The Summons - Page 24

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He was the only morning jogger in Clanton, and for this he got curious stares from the ladies in their flower beds and the maids sweeping the porches and the summer help cutting grass at the cemetery when he ran past the Atlee family plot. The soil was settling around the Judge, but Ray did not stop or even slow down to inspect it. The men who'd dug the grave were digging another. There was a death and a birth every day in Clanton. Things changed little.

It was not yet eight o'clock and the sun was hot and the air heavy. The humidity didn't bother him because he'd grown up with it, but he certainly didn't miss it either.

He found the shaded streets and worked his way back to Maple Run. Forrest's Jeep was there, and his brother was slouched in the swing on the porch. "Kinda early for you, isn't it?" Ray said.

"How far did you run? You're covered in sweat."

"That happens when you jog in the heat. Five miles. You look good."

And he did. Clear, unswollen eyes, a shave, a shower, clean white painter's pants.

"I'm on the wagon, Bro."

"Wonderful." Ray sat in a rocker, still sweating, still breathing heavily. He would not ask how long Forrest had been sober. Couldn't have been more than twenty-four hours.

Forrest bounced from the swing and pulled the other rocker near Ray. "I need some help, Bro," he said, sitting on the edge of the chair. :c Here we go again, Ray said to himself. "I'm listening."

"I need some help," he blurted again, rubbing his hands fiercely as if the words were painful.

Ray had seen it before and had no patience. "Let's go, Forrest, what is it?" It was money, first of all. After that, there were several possibilities.

"There's a place I want to go, about an hour from here. It's way out in the woods, close to nothing, very pretty, a nice little lake in the center, comfortable rooms." He pulled a wrinkled business card from his pocket and handed it to Ray.

Alcorn Village. Drug and Alcohol Treatment Facility. A Ministry of the Methodist Church.

"Who's Oscar Meave?" Ray asked, looking at the card.

"A guy I met a few years ago. He helped me, now he's at that place."

"It's a detox center."

"Detox, rehab, drug unit, dry-out tank, spa, ranch, village, jail, prison, mental ward, call it whatever you want. I don't care. I need help, Ray. Now," He covered his face with his hands and began crying

"Okay, okay." Ray said. "Give me the details.

" Forrest wiped his eyes and his nose and sucked in a heavy load of air. "Call the guy and see if they have a room," he said, his voice quivering"

"How long will you stay?"

"Four weeks, I think, but Oscar can tell you."

"And what's the cost?"

"Somewhere around three hundred bucks a day. I was thinking maybe I could borrow against my share of this place, get Harry Rex to ask the judge if there's a way to get some money now." Tears were dripping from the corners of his eyes.

Ray had seen the tears before. He'd heard the pleas and the promises, and no matter how hard and cynical he tried to be at that moment, he melted. "We'll do something," he said. "I'll call this guy now."

"Please, Ray, I want to go right now."

"Today?"

"Yes, I, uh, well, I can't go back to Memphis." He lowered his head and ran his fingers through his long hair.

"Somebody looking for you?"

"Yeah," he nodded. "Bad guys."

"Not cops?"

"No, they're a helluva lot worse than cops."

"Do they know you're here?" Ray asked, glancing around. He could almost see heavily armed drug dealers hiding behind the bushes.

"No, they have no idea where I am."

Ray stood and went into the house.

Like most folks, Oscar Meave remembered Forrest well. They had worked together in a federal detox program in Memphis, and while he was sad to hear that Forrest was in need of help, he was nonetheless delighted to talk to Ray about him. Ray tried his best to explain the urgency of the matter, though he had no details and was not likely to get any. Their father had died three weeks earlier, Ray said, already making excuses.

"Bring him on," Meave said. "We'll find a place."

They left town thirty minutes later, in Ray's rental car. Forrest's Jeep was parked behind the house, for good measure.

"Are you sure these guys won't be snooping around here?" Ray said.

"They have no idea where I'm from," Forrest replied. His head was back on the headrest, his eyes hidden behind funky sunshades.

"Who are they, exactly?"

"Some really nice guys from south Memphis. You'd like them."

"And you owe them money?"

"Yes."

"How much?"

"Four thousand dollars."

"And where did this four thousand bucks go?"

Forrest gently tapped his nose. Ray shook his head in frustration and anger and bit his tongue to hold back another bitter lecture. Let some miles pass, he told himself. They were in the country now. farmland on both sides. t,

Forrest began snoring.

This would be another Forrest tale, the third time Ray actually loaded him up and hauled him away for detox. The last time had been almost twelve years earlier - the Judge was still presiding, Claudia still at his side, Forrest doing more drugs than anyone in the state. Things had been normal. The narcs had cast a wide net around him, and through blind luck Forrest had sneaked through it. They suspected he was dealing, which was true, and had they caught him he would still be in prison. Ray had driven him to a state hospital near the coast, one the Judge had pulled strings to get him into. There, he slept for a month then walked away.

The first brotherly journey to rehab had been during Ray's law school years at Tulane. Forrest had overdosed on some vile combination of pills. They pumped his stomach and almost pronounced him dead. The Judge sent them to a compound near Knoxville with locked gates and razor wire. Forrest stayed a week before escaping.

He'd been to jail twice, once as a juvenile, once as an adult, though he was only nineteen. His first arrest was just before a high school football game, Friday night, the playoffs, in Clanton with the entire town waiting for kickoff. He was sixteen, a junior, an all-conference quarterback and safety, a kamikaze who loved to hit late and spear with his helmet. The narcs plucked him from the dressing room and led him away in handcuffs. The backup was an untested freshman, and when Clanton got slaughtered the town never forgave Forrest Atlee.

Ray had been sitting in the stands with the Judge, anxious as everyone else about the game. "Where's Forrest?" folks began asking during pregame. When the coin was tossed he was in the city jail getting fingerprinted and photographed. They found fourteen ounces of marijuana in his car.

He spent two years in a juvenile facility and was released on his eighteenth birthday.

How does the sixteen-year-old son of a prominent judge become a dope pusher in a small Southern town with no history of drugs? Ray and his father had asked each other that question a thousand times. Only Forrest knew the answer, and long ago he had made the decision to keep it to himself. Ray was thankful that he buried most of his secrets. . :

After a nice nap, Forrest jolted himself awake and announced he needed something to drink.

"No," Ray said.

"A soft drink, I swear."

They stopped at a country store and bought sodas. For breakfast Forrest had a bag of peanuts.

"Some of these places have good food," he said when they were moving again. Forrest the tour guide for detox centers. Forrest the Michelin critic for rehab units. "I usually lose a few pounds," he said, chomping.

"Do they have gyms and such?" Ray asked, aiding the conversation. He really didn't want to discuss the perks of various drug tanks.

"Some do," Forrest said smugly. "Ellie sent me to this place in Florida near a beach, lots of sand and water, lots of sad rich folks. Three days of brainwashing, then they worked our asses off. Hikes, bikes, power walks, weights if we wanted. I got a great tan and dropped fifteen pounds. Stayed clean for eight months."

In his sad little life, everything was measured by stints of sobriety.

"Ellie sent you?" Ray asked.

"Yeah, it was years ago. She had a little dough at one point, not much. I'd hit the bottom, and it was back when she cared. It was a nice place, though, and some of the counselors were those Florida chicks with short skirts and long legs."

"I'll have to check it out."

"Kiss my ass."

'Just kidding."

"There's this place out West where all the stars go, the Hacienda, and it's the Ritz. Plush rooms, spas, daily massages, chefs who can fix great meals at one thousand calories a day. And the counselors are the best in the world. That's what I need, Bro, six months at the Hacienda."

"Why six months?"

"Because I need six months. I've tried two months, one month, three weeks, two weeks, it's not enough. For me, it's six months of total lockdown, total brainwashing, total therapy, plus my own masseuse." . .

"What's the cost?"

Forrest whistled and rolled his eyes. "Pick a number. I don't know. You gotta have a zillion bucks and two recommendations to get in. Imagine that, a letter of recommendation. 'To the Fine Folks at the Hacienda: I hereby heartily recommend my friend Doofus Smith as a patient in your wonderful facility. Doofus drinks vodka for breakfast, snorts coke for lunch, snacks on heroin, and is usually comatose by dinner. His brain is fried, his veins are lacerated, his liver is shot to hell. Doofus is your kind of person and his old man owns Idaho.' "

"Do they keep people for six months?"

"You're clueless, aren't you?"

"I guess."

"A lot of cokeheads need a year. Even more for heroin addicts."

And which is your current poison? Ray wanted to ask. But then he didn't want to. "A year?" he said.

"Yep, total lockdown. And then the addict has to do it himself. I know guys who've been to prison for three years with no coke, no crack, no drugs at all, and when they were released they called a dealer before they called their wives or girlfriends."

"What happens to them?"

"It's not pretty." He threw the last of the peanuts into his mouth, slapped his hands together, and sent salt flying.

THERE WERE no signs directing traffic to Alcorn Village. They followed Oscar's directions until they were certain they were lost deep in the hills, then saw a gate in the distance. Down a tree-lined drive, a complex spread before them. It was peaceful and secluded, and Forrest gave it good marks for first impressions.

Oscar Meave arrived in the lobby of the administration building and guided them to an intake office, where he handled the initial paperwork himself. He was a counselor, an administrator, a psychologist, an ex-addict who'd cleaned himself up years ago and received two Ph.D.'s. He wore jeans, a sweatshirt, sneakers, a goatee, and two earrings, and had the wrinkles and chipped tooth of a rough prior life. But his voice was soft and friendly. He exuded the tough compassion of one who'd been where Forrest was now.

The cost was $325 a day and Oscar was recommending a minimum of four weeks. "After that, we'll see where he is. I'll need to ask some pretty rough questions about what Forrest has been doing."

"I don't want to hear that conversation," Ray said.

"You won't," Forrest said. He was resigned to the flogging that was coming.

"And we require half the money up front," Oscar said. "The other half before his treatment is complete."

Ray flinched and tried to remember the balance in his checking account back in Virginia. He had plenty of cash, but this was not the time to use it.

"The money is coming out of my father's estate," Forrest said. "It might take a few days."

Oscar was shaking his head. "No exceptions. Our policy is half now."

"No problem," said Ray. "I'll write a check for it."

"I want it to come out of' the estate," Forrest said. "You're not paying for it."

"The estate can reimburse me. It'll work." Ray wasn't sure how it would work, but he'd let Harry Rex worry about that. He signed the forms as guarantor of payment. Forrest signed at the bottom of a page listing all the do's and don'ts.

"You can't leave for twenty-eight days," Oscar said. "If you do, you forfeit all monies paid and you're never welcome back. Understand?"

"I understand," Forrest said. How many times had he been through this?

"You're here because you want to be here, right?"

"Right."

"And no one is forcing you?"

"No one."

Now that the flogging was on, it was time for Ray to leave. He thanked Oscar and hugged Forrest and sped away much faster than he'd arrived.



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