angelika!” Chad interjected, laughing. “Asher’s head is swollen enough as it is. He really doesn’t need any encouragement.”
“Thanks very much, Chad,” Asher said, drily. “Now tell me, Angelika, have you decided what classes you’ll be taking while you’re here with us?”
Angelika’s cheerful face took on a serious expression. “Oh…, yes. Well, actually, I have decided on two of them: American History and English Literature.”
“Oh, English Lit is a cool course,” Guy asserted, enthusiastically. “You’ll really like Richie Furze.”
“Oh, is that how his name is pronounced?” she asked, with a slight giggle.
“Yeah, Furze. Why, how did you think it was pronounced?”
She blushed again. “Well, please forgive me if I do not say. In German, you see, that is not a very nice word….”
“Oh? So, how is it pronounced in German, and what does it mean?”
Angelika blushed. “Well…, I really do not want to say…”
“I’ll tell you later,” Asher promised with a chuckle, as he gave a wide berth to a mule deer grazing by the roadside. “So, then, Angelika, we have two courses for you. Any thoughts on a third?”
“Um…, well, what do you teach, Asher?”
“I teach geology, physics, and biology.”
“Oh, well…,” she said, nodding reflectively, “I think I will take biology.”
“Wonderful!” Asher said, professionally, but more than a little pleased. “I’ll be delighted to have you in class. Oh, and by the way, I’ve been dying to ask you, is that your father’s coat you’re wearing?”
She gave him an astonished look. “Yes, it is, but how did you know this?”
Asher laughed. “I didn’t, but it seemed like a good guess; it’s so big.”
Now, Angelika’s expression turned sad, and she turned her head to gaze out the window at the broad, dark bulk of Basalt Mountain that rose to the right. “My father died in a horrible ski accident when I was eleven. We were very close.”
“That’s hard. I’m sorry.”
“Thank you.” She cast a sidelong glance at him and laughed slightly. “It is funny, you know, but I think you rather look like my father.”
“Oh, I do? Well, isn’t that interesting? You know, I lost my mother when I was about your age, and my father died two years ago, also in an accident, but it was on a bicycle he was riding.”
“Oh, no!” she exclaimed, furrowing her brow. “That is very sad. I am so sorry.”
“Thank you. Yes, I was also very close to my father. He was a wonderful man. He was writing a book about Thomas Jefferson when he died.”
“Oh, dear, how unfortunate! Well, maybe you could finish it for him. Could you do that?”
Asher smiled. “I hadn’t thought of that, but it’s a very nice idea. Thank you. I’ll definitely consider it.”
They drove on in silence for a while under the pale, bare skeletons of the cottonwood trees that lined the bank of the Roaring Fork River on this early spring day. There were still a few patches of dirty snow clustered around their massive bases. As the first distant buildings of Carbondale came into view, Angelika turned to Asher again.
“You have a Jewish name, Asher. Is your family Jewish?”
“No, actually. My parents liked the name, and they wanted to honor the Jews who were suffering under Hitler when I was born, in 1940.”
Angelika hung her head. “That is our shame, my shame. I cannot…, I just cannot understand how we could have been so horrible to all those poor people.”
“You weren’t, Angelika. It wasn’t your fault.”
“Well, no, but…, my father…” Her voice trailed off.
“Yes…, I am afraid so.”
”Well, most Germans did at the time.”
She sighed. “I know. It is as if we all went mad.”
“Yes, but by now the madness is over, the world is wiser, and we’ve moved on, now, from guilt and blame.”
“You are a very kind man, Asher,” she said. “I think your father would have been proud of you. Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“No, I’m an only child.”
Angelika was silent for a short while, then she said, “So you live by yourself, then?”
“No,” he said, rather glad of this chance to define boundaries. “Right now, I happen to be living with Sandy Betancourt, our French teacher.”
“Oh…, I see.”
“Oh, that reminds me, Asher,” Guy put in. “Sandy asked me in class today to remind you that she has a treat waiting for you if you remember to bring her something. She said you’d know what it was.”
“Thanks, Guy,” he said, laconically. “I’m on it.”
Asher drove Angelika to her dorm, a low, brown, wooden building with a pitched roof, where he and the boys unloaded her luggage and brought it into her room.
“There you are. Angelika,” he said. Your new home for three months! I hope you’ll be comfortable here, but in any case, if you ever have any kind of need or issue, you should feel free to come to me. I live in the faculty apartment in the dorm across the road, and you’re welcome at any time, okay?”
“Yes, Asher,” she replied, but now the edge of familiarity in her voice had given way to something more formal. “It is very good to know you, and thank you very much for all your help.”
He dropped Chad and Guy off at the Barn, and while there, he checked his mail, in which he found a letter from Knightship Enterprises. On opening it, he found a royalty check for $814.00.
“Nice!” he muttered. “That’s the best quarterly showing so far. Not bad for one song.”
He continued on into Carbondale, picked up a lock for the front door, and returned home. Sandy wasn’t there, but she returned as he was turning in the last screw.
“Oh, you lovely man! Look what you’ve done, and I didn’t even have to nag you.”
“Do I get a doggie biscuit?” he asked.
“Of course you do! But not in front of God and everybody. Come inside.”
As Asher closed the door behind him, Sandy’s blouse was already coming off, and then she was kneeling on the rug in front of him and humming as she unzipped his fly.
Angelika would never do this…
Sandy smiled brightly as she pulled her blouse back on.
“Good boy! I’ll get you trained yet. And by the way, you stink.”
“No, Asher, you really do smell bad. You have deodorant. Why don’t you use it?”
“You have a point. Oh, by the way, I just got a quarterly royalty check for $814 for The Light of Love Will Shine.”
“Very nice! I love that song! You know what would’ve been even nicer?”
“If you had written it for me.”
Asher smiled. “Sorry, but I don’t write love songs for people who tell me that I stink.”
“Well, then, Asher, you might think about writing them to people who care enough about you to tell you when you have a problem.”
“Mm. I’ll work on that.”