By the end of our first year together, Claire was very. unhappy and we had started to quarrel.
She decided to go to med school. Tired of sitting at home watching TV, she figured she could become as self-absorbed as I was. I thought it was a wonderful idea. It took away most of my guilt.
After four years with the firm, they started dropping hints about our chances of making partner. The hints were collected and compared among many of the associates. It was generally felt that I was on the fast track to a partnership. But I had to work even harder.
Claire became determined to spend more time away from the apartment than I did, and so both of us slid into the silliness of extreme workaholism. We stopped fighting and simply drifted apart. She had her friends and interests, I had mine. Fortunately, we did not make the mistake of reproducing.
I wish I had done things differently. We were in love once, and we let it get away.
As I entered the dark apartment, I needed Claire for the first time in years. You come face to face with death and you need to talk about it. You need to be needed, to be stroked, to be told that someone cares.
I fixed a vodka with ice and sat on the sofa in the den. I fumed and pouted because I was alone, then my thoughts switched to the six hours I'd spent with Mister.
* * *
Two vodkas later, I heard her at the door. She unlocked it, and called, "Michael."
I didn't say a word because I was still pouting and fuming. She walked into the den, and stopped when she saw me. "Are you all right?" she asked with genuine concern.
"I'm fine," I said softly.
She dropped her bag and overcoat, and walked to the sofa, where she hovered over me.
"Where have you been?" I asked.
"At the hospital."
"Of course." I took a long drink. "Look, I've had a bad day."
"I know all about it, Michael."
"Of course I do."
"Then where the hell were you?"
"At the hospital."
"Nine of us held hostage for six hours by a crazy man. Eight families show up because they're somewhat concerned. We get lucky and escape, and I have to catch a ride home with my secretary."
"I couldn't be there."
"Of course you couldn't. How thoughtless of me." She sat down in a chair next to the sofa. We glared at each other. "They made us stay at the hospital," she began, very icy. "We knew about the hostage situation, and there was a chance there could're been casualties. It's standard procedure in that situation--they notify the hospitals, and everyone is placed on standby."
Another long drink as I tried to think of something sharp to say.
"I couldn't help you at your office," she continued. "I was waiting at the hospital."
"Did you call?"
"I tried. The phone lines were jammed. I finally got a cop, and he hung up on me."
"It was over two hours ago. Where have you been?"
"In OR. We lost a litfie boy in surgery; he was hit by a car."
"I'm sorry," I said. I could never comprehend how doctors faced so much death and pain. Mister was only the second corpse I had ever laid eyes on.
"I'm sorry too," she said, and with that she went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of wine. We sat in the semidarkness for a while. Because we did not practice communication, it did not come easy.
"Do you want to talk about it?" she asked.
"No. Not now." And I really didn't. The alcohol mixed with the pills, and my breathing became heavy. I thought of Mister, how calm and peaceful he was, even though he waved a gun and had dynamite strapped to his stomach. He was thoroughly unmoved by long stretches of silence.
Silence was what I wanted. Tomorrow I would talk.
The chemicals worked until four the next morning, when I awoke to the harsh smell of Mister's sticky brain fluid weaving through my nostrils. I was frantic for a moment in the darkness. I rubbed my nose and eyes, and thrashed around the sofa until I heard someone move. Claire was sleeping in a chair next to me.
"It's okay," she said softly, touching my shoulder. "Just a bad dream."
"Would you get me some water?" I said, and she went to the kitchen. We talked for an hour. I told her everything I could remember about the event. She sat close to me, rubbing my knee, holding the glass of water, listening carefully. We had talked so little in the past few years.
She had to make her rounds at seven, so we cooked breakfast together, waffles and bacon. We ate at the kitchen counter with a small television in front of us. The six o'clock news began with the hostage drama. There were shots of the building during the crisis, the mob outside, some of my fellow captives hurriedly leaving when it was over. At least one of the helicopters we had heard belonged to the news station, and its camera had zoomed down for a tight shot of the window. Through it, Mister could be seen for a few seconds as he peeked out.
His name was DeVon Hardy, age forty-five, a Vietnam vet with a short criminal record. A mug shot from an arrest for burglary was put on the screen behind the early morning newsperson. It looked nothing like Mister-no beard, no glasses, much younger. He was described as homeless with a history of drug use. No motive was known. No family had come forward.
There were No comments from our side, and the story fizzled.
The weather was next. Heavy snow was expected to hit by late afternoon. It was the twelfth day of February, and already a record had been set for snowfall.
Claire drove me to the office, where at six-forty I was not surprised to see my Lexus parked among several other imports. The lot was never empty. We had people who slept at the office.
I promised to call her later in the morning, and we would try to have lunch at the hospital. She wanted me to take it easy, at least for a day or two.
What was I supposed to do? Lie on the sofa and take pills? The consensus seemed to be that I needed a day off, after which I guessed I would be expected to return to my duties at full throttle.
I said good morning to the two very alert security guards in the lobby. Three of the four elevators were open, waiting, and I had a choice. I stepped onto the one Mister and I had taken, and things slowed to a crawl.
A hundred questions at once: Why had he picked our building? Our firm? Where had he been in the moments before he entered the lobby? Where were the security guards who usually loitered near the front? Why me? Hundreds of lawyers came and went all day long. Why the sixth floor?
And what was he after? I did not believe DeVon Hardy went to the trouble of wrapping himself with explosives and risking his life, humble as it was, to chastise a bunch of wealthy lawyers over their lack of generosity. He could've found richer people. And perhaps greedier ones.
His question, "Who are the evictors?" was never answered. But it wouldn't take long.
The elevator stopped, and I stepped off, this time without anyone behind me. Madam Devier was still asleep at that hour, somewhere, and the sixth floor was quiet. In front of her desk ! paused and stared at the two doors to the conference room. I slowly opened the nearest one, the one where Umstead stood when the bullet shot over his head and into Mister's. I took a long breath and flipped a light switch.
Nothing had happened. The conference table and chairs were in perfect order. The Oriental rug upon which Mister died had been replaced with an even prettier one. A fresh coat of paint covered the walls. Even the bullet hole in the ceiling above Rafter's spot was gone.
The powers that be at Drake & Sweeney had spent some dough the previous night to make sure the incident never occurred. The room might attract a few of the curious throughout the day, and there certainly could be nothing to gawk at. It might make folks neglect their work for a minute or two. There simply couldn't be any trace of street trash in our pristine offices.