After his retirement, The Clark, in late spring, called The Illidge one day, and asked him if he would teach a night section of advertising sales, expecting him to say "No," and explaining he could drive down and back in the same day that way. The Illidge's voice rose on the phone, eagerly accepting, and saying he'd just stay the night. More Booth was in the future, they both thought.
It was not to be, because his condition worsened, and a tumor developed on his upper chest. He called in the summer apologizing for having to change his mind, downplaying more affliction that had set in. On the first day of fall classes, the parking lot was empty to those of the journalism department, because his car was not parked early in the spot closest to the building, as it had been for more than a decade. Sweet Pea called to ask how things were going on that first day, and in Edmond they were smooth. They were not in Wichita. They talked with The Illidge, and still he did not complain, but explained some of the developing tumor.
No longer was The Illidge sitting in the chair in the Queen Bee's office, sipping coffee as the others showed up. The Booth became a necessity for the faculty, probably that first week, as they fled one afternoon to gather their spirits as the little 4" by 6" plaque with the Illidge's name still hung there.
From then on, Booth sessions began with a somber toast: "To Bob." But the clinking glasses couldn't obscure his absence.
As the semester wore on, so did the cancer, and numerous phone calls back and forth told the story of him upstairs in his manse, in worsening pain. Prayers for relief flowed back and forth too. His chair was vacant, his green coffee cup was empty, the cribbage board was unused.
When hospital became necessary in the spring, The Clark, The Brunette, The PR Princess and The German Complainer headed north, carrying a liquid token of The Booth with them.
to b e continued