I make my living giving other people advice, not that any of them listen to it very often. Most of my time is spent counseling clients on their rights and obligations, informing other people’s clients of various claims and complaints against them, and advising my senior partners of just how many hours can be billed in the process. The senior partners are Biggs, Bixby & Bigham; together, they constitute a respectable law firm that bills about $10 million a year and is known in the Georgetown area as the Three Little Bigs.
Giving other people advice is how I met Guy Crawford, or rather how my wife, who is also an attorney, met him. At the time, Guy was a professor of law at George Mason University, across the river in Virginia, and he looked my wife up to talk over a case in contracts. Barbara had been part of a seminar panel in contract law at Mason the previous semester, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary that Guy should look her up. Anyway, he was such an unassuming little guy that after I’d met him, I didn’t worry much. I even got to liking him. That was back in 1996.
That was the year I made junior partner and billed half a million dollars, and I was also the contact for a new corporate client, so it was a fairly simple transaction. The Three Little Bigs received a retainer fee in the mid six figures, and I received my partnership. That was a good year in other ways, too—’96 was the first time I got to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court, which is a chance that doesn’t come along very often.
And ’96 was also the reelection year of the Clinton administration, and there were lots of stories in the news about Arkansas and redneck culture. I remember it as a period when it was fashionable around D.C. to have hick roots, to come from a rural area like south of the James River in Virginia, where Barbara and I grew up, or even West Virginia, where Guy started out.
After he came to see her about contracts that first time, Barbara took to Guy. Maybe she thought she should be nice to a fellow who hailed from just over the Blue Ridge. Or maybe she just felt sorry for him. Women care a lot about children and little lost animals, and there was some of both in Guy. Anyway, she used to invite him over for dinner every so often, and once in a while we’d all go out to a movie. Sometimes Guy would bring along a date, usually some girl who was a student in one of his classes. His dates never said much, and they never argued with him, and I got the impression they didn’t think they had much choice but to go out with him. Women seemed to make Guy nervous, and he tended to be very formal and clumsy with them. I kept hoping that some girl would somehow get through to him, would break down his defenses, or maybe that he’d snap out of it and relax a little. It was a shame, because Guy wasn’t a bad sort. He was quite smart, really. He even had a sense of humor, and he came from an interesting background.
Guy Crawford was the product of generations of successful lawyers. When I first got to know him, I couldn’t figure out how somebody who looked so ineffectual and sounded like such a country bumpkin had managed to become a law professor of some reputation by the age of 32. Well, his father had been a judge on the West Virginia Circuit Court of Appeals, and his grandfather had been the major partner in the biggest law firm in Charleston, so Guy had the pedigree and family connections that most of us in the legal profession only dream of. He must have been a sharp student, too, because you could tell by looking at him that he hadn’t ever done much with his time except crack the books. In fact, just the other day Barbara had to remind me that he didn’t actually wear glasses. Funny, because I knew Guy off and on for years. I guess some people just give the impression of wearing glasses, even though they see fine without them.
When Barbara first introduced me to Guy, she called him an “up-and-comer in his field,” and I tried not to let on that teaching is not a field for which I’ve ever had much respect. After all, law professors, particularly untenured ones, don’t make anything like the money that a motivated attorney can pull down in private practice. I suppose the academic life has other compensations, though. There are all those female students who have to look up to you, and there is plenty of leisure time in which to enjoy the attention. Even better, teaching the law is in many ways a zero responsibility job, because there are no trials to be decided, no judge and jury to prove you wrong, no clients to get angry when they lose their case and still owe you money.
One responsibility professors do have, however, and particularly untenured ones, is to publish, and Guy was forever trying to place his articles in law reviews. He was always on the lookout for fresh ideas about legal theory, and Barbara got a kick out of helping him. She read his articles in manuscript and offered her opinions, and she asked me to do the same. It’s usually in my best interest to keep Barbara happy, and so I obliged, marking up a couple of Guy’s articles and sending them back with my thoughts. It’s possible my thoughts closely resembled some of the more obscure passages in the tomes of Alexander Meiklejohn, but if there was any law against pretending to be smarter than you are, I know plenty of lawyers who would be looking for a lawyer. Besides, Guy was not a billable client, and I had a lot on my plate—namely, arguing a case before the Supreme Court.
It was while working on that case that I had a clerk assigned to me to help out. She was a kid right out of law school, and I put her to work handling depositions and overseeing a herd of legal aides. Her name was Patty Pierson, and Patty was a breath of fresh air around Biggs, Bixby & Bigham. She had blue eyes and lots of blonde hair, and she moved with the physical self-assurance of a carnivorous animal. She was self-assured in other ways, too. Just three weeks after she started working for me, she walked into my office one morning, kicked off her high heels, and sat down with her feet up on my desk.
“Let’s talk,” she said, “about sportfucking.”
Everybody ought to have a hobby, even busy people like lawyers. According to Patty Pierson, her hobby was sex. Sportfucking was her word for what the rest of us humbly refer to as sleeping around. It was the right word, too, because Patty was a sexual athlete if there ever was one. She was bright, she was good-looking, and even in a good-sized pond like Georgetown, she made quite a splash. She also made everybody in the firm she wanted to, from the college students who worked part time in the summer right up the line to John Bigham himself, who was the youngest of the Three Little Bigs but still old enough to be her father. Sex was one of Patty’s three real pleasures in life. The second was drinking, in which her capacity was truly awe-inspiring, and the third was talking about it all. Hangover or no hangover, she used to come into my office just about every morning and recount the night’s activities.
“Screws better than he thinks,” she might say about one of our colleagues; or perhaps, “I never should have bothered with the little prick, and I use that term advisedly.”
It goes without saying that I sometimes found Patty a tempting proposition myself. We used to go out for cocktails after work occasionally, and anybody who drank with Patty Pierson could kiss his self-control goodbye. Patty softened up prospective playmates with alcohol, the way men tend to do. She drank bourbon and water, and most of the bars in Georgetown would have been happy to stock any brand she fancied. I could never understand how somebody who drank so much at night could manage to look so good the next day, but I guess young people can tolerate a lot more abuse than the rest of us. Anyway, drunk or sober, I never thought it was a good idea for the two of us to wind up in bed together. Affairs with people in the firm are always tricky, especially with John Bigham himself somewhere in the picture, and besides, you couldn’t go to bed with someone like Patty and not have your wife find out about it.
It was Barbara who suggested that we introduce Patty to Guy. Right from the start, I told my wife I didn’t think it was a good idea. Guy certainly needed somebody; one look at him told you he’d never been in the sack with anyone in his whole life. But Patty was just out of his league. On top of that, the two of them had absolutely nothing in common. Guy was old school country, or old school Appalachia, which is even worse, and Patty was nouveau California. Guy was a fanatic for order. He got up at the same time every day, he ate his meals at the same time every day, and it’s my opinion that he went to the bathroom at the same time every day. He dressed neatly and drably, and he had his hair cut at the same shop once every two weeks on a Tuesday. Patty was none of the above. This was a woman who had a long-stem rose tattooed on the inside of her thigh. She did whatever she wanted whenever she wanted, and it was never going to work out.
“Nonsense,” said Barbara, “they’ve got plenty in common. They’ve got the law.”
“What the hell kind of thing is that to have in common,” I said.
“It’s what we have, Thomas,” said my wife.
So I kept my own counsel.
Barbara likes to give little parties, and she takes pains to see that they come off okay. I suppose it’s the southern belle in her. She invited Patty and Guy over for dinner one evening, and it wasn’t the fiasco I had been afraid of. Patty was late, of course, and she looked as if she was already a little high by the time she arrived, but once we settled down, everybody had a good time. Even Guy seemed to be enjoying himself as much as someone like him ever could. Barbara had cooked a roast loin of pork with candied carrots and spoon bread, and I served a bottle of Virginia chardonnay. The chardonnay was terrible, and a red wine would have gone better with the meal, but it didn’t make any difference. Patty seemed to like it just fine, and Guy was a teetotaler. It was one more thing they didn’t have in common.
“You don’t drink!” exclaimed Patty. “You mean to tell me, Guy, that when you get up in the morning, that’s as good as you feel for the whole day?”
We all laughed at that, but Guy didn’t seem offended. I was a little surprised, because I knew how he felt about the subject. Practically the first time we met, he told me how drinking had been the reason why his parents had gotten divorced, why the family firm had gone out of business, and why he never went home anymore. But he didn’t seem to mind the rest of us getting pretty well walleyed that evening, and when Barbara cleared off the table and I brought out a bottle of V.S. cognac, Guy joined right in the spirit of things, if not in the spirits themselves. I told a story about how when one of our clients was being sued for $15 million and the jury poured the plaintiff out like water, awarded him flat zero, I sent a memo right there in the courtroom over to the prosecution lawyers that read: “Three Little Bigs blows your house down.” Then Guy told a mighty tall tale, complete with all the mountain accents, about how a real Crawford had run down a real McCoy in a car and been killed himself in the crash, and how a Crawford jury had convicted the surviving McCoy of manslaughter. And pretty soon it was getting late and time to call it a night.
“Guy’s going to take me home,” said Patty with a grin, “cause he doesn’t think I’m in any shape to drive.”
Barbara was positively beaming. If there’s anything women like better than being right, it’s making a match, and here she was getting both at the same time. As Patty was leaving, she said something to Barbara that I didn’t catch. Barbara giggled and blushed and pushed our two guests out the door. While they were backing out of the driveway, Patty reached across the seat and honked the horn. It was 1:30 in the morning, and I hoped it didn’t wake up the neighbors.
My wife refused for a long time to repeat what Patty had said to her at the door, but later, after everything that happened, she told me. It turned out to be pretty crude, something about meeting plenty of studs that were duds but never finding a wimp that was limp. Well, whether it was the remark, or the feeling of triumph, or just the brandy, Barbara was in a very good mood. I decided to let the dishes take care of themselves, and we hit the hay right away. We had a better time in bed that night than we’d had in years.
The next morning was a rocky one, and I got to the office a bit late. Patty was already there, and, typically, she didn’t look any the worse for wear. She thanked me again for the invitation, and we had a couple of laughs over the dinner conversation, but she wasn’t as talkative as usual. I even asked her one or two leading questions, but she wasn’t very responsive. I had about given up when the call came in from Guy. Patty was sitting right there in my office, and she had to have heard my secretary announce the caller, but she didn’t say anything.
“Look, Patty,” I said before I picked up on the line, “why don’t you go brush up on secondary insurance claims?”
It was busywork, but Patty didn’t object.
“You can’t have too much insurance,” she said, walking out of the room.
Guy greeted mornings with the enthusiasm of a clean-liver, and he was on cloud nine now. He thanked me for dinner, told me that last night had been the best thing that ever happened to him, and wanted me to be the first to know.
“Know what?” I said.
“Tom, I think I’m in love.”
I took a deep breath and turned in my chair to look out the window. The traffic was crawling along Wisconsin Avenue as usual, and down the hill on the Potomac the sun was blazing off the water as it often does. Little bits of brightness moved back and forth over the river as cars crossed Key Bridge. I figured somebody had to tell him, and it probably ought to be me, because I had been partly responsible for what had happened.
“Guy,” I said, “let me give you some advice.”
“Great, that’s why I’m calling.”
“Listen, Guy, I think you ought to slow down a bit, you know what I mean? Patty’s a girl who’s really been around. Maybe you ought to think things over, because it seems to me, you don’t what you’re getting into.”
“What in the Sam Hill are you talking about?” he said.
He didn’t swear, either. He didn’t swear, he didn’t drink, and until the night before, he didn’t womanize.
So I told it to him pretty straight.
“Guy, I’m sorry, but Patty Pierson has slept with damn near everybody in this firm. That’s just the way it is. What I mean is, why don’t you treat this as a learning experience and try not to get hurt too much?”
“What’s the matter, Tom, you been seeing her yourself?”
“No, of course not. Did she tell you that?”
“Heck no, but it’s okay. Or it was okay. It wouldn’t change the way I feel about her.”
“Look, Guy, I’m telling you, there are some things you just aren’t ready to understand. Sooner or later, you’ve got to learn who to trust in this world, and trusting Patty Pierson would be a big mistake.”
“Tom, I don’t know what’s eating you, but Patty’s all right with me. Heck, I know she knows more about some things than I do, but that’s all right. She’s what I want, Tom. She’s the right woman for me. Whatever happened before doesn’t matter. Tom, I think I’m in love.”
“You do, huh? Well, I think Patty Pierson is so far over your head you can’t even see the soles of her feet from where you’re standing.”
I know I was hard on him, but I was only trying to help. Who knows, though, I might have been wrong. Maybe Patty was the right woman for him, because the next thing I heard, Patty had moved in with Guy over in Arlington, even though she kept the lease on her old apartment. She moved in with him, and she wasn’t seen around town after hours anymore, and I stopped hearing about the wild side of life every morning. Which goes to show that you can’t ever be sure what verdict the jury will bring in.
In any case, I didn’t have much time to think about the transformation of Patty Pierson just then. I was too busy. To begin with, there was my Supreme Court appearance. The day the word came down that the Court had agreed to hear our case was a big occasion at Three Little Bigs. I thought it called for a celebration, and I had a bottle of White Star delivered right to the office. Patty walked around all day singing old Motown songs like “Baby Love” and “You Keep Me Hanging On,” because we had taken to calling our nation’s highest legal authorities the Supremes. Once the exhilaration was over, though, it meant I had to buckle down to a lot of hard work.
A hearing before the Supreme Court is rarely allotted more than an hour, but an amazing amount of preparation has to go into it. In theory, you get to read a prepared statement presenting your case, but the justices never let you finish. In fact, they hardly let you begin. They interrupt you with specific questions, one after the other, and you’d better know your case and anything like it inside and out if you want to make a good impression. I’d sat in on enough sessions of the Court to know what I was in for, and for several months leading up to the hearing I worked regularly until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. Sometimes, if I had other cases that were pressing, too, I worked straight through till morning.
Maybe it was all the hours I was putting in at the office, but for one reason or another, that period wasn’t a good one for me and Barbara. We’ve worked it out in the years since then, but at the time, she used to complain that we never spent any time together. Well, she’s a lawyer, too, and she knew what she was getting into when she married me. Besides, it was her work as much as mine that kept us apart. But she wasn’t happy about it, and she said we weren’t taking advantage of the time we did have together. She also complained that I wasn’t doing my share of the housework. Maybe that was true, but my experience is that when things are going good, nobody ever worries about housework. For my part, I broke down and said that if we weren’t spending any time together, maybe it was because her job was turning her into a bore. I’m in litigation, but Barbara wound up in contracts. Handling contract law is a lot like watching paint dry. I suppose I shouldn’t have told Barbara that, but at the time we both said a lot of things we probably shouldn’t have. One way or another, when I went home from work in those days, I knew I was headed for an argument.
On top of all that, I was entering negotiations at the firm concerning my partnership. John Bigham himself began dropping by my office now and then and inviting me out to lunch. We used to dine on account at some expensive restaurants, and sometimes we even went someplace where the food was pretty good. It was beginning to look as if I could bring in a handsome retainer, and the action was starting to heat up.
John Bigham was then in his late 50s, but he looked younger. He was one of those men who look distinguished instead of just old. His hair was graying, but he hadn’t lost any of it, and he had a well-trimmed beard to go along with it. He wore horn-rimmed glasses and elegant three-piece suits. The beard and the glasses made him look more like an academic than an attorney, but when you’re a senior partner you can do what you want. The youngest Big also had a reputation for being something of a character. He liked to drink a bottle of wine over lunch instead of martinis, and he fancied himself a bit of a roué. He told off-color jokes around the office, which is unusual in a senior partner, and he had a history of marital difficulties. He was the kind of man who referred to the women he was having affairs with as his mistresses.
The Three Little Bigs were offering five and a half points on the net, graduated upward depending upon my profitability. What I had in mind was more like 10 points. We got down to brass tacks one day at The Razorback, a restaurant out Connecticut Avenue. “Tom,” said John Bigham, “you have no idea what the overhead is in a firm like ours. Wait till your first partners meeting, you’ll be amazed. The rent alone in Georgetown will eat you alive. And these days you can’t get a girl who knows how to type a letter for less than $35,000 a year. Plus, you’ve got legal aides and executive secretaries and 40 or 50 lawyers making up to a hundred grand apiece, and we’re not even talking about expense accounts yet. Then there’s travel expenses and phones; my God, just our phone bill would put most companies out of business. Now, all of us at Biggs, Bixby & Bigham admire you a great deal. You’re a damn fine lawyer, Tom, and I mean that. But you’ve got to understand what this client you’re talking about actually amounts to in the context of the overall picture.”
“Danforth, Miller & Graham thinks it amounts to about 10 points,” I said.
So we settled on eight, and I got my partnership.
That’s some of what I was thinking about when Guy Crawford called me again for advice. It had been nearly six months since he and Patty had taken up together, and I hadn’t seen all that much of him in the interval. Of course, I had Patty there every day to tell me about Guy, and so far as I knew, everything was fine between them.
“It’s about Patty,” said Guy. “Things are real bad between us. Patty says she doesn’t think it’s going to work out. You’ve got to help me, Tom, I don’t know what to say to her.”
I talked with him for damn near 45 minutes, turning down several incoming calls in the process, and if the conversation was anywhere near as painful for Guy as it was for me, he must have been suffering. As far as I could make out, they were breaking up for all the obvious reasons. What can you tell somebody in a situation like that? That you still can’t figure out what she saw in him to begin with? In the end, I promised to talk to Patty about him, but I never did. I just didn’t think it was any of my business.
The dinner party was my idea, and Barbara was against it right from the start. I thought maybe we could re-create the atmosphere of that first dinner when the two of them had fallen for one another. At the very least, the two of them could talk things over more calmly. But Barbara refused point blank to have them over by themselves. She said it would be awful, and that she wasn’t going to make dinner and be entertaining and wind up with some kind of terrible scene just for Patty Pierson. For some reason, now that Patty had settled down like any other girl, Barbara had taken a profound dislike to her. And after she had set Patty and Guy up together, too. Women are funny that way. We decided to hold a big dinner party and invite the two of them along with a lot of other guests. The party was theoretically to celebrate my making partner, and asked almost 40 people. We had to do it on just a few days notice, because Patty and Guy looked as if they might not last much longer.
Guy had called me on a Tuesday, and the party was set for that Friday night. Friday morning at six the doorbell rang. It was Guy.
“You’re a bit early,” I said. “Most of the other guests haven’t arrived.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to be funny, because he looked pretty bad. It was raining out, and he was soaked. He hadn’t shaved, and I guess he’d been crying, because his face was all red and puffy. It was easy to tell he’d been up all night. I didn’t see his car, and I asked him where it was.
“The cement’s right slippery, and I wasn’t watching too good,” he said. “I slid off the road down on Potomac Parkway.”
I brought him in the kitchen and gave him a cup of coffee. That was one thing Patty had done for him, anyway. When I first knew him, he didn’t even drink that. His hands were shaking a little as he held the cup. I went upstairs and told Barbara who it was and came back with some dry clothes for him. My things were too big for him, but he had to have something.
“She left me, Tom,” he said. “We’ve been working it out for days, but last night when she came home from work she just picked up and left. I’ve got to talk to her, Tom. I’ve been thinking on it all night, and I’ve got things I’ve got to say. I’ve got to talk to her, but she just hangs up the phone when I call.”
What he wanted was to borrow my car so he could drive by Patty’s apartment, which didn’t seem like a good idea at all.
“My advice is to rest up a bit,” I told him. “We’ll get your car back on the road, and you can drive round and see her later on. Anyway, you’re going to see her right here tonight.”
But Guy had to go right away. He said he’d be careful, and he was insistent. He was sober as a judge, but he’d already wrecked one car that day.
“Come on,” I said, “I’ll drive you over.”
Patty lived on Pennsylvania Avenue, out well past the Capitol. The rents were a little cheaper there, and a lot of younger people lived in the area. The rain was coming down harder now, and the day was chilly and miserably damp. All the windows and mirrors in my car fogged up, and there didn’t seem to be any way to get warm. As I understand it, Washington, D.C. lies on what was once marshland. There are all sorts of fancy buildings and sophisticated people there now, but once in a while the swamp still comes through.
As we pulled up to the house, I saw Patty’s car parked at the corner. There was a ticket on the windshield. Patty’s was the first-floor apartment, and Guy got out of the car and walked up a few steps to the door. I stayed where I was. He rang the bell and knocked and knocked, but it was a long time before anybody answered. Finally the door opened a little, and it was Patty. All she had on was a blue kimono, and even without any make-up and with her hair uncombed she looked good. She didn’t ask Guy in, and he just stood there in the rain talking to her. I don’t know what he was saying. There couldn’t have been anything to say that they hadn’t gone over a hundred times before. Guy pushed at the door, but Patty still wouldn’t let him in. They were each talking louder by now, and soon it was just yelling. Then Guy shoved Patty pretty hard, and she fell back from the door. The door swung open, and you could see a man coming into the hallway. It was a man with a soft stomach and an old person’s thin legs. It was John Bigham himself, and he wasn’t wearing anything at all.
I slid down in my seat. I already had my partnership, but I didn’t want a scene. I think Bigham saw me anyway, but it probably didn’t make any difference, because Patty knew damn well whose car it was parked out on the street.
Guy just stood there, and Bigham closed the door in his face. He stood there a little longer, and then he walked down the steps and slowly back to the car. He got in, and we drove away. For a long time nobody said anything. Guy was holding himself like a man shot in the gut, and his eyes had the dazed, glittery look of a person who has taken a mind-altering drug. He was going through the kind of emotional experience the rest of us go through at the age of 19 or 20, and looking at him made you remember how terrible it was to be in love.
“She said she’s been screwing everybody, Tom,” he said at last, “even you.”
Women say funny things when they’re upset, when they’re deliberately trying to hurt someone. But I didn’t see the point of trying to tell him anything different, considering the state he was in. Maybe I should have tried, though. Everybody has the right to remain silent, but I don’t think Guy ever felt the same about us after that.
I had been planning to take Guy to his car and see if we could get it running again. But I couldn’t send him off on his own now, not in his condition, so I brought him back home with me. I took him upstairs to the guest bedroom and made sure he got out of my clothes and into bed. Barbara had already left for work by the time we got back, but I called her office and left a message explaining the way things were. I had to go into work myself, but it would be all right, because Barbara was coming home early to set up for the party.
By the time I shaved and changed and got to the office, it was 10 o’clock, but Patty wasn’t there. It turned out she had called in sick. Bigham didn’t bother to call, he just didn’t come in that day. I talked to my secretary for a while, and I tried to do some work on a brief I was writing, but I couldn’t concentrate. Then Barbara called me, and told me to come home at once.
Guy was lying in the middle of the kitchen floor. Barbara hadn’t been able to move him, and so she was just working around him, going ahead with the cooking and trying to clean up a little. There wasn’t much choice, because like it or not, we had a lot of people coming over for dinner in a few hours. Barbara didn’t look happy, which under the circumstances was perfectly understandable. The room was an incredible mess. He had knocked over a container of orange juice, and the liquid had gone everywhere. He had stepped in it and tracked it around the house. There was a pitcher broken on the floor, and bits of glass lay scattered about. A bottle of ketchup had fallen out of the refrigerator door and spilled, too. There were several empty glasses on the kitchen table, along with an empty ice tray; and the entire contents of my liquor cabinet, mixers included, was there as well.
The worst thing, though, was the vomit. He was lying in a pool of it, and there was vomit on the table, on the chairs, on the walls. There was even vomit on the kitchen telephone, which he had dragged out into the center of the floor with him. He was a mess himself, of course, but that hardly mattered, because Guy wasn’t wearing anything except a pair of my briefs.
I wanted to get him upstairs and back into bed, but when I tried to pick him up, he began throwing up all over again. He woke up a bit then and recognized me.
“Tom,” he said, “Tom, I tried brandy, I tried bourbon, I tried scotch, I tried rum, I tried tequila, I tried gin, I tried vodka. Bwwaaghh.”
He was still throwing up.
“I tried vodka and tonic, I tried vodka and orange juice, I tried vodka and tomato juice, I tried vodka and cranberry juice. And you know what, Tom?”
“What,” I said.
“Vodka and cranberry juice ain’t worth a shit. Bwwaaghh.”
He was laughing hysterically, or crying, it was hard to tell which, and his entire body was shuddering in paroxysms of regurgitation.
“Tom,” he said.
“I’m an alcoholic, Tom. My grandfather was an alcoholic, my father was an alcoholic, and now I’m an alcoholic. Tom, I’m drunk.”
I grabbed him under the armpits and dragged him up the stairs. Barbara had tried to sponge him off a bit already, so I just rolled him into bed the way he was. I checked on him once or twice later on, but he didn’t choke or fall out of bed, and after a while he passed out again. Then I mopped the kitchen floor and wiped off the walls and put the liquor away. I tried to cheer Barbara up, but she wasn’t in a very good mood.
“What do you think of sportfucking now?” she said.
“Sportfucking, Thomas. Like in Patty Pierson. How do you like it now?”
She was standing with her back to me, working over the stove. It was hard to figure out just what she had in mind, but Guy must have been awake enough to say something to her before I got home.
“I think Patty’s too damn tough on people,” I said. “She’s a nice girl, basically, but somebody’s got to tell her she can’t do this sort of thing. Somebody’s got to make her see you can’t play with other people’s emotions like this.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t get around to explaining that to her at the office,” said Barbara, “or didn’t you have time?”
“What’s that supposed to mean,” I said, but I didn’t wait to find out.
When Barbara gets in a mood like that, there’s not much you can say to her, and I didn’t try. I just walked out of the room and started working on the rest of the house. We did the best we could to get ready for the party, but we had barely finished cleaning up when the guests began arriving. Maybe it was the rain, or the short notice, or maybe word had somehow gotten around already, but only half the people we invited showed up. It was just as well, because Barbara hadn’t finished cooking all the food, although of course that wasn’t her fault. The party, needless to say, was a disaster.
Patty was one of the guests who didn’t show. I saw her the following Monday at Three Little Bigs, but there wasn’t much to say. She and John Bigham announced their engagement within the week, and inside of a month they were married. I guess when you’re as old as Bigham and have already been divorced three times, there doesn’t seem much future in waiting. They were married by a justice of the peace in a private ceremony, and I wasn’t one of the people invited. Patty and I kept up a professional relationship, and she always made an effort to be cheerful, but before long she had her own office with her own clerks, and I didn’t see much of her after that.
The day after the party, Guy woke up with the worst hangover I’ve ever seen. He didn’t move out of bed all that day, and he couldn’t eat anything for most of the day after that. We finally got him back to his apartment in Arlington late Sunday night.
For quite a while after that awful party, we tried to keep in touch with Guy. He didn’t call us much, and when he did he was pretty reserved if it happened to be me who picked up the phone. Maybe he felt awkward about the mess he had made. Maybe he felt bad about the phone-bill, too, because during his binge at our house, Guy had called various colleagues around the country and shared what was on his drunken mind. He had called lots of law offices, as well, and told whoever would listen that he was an alcoholic. He even called Biggs, Bixby & Bigham and informed them that Patty Pierson was sleeping with everybody, even me.
It was the sort of performance you can expect from almost any adolescent at one time or another, and I suppose it was harmless enough. But it was unfortunate, because it did his career real damage. Legal publications stopped printing his articles after that, and no one was interested in having him lecture or testify or sit on a seminar panel. Worse, Guy came up for tenure at George Mason soon after the episode, and a reputation as a binge drinker couldn’t have helped. The drinking issue reinforced the plagiarism charge, and that was the stake through the heart. It generally pays to be careful about the information you give and get, and a law professor ought to have known better. As it was, somebody—if asked, you could say maybe an ex-student nursing a grudge—called up the head of the tenure committee and left an anonymous message detailing material Guy had lifted from Alexander Meiklejohn, chapter and verse. Tenure denied. Guy ended up leaving the Washington area. The last I heard he had moved back to West Virginia and was practicing on his own.
Barbara and I don’t argue as much nowadays, and things have grown a lot better between us. I’m sure my making partner helped. I’ve got more free time, and the extra money has made us quite comfortable. But I like to think that the whole business with Guy was what actually made the difference. It sort of put our own relationship in focus, made us see what was really important to us. Barbara doesn’t like to talk about it, though, and maybe she’s right. Patty Pierson once told me that men ought to learn when to let a thing drop, and I think it was good advice.
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