Read Campus Tramp Online

Authors: Lawrence Block

Campus Tramp (5 page)

She looked at him, puzzled.

“It may surprise you,” he explained, “but there are quite a few Linda’s. I thought perhaps you might have some means of identification which would be a little more specific.”


“Like a last name, for example.”

“Shepard,” she said, desperately. “Linda Shepard. From Cleveland.”

“That’s a little better. What else?”

“Like what?”

“What year are you?”


He nodded. “Major?”




He nodded again and struck a pose with one hand on his hip and the other stroking his beard. “Linda Shepard from Cleveland,” he said. “What in the world do you do?”


“Do,” he repeated. “Some people play tennis. Others paint murals on lavatory walls. Still others climb mountains. I just wondered what—”

“Oh,” she said. “I … well, I … I don’t do much of anything.”

He shook his head as if he was thoroughly ashamed of her but she could tell he was making fun of her. “That’s bad,” he said. “That’s very bad. Like an oyster.”

“An oyster?”

“They just sit on the bottom of the ocean. They never do a damned thing.”

She waited.

“I’m Don Gibbs,” he said. “

“I know.”

“Oh?” He seemed surprised. “You said you majored in English?”

She nodded.

“Why don’t you drop up to the
office tonight? I’ll find something for you to do and you won’t have to wander around bumping into people and feeling like an oyster.”


“The paper comes out tomorrow,” he went on. “There are always too many things to do on Thursday night. I can use some help. Can you spell?”

She nodded, mystified.

“Then you can read copy and proof. Drop up any time after eight.”

“I … I have a date tonight.”

“Congratulations,” he said. “Everybody should have them. Like parents.”


“Parents. Everybody should have dates and parents and things like that. But what does that have to do with it? The date isn’t going to last until morning, is it?”

“No, of course not.”

“Well, drop up after the date is over. It’s simple enough, really. All you have to do is go on your date until your date isn’t any more and then come up to the office. Okay?”

“Sure,” she said. “I guess so.”

He nodded, smiled another smile as brief as the first, and started walking off briskly. She stood watching him for a few seconds until she realized what she was doing. Then she turned and hurried to the library.

Joe was dull that night.

She realized this, and as she realized it she also realized that she wasn’t being entirely fair to Joe. It wasn’t his fault—the movie he took her to was a first-rate foreign film, the beer at the tavern was cold, the pizza properly spicy. And Joe’s conversation was as pleasant and warm as ever.

It wasn’t Joe’s fault, but Joe was dull. He hadn’t been dull before, and this bothered her. Because she knew why he seemed dull now. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why he seemed dull. He seemed dull because, by comparison to Don Gibbs, Joe Gunsway just didn’t sparkle.

She fought against this realization. When Joe parked the car in front of her dorm and kissed her, she forced herself to respond as passionately as possible, pulling him tight against her and probing his mouth with her tongue, sending his pulse racing even if her own remained quite steady.

It was a few minutes after midnight when Joe walked her from the car to the door, gave her a final kiss, and left her. It was another minute or so after midnight when she walked from her dormitory to the Student Union. First she waited until Joe’s car was out of sight, because she didn’t want him to know where she was going. She didn’t think he would mind—she certainly didn’t have a date with Don, but was only going to do some work on the newspaper. But she didn’t want him asking any questions.

It was dark out, and the streetlights were spaced very far apart along the road to the Student Union. She walked quickly, hoping she looked as good as Joe had assured her she did. She was wearing her black skirt, the one she had been wearing that afternoon, with a white cashmere sweater. The sweater was very tight and not particularly warm, but the last time a girl wore a sweater to keep warm was in 1823. It did what it was supposed to do admirably. Her breasts looked as though they might peep out through the thin white material at any moment, and the lines of the bra were clearly visible when she stood in a good light. And, because the sweater was white, it made her breasts look even larger than they would otherwise.

Tricks, she thought. And they probably wouldn’t do much good anyway, because Don was probably interested in her as a piece of slave labor rather than as a piece of something else. But it didn’t hurt to try, anyway.

She mounted the steps of the Union building and crossed over the flat concrete stoop to the door. Once inside she realized how incredibly empty the building was. She’d been there three times a day or more since she arrived at Clifton, since the cafeteria was located in the Union, but she had never before been in it when it was empty. The building was fairly new, built just two or three years ago, and the modernistic architecture of the structure was called
Twentieth-Century Ugly
by the majority of the student body, as well as by a good part of the faculty in the privacy of their homes. The linoleum-covered floor seemed unusually wide when Linda’s feet were the only ones walking on it, and her footsteps sounded annoyingly loud.

She walked up a flight of stairs to the second floor. Halfway around the building was the
office; it had been one of the places on the campus tour forced upon all entering freshmen, and she found it now with no difficulty. She would have had little trouble locating it in any case, since it was the only office in the building with the lights on.

At first glance the huge room appeared to be empty. A large desk surrounded by strangely-shaped wooden tables stood at the far side of the office. A long black table lined the wall near her. There was paper in one form or another all over the place—crumpled sheets of white copy paper, folded but unfiled issues of last week’s
, paper bags and empty coffee cups and scraps of paper that didn’t seem to possess any discernible identity of their own. She wandered into the middle of all this confusion and looked around helplessly.

Then she saw the editor’s office, a separate room running off from the main room. The light was on and the door open, and she walked hesitantly to the doorway. Don Gibbs was sitting behind a large desk, staring at a sheet of paper on the desk in front of him. He held a cigarette between the second and third fingers of his right hand and a pencil in his left hand. Another cigarette burned unnoticed in an ashtray that was already filled to overflowing with cigarette butts and burned-out matches.

The room was even messier than the outer office. There was a small brown pool of spilled coffee on the floor surrounded by more thrown-away paper. A sport jacket lay neatly folded in the middle of the floor, and near the door was a naked dress-dummy, formless and ragged, with a brassiere around the bust and a lamp coming out of the top.

Don didn’t look up at first. He looked tired, incredibly tired. Everything about him looked tired, from the weary lines in his face to the rumpled, wrinkled, once-white shirt that was open at the neck and partially unbuttoned.

He dragged deeply on the cigarette and coughed. Then he turned his full attention to the scrap of paper and made some marks on it with the pencil. He studied the results for a moment, then nodded with bored satisfaction and placed the paper in the upper half of an In-Out box. Without pausing he began to scrutinize another sheet of copy paper in the same manner, marking it up with the thick lead pencil.

Linda looked at him. He was, she decided, a very complex person. She remembered the self-satisfied young man who threw down shots of whiskey with beer chasers at the tavern, the smooth and witty young man who handed her her books after she ran into him and talked her off her feet. This was a new side to Don Gibbs, this tired young man who worked without a break and seemed on the point of collapse.

She coughed nervously, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. She coughed a second time and he looked up.

“I’m here,” she said. “What do you want me to do?”


“LINDA SHEPARD FROM CLEVELAND,” he said. “For a while I didn’t think you were going to come.”

“I did.”

“So I see.” He stood up and walked around the desk until he was standing just a few feet from her. Then he put his hands on her shoulders and looked down into her eyes. His mouth was serious but his eyes were smiling.

“Well,” he said, “what can you do besides look pretty?”

She was flustered.

“This afternoon you said you could spell. Can you still spell?”

She nodded.

He turned around and picked up a batch of sheets of paper over two feet long and four or five inches wide. He handed them to her without comment and she looked at them.

“These are galleys,” he said. “Galley proofs.”

She nodded, her eyes on the top galley. The print on the paper was set up like newsprint in a single column two inches wide.

“Here’s how it goes,” he explained. “When a reporter types up a story it goes in my IN box. I check it, rewrite it when it stinks, correct the grammar and punctuation and toss it in the OUT box. Then it goes down to the printers.

“The linotype operator gets it next,” he went on. “He punches keys and presses levers and it winds up on a batch of little pieces of lead called slugs. He puts the slugs in a tray, and when he’s got about sixteen inches of copy set he runs off a galley print, an impression of the type that he’s got set. The guy downtown gives me two sets of galleys. I use one when I make up the papers and I proofread the other and send it back to him.”

“I see.”

He smiled. “Do you? That’s impressive. It took me months to understand what the hell they do down there. Great business, newspapering.”

He paused and sucked on the cigarette. He drew the smoke into his lungs and let the butt drop to the floor, squashing it absently with one foot. Then he looked at her again.

“What I want you to do,” he said, “is proofread the copy. I’d do it myself except I’ve read all this copy a good ten times already and I wouldn’t be able to spot any typographical errors. Besides, at this hour my eyes don’t work any more and typos would go right by me anyway. Read the stuff slowly and carefully and make the corrections with a copy pencil. The outer office is lousy with copy pencils.”

“How do I make the corrections?”

He groaned. “I forgot—you don’t know proofreader’s marks. There’s a sheet outside on the bulletin board, plus a style sheet to show you what gets capitalized and what doesn’t. Better check them.”

“All right,” she said. “How long will it take me?”

He scratched his head. “Hard to say, but it shouldn’t take more than an hour tops, even if this is your first time at it. There’s about six or seven galleys there—you should be done by 1:30 or so.”

“When will you be done?”

He looked at her. “I won’t.”


“I never sleep Thursday nights. It’s part of the job. As soon as I get the whole issue made up with the dummies down to the news and all the copy finished I can knock off, but by then it’s usually time to race down to Fairborn and pick up the engravings. And by then the first page proofs are ready at the printer’s and I have to read them. With one thing or another the rest of the morning gets shot to hell and the afternoon with it, and then I take the papers and haul them over to the caf so the idiots will have something to read with their dinner. I’ll get to sleep about seven or eight tomorrow evening.”

“That’s impossible!”

“Precisely. Great business, newspapering.”


“Every editor does it,” he said. “I was managing editor under Phil Stag last year and he went through the same kind of hell. You can live through it.”

“Can’t anybody else do the work?”

“Not really. I’ve got a managing editor and a bunch of people who write bad news copy, but there’s nobody who knows enough about the technical side of it or who has enough time to spare to make much difference. I wouldn’t trust anybody else on make-up or head-writing, and I can’t get around the job of being down at the print-shop Friday. So there’s not much chance of sleeping for a while.”

He straightened up. “Look,” he said, “get to work on proofing those galleys. Give a yell if you need me, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t because I’ll be going quietly nuts in here as it is. Okay?”


“Come back with them when you’re done. And don’t mind me if I scream or throw ashtrays against the wall or anything like that. Okay?’”

She nodded and turned away, walking out of the office. She found the style sheet and the sheet with proofreader’s marks on the bulletin board and took them with the galleys to one of the wooden tables. She studied both sheets of paper for several minutes until she managed to figure out what in the world they were about. Then she got down to the laborious business of proofreading the galleys.

It was a quarter after one when she walked back into Don’s office, holding the batch of corrected galleys in front of her like a pagan making an offering to a god. He took them from her, glanced at them and tossed them into the OUT box.

“That was fast,” he told her. “Think you did a good job?”

“If there are any mistakes there you can shoot me.”

He laughed, but the laughter was strained and she knew how tired he was. “There’ll be mistakes,” he said. “I’ll catch some of them on page proof and the others’ll wind up in the paper. They always do.”


He nodded. “We get them all the time. Nothing worth sending into the
New Yorker
, but we get some honeys. The best one that I can remember was when we were running this story about a wooded region that was partly private and partly open to the public. We had something about the public area, only we dropped one letter out of public and—”

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