Authors: John Grisham
Probably still drunk, the clerk thought, which was not at all unusual.
Mark forked over $200, half of which came from Gordy's wallet, and signed the necessary forms. They left with Todd driving Zola to work, and Mark driving Gordy in his Mazda.
As they inched along in city traffic, Mark said, “Wake up, Gordy, and talk to me.”
“What do you want?” he mumbled without opening his eyes. He reeked of alcohol and body odor.
“I want to know who your doctor is and where his office is located. That's where we're going right now.”
“No, we're not. I don't have a doctor.”
“Well, you damned sure need one. Come on, Gordy, stop lying. We know about the bipolar disorder and the doctor or therapist or whoever you're seeing. It's obvious to us that you're off your meds and you need help.”
“Who told you this?”
“Come on, Gordy, lay off. If you don't tell me right now who your doctor is I'm going to call your parents and Brenda.”
“I'll kill you.”
“Great, let's stop the car and have a knife fight.”
Gordy took a deep breath and shuddered from head to toe. He opened his eyes, looked out the window, and said, “Please stop yelling at me, Mark. I've had a bad night.”
“Okay, I'll stop yelling, but you've got to get some help, Gordy.”
“Please take me home.”
“To Martinsburg. I like that idea.”
“Oh, hell no, not there. I'd blow my brains out, which is not a bad idea these days.”
“Stop it, Gordy. Let's go to your apartment, where you can take a nice, long shower. Then maybe a nap. We'll get something to eat, and then I'll drive you to the doctor.”
“The nap sounds good. Nothing else.”
A moment later, Mark realized his friend was wiping tears from his cheeks with the back of his hand.
hen Gordy fell onto his bed he told Mark to leave. Mark explained that was not going to happen and they argued briefly. Gordy gave up, pulled a blanket over his head, and fell asleep. Mark closed the bedroom door, sat on the sofa, and stared at his phone. Brenda had called him twice that morning and was panicked. Her rambling voice mails and text messages were increasingly urgent. She had not heard from her fiancÃ© in two days and she was ready to drive to D.C. On the one hand, Mark almost welcomed her intervention. She needed to know what was happening. She could assume control of the situation and take the pressure off Mark and the others. She would probably get his parents involved, and at the moment they were needed.
But, on the other hand, she could make a bad situation worse. No one could predict how Gordy might react if she showed up and started barking. He would certainly yell at Mark for telling her the truth. The last thing Gordy needed at the moment was more drama.
Mark stepped into the hallway and called Brenda. He lied and said Gordy was suffering from a nasty bout of the flu, that he was in bed, still highly contagious, and getting plenty of fluids and flu medicine. Mark and Todd were sitting with him, nursing him, and things were under control. If there was no improvement by tomorrow, Mark promised to take him to the doctor. Did she happen to know the name of his doctor? No, she did not. He would call her with updates as things progressed. When the call ended, Brenda was still concerned and said she would wait a day or so before driving over.
Mark walked up and down the hallway, feeling like a creep for lying and thoroughly confused about what to do next. Several times he almost called her back to tell the truth. If he did so, she would be there within two hours and Gordy would be hers to worry about. She knew him better than anyone. They had been a couple since the seventh grade. Mark had known Gordy for only two and a half years. Who was he to assume the role of Johnny-come-lately and get involved in their problems? Gordy needed medical attention, and perhaps his fiancÃ©e was the only person who could make that happen.
However, if Brenda arrived on the scene now, things could spiral out of control. She would hear about the DUI. She knew Mark and Todd and would resent their cover-up. She might learn the truth about Zola, a possibility that was too awful to think about. In the chaos, she might realize that Gordy was lying about a nice job after graduation. The situation would become so unpredictable that everyone would get hurt, especially Gordy. Most important, Gordy didn't want Brenda anywhere near him. He wanted to call off the wedding, but so far had not found the guts to break up.
The more Mark paced, the more confused he became. Procrastination seemed like a safe strategy, at least for the moment, and he decided to stick with the lie and see how the afternoon unfolded.
Noon came and went with Gordy still semi-comatose. Mark quietly cleaned the kitchen and hauled three bags of garbage to the dumpster. He washed the dishes, dried them, and put them away. He swept the floors and tidied up the mess around Gordy's work space on the dining table. He tried to rearrange the furniture but could not do it without making noise. He spent a lot of time staring at the wall and trying to understand the connections linking the companies, firms, and players in Hinds Rackley's empire. It was an impressive conspiracy, and Gordy had spent hours piecing it together. But was his research accurate? In his unhinged state, was he capable of thinking clearly?
With his cell phone, Mark searched the web and read everything he could find about bipolar disorder and depression. There was a lot to read. Around three, he heard noises in the bedroom and peeked in. The water was running in the bathroom; Gordy was finally in the shower. Half an hour later, he stepped into the den, freshly scrubbed and shaved with his thick blond hair as handsome as always. He was wearing jeans and a sweater. He looked at Mark and said, “I'm hungry.”
“Great,” Mark said with a smile. They walked a few blocks to a favorite deli and ordered sandwiches and coffee. Conversation was muted, almost nonexistent. Gordy didn't want to talk and Mark left him alone. Gordy picked at his BLT, finally removed the bread, and ate the bacon with his fingers. They drank coffee as fast as the waitress could pour it, and the caffeine seemed to revive Gordy.
With a mouth full of chips, he said, “I feel better now, Mark, thanks.”
“Great. Let's finish up and go see your doctor.”
“No, it's not necessary, Mark, I feel fine now.”
“The doctor, Gordy, or therapist or whatever the hell he or she is. You think you're okay now, but this will pass.”
“The therapist is a joke, can't stand the guy.”
The waitress poured more coffee. Gordy finished his chips and shoved his plate away. He sipped from his cup and avoided eye contact. Mark finally said, “You want to talk about the DUI?”
“Not really. Let's go for a walk. I need some fresh air.”
Mark paid with a credit card and they left the diner. They drifted through Dupont Circle and headed west on M Street. The temperature was up and the sky was clear; not a bad day for a long walk. They crossed Rock Creek and entered Georgetown, where they walked with the crowds along Wisconsin Avenue and stopped occasionally to look at shopwindows. In a used-book store, they browsed through the sports section. Gordy had played football and lacrosse at Washington and Lee and would always be the superjock.
Whatever he was thinking he kept to himself. He seemed relaxed and smiled from time to time, but he was not the old Gordy. His cockiness and usual smart-ass banter were absent. He was troubled, and rightfully so, and Mark missed the quips and cynical observations that were so common. When the wind picked up late in the afternoon, they ducked into a coffee shop for a latte. Bunched around a small table, Mark tried again to engage him, but Gordy was in another world. When he went to the restroom, Mark sent a text to Todd and Zola with an update. He also sent one to Brenda, saying Gordy was slightly better but now he had infected both Mark and Todd. All three were now sick as dogs and taking care of one another in Gordy's apartment. The flu was highly contagious and raging through D.C.; best if she stayed away.
As they were leaving the coffee shop, Gordy said he wanted to walk along the Potomac River. They crossed M Street on Wisconsin and drifted down to the Georgetown Waterfront, a modern development of high-end shops and restaurants and cafÃ©s that, in nice weather, would be packed with students and tourists sitting outdoors enjoying the sun. But in the dead of winter there wasn't much foot traffic. Standing on the boardwalk beside the frigid Potomac, Gordy seemed to enjoy the views. To their right was the Key Bridge linking Georgetown to Rosslyn. To their left was Theodore Roosevelt Island and another bridge. Not far away was the Kennedy Center, and in the distance the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments. The air was noticeably colder near the water. Large chunks of ice inched their way down the river.
When Gordy turned around, he was smiling with an odd look of peaceful satisfaction.
“I'm freezing,” Mark said.
WHEN TODD AND ZOLA
arrived after dark, Gordy was sleeping again while Mark read a paperback. In soft voices, the three recapped the day and tried to plan the night. They discussed calling Brenda and telling her the truth, but no one was ready for that. Especially Zola. Other than a passing thought of finding his doctor, there was little discussion about tomorrow. With hardly a sound, they moved his furniture and tidied up his den. Mark really wanted to clear off the wall. He was tired of looking at the face of Hinds Rackley and his gang. Things were bad enough being ensnared in their grand conspiracy, but it was almost cruel to have them in the room. However, Todd and Zola vetoed the idea. Gordy had slaved over his masterpiece. Destroying it might unhinge him again.
When the pizza arrived, Zola eased into the bedroom and tried to rouse her boyfriend. She returned, alone, and said he was barely responsive, and rude at that. They ate the pizza, drank nothing but water, and killed time. Mark had Gordy's keys in his pocket and that's where they would stay. They decided to tag team through the night, same as before, with Zola pulling the first shift on the sofa. Todd went across the hall to her apartment. Mark walked four blocks to his and showered for the first time that day.
After they were gone, and the den was dark and quiet, Zola began texting. To compound her miseries on this perfectly miserable day, she had received a call from her father. His latest petition had been denied by the immigration judge, and an order had been entered to remove him, her mother, and Bo, her unmarried brother. After twenty-six years in the U.S., they would be flown back to Senegal with a load of refugees. Twenty-six years of hard work in menial jobs for low pay. Twenty-six years of scraping by and saving as much as possible and obeying every law, including speed limits. Twenty-six years of considering themselves Americans and thankful to be here. Now they were being forced to return to a country they did not know and wanted no part of.
She was a strong woman who took pride in her toughness, but laden with more worries than any person could possibly bear, Zola made the mistake of closing her eyes.
AT 1:42 A.M.,
her phone began buzzing and vibrating. It was in the pocket of her jeans and finally woke her. Missed call. It was Gordy. It took a second or two for reality to hit, and she bolted to her feet and ran to his bedroom. She checked his bathroom, knowing perfectly well he wasn't there, and ran to wake up Todd. For the second night in a row, they raced down the stairs to the first-floor hallway and to the parking lot behind the building. Gordy's Mazda was gone. Todd called Mark and said they were racing over to get him. In Todd's car, Zola's phone pinged with a text message.
“It's him. He says: âZola, I can't do this anymore. There's no way out. I'm so sorry.'â”
“Shit! Call him!”
“He won't answer,” she said as she punched his number. Straight to voice mail. “Hello, this is Gordy. Leave a message.”
“Voice mail,” she said. “I'm texting him.”
“Gordy, where are you? We're coming to get you.”
She stared at her phone waiting for a reply, then re-sent the same text. “Nothing,” she said.
“And you heard nothing when he left?”
“Of course not. I tried to stay awake. I guess he had another key.”
“Evidently. He's gonna hurt himself.”
“Don't say that.”
Mark was sprinting from his building, on the phone, trying to reach Gordy. He did not. He jumped in the backseat of the car and said, “Now what?”
“You still have his keys?” Todd asked.
“In my pocket. Who keeps the other key to a car that's ten years old?”
“I guess Gordy does. He's gonna do something stupid, you know that?”
“That's very helpful right now,” Zola said. “I'm sorry, guys, I didn't mean to fall asleep.”
That's two nights in a row, both Mark and Todd thought, but they said nothing. Beating her up would not help matters, and she felt bad enough. If Gordy was determined to pull another stunt, they really couldn't stop him.
“Any ideas?” Todd asked, still clutching the wheel. There was no response. The three sat in an awful silence as the engine hummed away and the heater blew warm air. Zola broke the silence with “He liked to jog along Rock Creek.”
Todd said, “I doubt if he's jogging tonight. It's twenty degrees.”
Mark said, “Let's check out Coney's. It's always been our favorite place to sober up.”
“Good idea,” Todd said as he shifted into drive. “Keep calling and texting.”
Coney's was an all-night waffle shop on Nineteenth Street and was favored by bums and students. Todd stopped at the corner and Mark ducked inside. He was back in seconds and said, “No sign of him. I have an idea. Let's go to the Waterfront in Georgetown. We were there this afternoon and he seemed to like the place.”
“What do you mean âHe liked the place'?” Todd asked.
“I don't know. Just drive.”
As they turned onto M Street, Mark's phone rang. “Oh shit! It's Brenda. Do I take it?”
“Yes,” Todd snapped. “Right now you gotta take it.”
Mark hit speaker and said, “Hey, Brenda.”
She was frantic. “Mark, what's going on? I just got a text from Gordy. He says he's sorry, there's no way out, and he can't keep going. What the hell is happening, Mark? Talk to me.”
“He's driving around D.C., Brenda. Todd and I are in the car trying to find him. He's off his meds and acting crazy.”
“I thought he was in bed with the flu, same as you.”
“He was in the bed sick, okay? We were with him and he sneaked out. Have you tried to call him?”
“Of course! Why didn't you tell me he's off his meds?” She was practically screaming.
“I didn't know he was on meds, Brenda, until yesterday. He never told us. You didn't either.”
“It's not something we talked about. Please find him, Mark!”
“I'll get there as fast as I can.”
“No, not yet. Stay put and I'll call you later.”
At the Waterfront, they parked at a curb and scrambled out of the car. As they sprinted toward the river a security guard stopped them. Mark said, “Sir, we're looking for a friend. He drives a little blue Mazda and he needs our help. Have you seen him?”
“Ain't nobody here this time of night,” the guard said.
“Okay. We're just looking, that all right?”
They walked along the promenade and stopped by the edge of the Potomac, in the same spot Gordy and Mark had been just hours earlier. To their right, a few cars crossed the Potomac on the Key Bridge. And to their left, beyond Roosevelt Island, there was an emergency on the Arlington Memorial Bridge. Red and blue lights were flashing.