|Word Count C-5 = 3,041||Montgomery|
It was Monday morning. Still at home, Geoff completed the “Analysis” and “Plan” sections of the last visual examination chart, downing the remaining bit of coffee in his mug. He did not like to remove his patients’ records from the office. However, sometimes, when he had no time at work to complete them due to a full patient load, he felt compelled to bring them home.
He would have stayed later at the office on Friday to finish his notations, but he had wanted to be on-time for Pierce’s basketball game. “Thank you, Lord, for helping me to recall all of the information I wanted to write down on these four charts,” Geoff acknowledged out loud. “And Lord, if it is in your will, please perform a miracle and heal Luke, for your glory and honor, in Jesus’ Name.”
A familiar sound, resembling a racehorse gulping water, ceased. Penny Patrice appeared by his chair, emitted two brief, wet sniffles, and stared up at him. “What a good Podee! Do you...”—her ears pointed up—“wanna go outside?” The small dog’s pure-white body shook ecstatically in a series of mini-convulsions. Her metal tags jingled, and her rigid tail continued to quiver after everything else had stopped.
Geoff recalled how one girlfriend, after his divorce, had misheard him when he said “Penny,” thinking he had said “Podee.” They had had a good laugh about that. That name had stuck and now was as much a part of his dog as her black nose and big, dark-brown eyes.
The phone rang. As Geoff stood up, Penny flew to the door. Praising her as he followed, he snatched up the cordless phone. It was Pierce. “Hey, Coach! I was just on my way to the office, after I walk Penny.”
“Have you heard anything from the hospital?” Pierce inquired.
“No, nothing. I’ll call Doctor Cohen today,” assured Geoff. “Thanks again for staying there late with me last night. I wish Luke’s condition had improved.”
“Me too, but I have an uncanny feeling that he’s gonna be OK. I just wish the blood we gave would have helped him more. It’s pretty amazing how we all had the same blood type.” Pierce paused and continued. “Hey, was there any damage at your place from the quakes?”
“Well, no...other than that some of my pictures on the walls were a little tilted,” replied Geoff. “How ’bout at yours?”
“Most of mine were crooked. Two of ’em fell down, along with a few books and a trophy. Fountain Valley is in a moderate liquefaction zone; whereas, most of Irvine is on some of the most stable ground in Orange County,” Pierce explained. “So, even though my place was further from the epicenters than yours, I guess the shaking effect here was slightly greater.”
“You sound like a regular science teacher or somethin’!” joked Geoff.
“Funny you should say that,” Pierce noted. “I had in mind to give my students a concise seismology lesson today. I even suspect we’ll have a drill for quakes at the school.”
“What was that last thing you said?” exclaimed Geoff, a detectable note of doubt in his voice.
“Uh, sorry...guess I didn’t phrase that properly. I meant there might be an earthquake drill at school today,” Pierce reiterated.
“Oh!” Geoff laughed resonantly. “I have a slight hearing impairment, which is more manifest if I can’t see someone’s lips moving. It sounded to me like you said, ‘I even suspect we’ll have a grill and bake a bassoon’!”
Pierce howled thunderously for a few seconds. “That’s a good one, pal! I’ll have to remember to call you up and mumble when I need a good laugh!” Coughing once, Pierce continued, “Anyway, I heard on the news there wasn’t much damage from the quakes outside of Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, and Costa Mesa. Listen...I’ve already kept you too long, so I’ll let you go. Thanks again for the laugh; it did wonders for my ‘Monday blues’!”
“Anytime, man! We’ll talk later...have a good day,” offered Geoff, before saying goodbye. He then picked up Penny’s leash and an empty plastic bag.
A small group of newspaper and television reporters awaited Pierce in the faculty parking lot. As soon as he exited his car, they pounced on him like wolves on a newborn lamb. He was encircled by cameras and microphones.
“Why have you been avoiding the press, Mr. Nevin?” “Do you have something to hide, Mr. Nevin?” “How do you know Mr. Luke Steen?” “Did you have a dispute with Mr. Steen?” These and other presumptuous questions pelted him all the way to the side door. He offered no rebuttal.
Once inside, Pierce deftly disentangled himself from the journalists’ web, effecting a successful escape to the nearby staircase. Halfway up, he met Andrea Young ambling downward. She looked askance at him and continued on without speaking or pausing. At the top, he saw three young female teachers chatting near the women’s rest room. They eyed Pierce warily.
Further down the hallway, his attention was captured by a tall, brawny, thick-mustached cop firmly planted at the end of the corridor. His massive, hirsute arms were crossed. Pierce paused just long enough to wonder if the hulk was there to protect him, or else maybe he was there to keep an eye on him. His intimidating glare gave Pierce the impression that the latter was the case.
Before Pierce entered his classroom, two male teachers, who often had bantered with him in the faculty lounge, passed by on either side of Pierce, as though he were invisible. He sat down at his desk. As Raquel Lacey walked in, there was no stare—not even a glance—as she took her customary seat in front of Pierce. Am I invisible? He scratched his chin, partly because it itched and partly to make sure it was there. Raquel opened a book and stared at a page.
Tom handed Dr. Hutton his daily schedule, fresh out of the printer. Geoff’s first patient arrived five minutes early. After being checked in by Tom, he sat down to peruse a magazine.
“Hey, Doc...that’s really too bad about your friend gettin’ shot,” commiserated Tom. “Any idea how he’s doin’?”
“Well, Pierce Nevin and I were at the hospital till very late last night. We even donated some blood, because our blood types matched his. He went into a deep coma yesterday afternoon—after the big quake—and hasn’t come out of it since.” Geoff paused to survey his patient’s previous records. “His condition remains very critical, so please interrupt me immediately if I get a call from his doctor, OK?”
“Absolutely, Doc,” Tom obliged. “Say...I heard that Coach Nevin was there when your friend was shot. Is that true?”
Geoff compared the glasses prescriptions from his patient’s past two visits. “Uh, yeah, that’s right. But he was asleep at the time and didn’t see who shot Luke. He suspects that whoever did it came there to shoot him instead.”
“Whoa! Heavy duty bummer, man!” grimaced Tom.
“No kidding,” Geoff agreed. “Pierce went to the police station and told them what he knew. They said that a thirty-eight-caliber bullet was found in Luke’s heart but that it was too risky to remove it yet, if at all.”
“No way!...a thirty-eight-caliber, huh?” repeated Tom, eyes open wide.
“Yeah. That’s their only lead...not much of one, is it?”
“Maybe not...or, maybe so.” Tom had acquired a curious, speculative tone in his raspy, young voice. “This may not mean anything, but...”—he instantly seized Geoff’s full attention—“a few months ago, I think it was President’s Day, some buddies and I went surfin’. I drove. When everyone was gettin’ their stuff outa my trunk, my friend Jim asked me how come I carried my gun in my....”
“What kind of gun?” interjected Geoff.
“A chrome-plated, thirty-eight-caliber revolver.” Tom paused as Geoff’s eyebrows raised. “Anyway, I said I was shootin’ at the range the day before and forgot to take it out when I got home. Later, while I was ridin’ a wave, I noticed that the guy who tagged along with Jim—I barely knew ’im—was walkin’ toward my car and carryin’ his towel. Then I wiped out and forgot about it...till the next day, when I went to get my gun and it was gone.”
Geoff was so absorbed that he failed to notice it was already 8:02. “So, you think that guy took it?”
“All I know,” the surfer continued, “is that the guy never even went into the water once all afternoon...kind of a loner type. He easily coulda gotten my keys outa my pocket, swiped the gun, wrapped it in his beach towel, and hid it in his backpack. I remember when I opened my trunk the next day, this rolled up beach mat I keep in there was repositioned over where the gun shoulda been, I guess so I wouldn’t immediately see that it was missin’.”
“What was that guy’s name, Tom?” Geoff never had used such a firm tone while speaking to Tom.
“Uh, lemme think...I remember I called Jim to ask if he knew anything about the gun. He said he didn’t, so I asked him his friend’s name. He said it was...oh, jeez, what was it?...uh...Darrell or Darwin...or, no, wait a sec...Darius...that’s it, Darius. Now I remember...Darius Frey. I tried trackin’ down the guy but never was able to. In fact, I didn’t see him again until Friday night...at the game. He was the Warrior’s second-string center.”
Geoff realized what time it was; he now was running almost five minutes behind—and on a patient who was early, no less. He started to feel anxious, but he knew he had an obligation to Pierce. Apologizing to his patient for the delay, he retreated into the chart room and made a phone call to Valley High School.
Before class had begun, Pierce had sketched the State of California on the blackboard, drawing in the approximate locations of Orange and Los Angeles Counties, and the San Andreas and Newport-Inglewood Faults. A few minutes after the bell rang, he marked roughly where the epicenter of the 5.6 Newport Beach quake had been situated.
Next he drew some arrows, fixing to explain how the Pacific Plate, on which sits part of Southern California, gradually is moving toward the northwest, while the North American Plate is creeping southeastward. A student aide appeared at the door. “Excuse me, Mr. Nevin. You have a call from a Doctor Hutton. He says it’s urgent.”
Pierce glanced at Raquel. She was twirling her hair with her fingers and looking down at her desk top, still curiously withdrawn. He excused himself from the classroom, indicating that he would be right back.
As Pierce exited the room, he checked to see if the prominent patrolman was still there. He was. On his way to the faculty lounge, near the stairs, Pierce passed by Steven Young’s room. Glancing inside, he saw a substitute teacher, writing on the overhead projector. Pierce momentarily pictured the malevolent expression on Steven’s face in his dream a few nights prior.
Pierce picked up the receiver. “Hey, Geoff...what’s up?”
Geoff proceeded to relate what Tom had told him about Darius Frey and the gun. “Do you want me to call the police and tell them what I told you?”
A stunned Pierce sat down, recalling the last time he had helped Darius with a science project after school. Then it occurred to him that Darius was not in class today. In fact, the last time he had seen him, he was walking alone toward the front door of the gym, head hung low, after Friday night’s discouraging loss. He remembered having felt impelled to go put his arm on Darius’ shoulder and tell him what an asset he was to the team, but Andrea Young had intercepted him. I should have been more assertive....
“Pierce? Are you there?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, Geoff...sorry.” Pierce gathered his thoughts. “Uh, thanks, but there no need to call the police. Actually, there’s an officer as big as a forklift hangin’ around here. I’ll give him the lead; he looks like he needs somethin’ to do. Thanks a lot for the info, bud.” He proceeded directly down the hallway to the anchored cop, thinking, I won’t be intimidated by this human behemoth.
Jerry Wells tapped his forehead repeatedly with the eraser end of his pencil, as if to dislodge from his brain cells the answer to the next test question: “Who is believed to have shot John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States?: a) John Wilkes Booth, b) Lee Harvey Oswald, c) Jack Ruby, d) Lyndon Baines Johnson, e) Truman Capote.”
His eyes felt fatigued from focusing at a close distance for so long, so he gazed out a window nearby. For a few seconds, his vision was a bit blurry; then it cleared. He wondered if he might need glasses, focused at near, to relieve the near-point stress on his eyes while doing close work. Truman Capote?...who’s that? he thought.
Checking to make sure his car was OK, Jerry noticed a police vehicle nearby. Two officers were searching Darius Frey’s truck, but Darius was nowhere in sight. Jerry marked “c” on the Scantron card; then he erased it and marked “b” instead. He looked back out the window, pondering what the police might be looking for: drugs? stolen merchandise? Jerry did not hang out much with Darius—not too many people did, since he was sort of detached—so he did not know much about him.
Jerry easily answered the next twelve test questions. When he looked out the window again, the police were driving away. Staring at Darius’ truck—musing on which President withdrew U. S. troops from Vietnam—he caught sight of what appeared to be a small, folded piece of pink paper on the ground, just outside the driver’s door. He wondered if it might have been swept out inadvertently by the police. He recalled the numerous times Raquel had written notes to him on pink paper. Who else would write pink notes?
The noon bell rang. Jerry quickly answered the last three questions and handed in his test and Scantron card. Before heading to the cafeteria, he went to his car to lock his books inside. On the way, he walked by Darius’ truck, glanced around to make sure no one was watching, and snatched up the pink paper. It even smelled like Raquel’s perfume. Could they be...? No, the idea seemed preposterous. Sitting inside his car, he read the note:
Dearest Dar, don’t worry—Young and me haven’t told anybody. The plant will be made at lunchtime. And we can be together like we were meant to be—once you do in that guy. Just hang loose, babe! Raquel
Jerry could not believe his eyes. He surmised that Raquel must be seeing his teammate, Darius—behind his back! A flood of ideas swept through his mind: And what about the other things she wrote? Which “Young”...the coach or his wife? What hadn’t they told anybody...could Lacey be pregnant? The plant? And once Dar would “do in” what guy? Could “that guy” be the one who got shot Friday night?—a Mr. Steen, wasn’t it? In horror, Jerry vocalized, “Did Darius shoot that guy?” Ruminating the words he had spoken, his mouth remained open a few seconds. He closed it when he saw two cute girls standing in front of his car, staring at him and giggling.
At the end of the first class of the afternoon, Pierce collected his overhead projector transparencies in preparation to leave for the day. He taught no more classes for the remainder of the afternoon, nor did he have hall duty or any meetings to attend. He decided he would drop by the hospital on his way home. There’s no good reason for you not to go talk to Luke! Pierce admonished himself.
All of the students had left the room, except for Billy Stillinger. “Got a question for ya, Coach,” announced Billy, grinning.
Pierce smiled back and punched Billy lightly on his left shoulder. He was glad that Billy seemed to harbor no ill will toward him for scolding him Friday night during the game. “What’s that, Stilt?”
“Does the moon rotate on its axis like the earth does?”
“Yes...exactly once each time it orbits the earth,” Pierce answered. “That’s why the same side of the moon always faces the earth.”
“Hmm...,” mused Billy, “I’m gonna hafta think about that one, Coach! Thanks!...see ya tomorrow!” Billy brought up his right hand to “high-five” Pierce, who immediately reciprocated. “An’ Coach, you let me know if I can help you out with anything.” Pierce was moved by Billy’s offer. As Billy exited the room, Pierce overheard him say, “Excuse me, officer.”
Turning around, Pierce asked, “What’d you say, Stilt?” In the doorway was the “human behemoth,” but his arms were straight down at his sides this time—and he was clutching a set of handcuffs.
“Mr. Nevin,” began the cop menacingly, “the butt of a thirty-eight-caliber, chrome-plated revolver, partially protruding from a brown paper bag, was observed this afternoon in the front seat of your car. We inserted an implement through the partially open window in the passenger door to unlock it, and the gun was retrieved. It constituted a potential hazard for anyone who might have walked by and seen it.”
“But, uh...I don’t even own a gun!” Pierce countered.
The cop seemed oblivious to Pierce’s appeal. “I hereby place you under arrest for possessing a concealed weapon in your automobile, as per California code 12025: ‘carrying a concealed firearm.’” Pierce afforded no resistance as the officer handcuffed him. He only repeated to the lawman that he did not own a gun. The officer read him his rights and escorted him out of the building—amid the stares and whispers of the principal, a few teachers, and numerous students.
The departing police car, containing Pierce in the back seat, rolled off of school grounds and onto the street. Passing a parked car less than a block away, Pierce thought he glimpsed Steven Young and Raquel Lacey sitting inside.