THE HEAT WOKE ME.
I became aware of perspiration through my scalp, of a rusty orange
glow behind my closed lids. I opened my eyes and saw crisp light
dance through a palm tree outside, saw it play across the living
room floor. There was an immediate sense of disorientation: Palm
tree? Living room?
Why was I on the couch?
Right. Brooke. Nasty fight.
I raised my head off the chenille pillow, felt as though someone
were grinding my brain beneath their boot. Unwisely, I tried to
remember events of the night before. First, dinner and a bottle of
that high-alcohol zin California vintners seem to be addicted to
these days. Then the party with Brooke's friends. The glass after
glass of good Scotch pushed into my hand.
It was all coming back.
The friend of Brooke's friend--the lawyer in jeans and French cuffs
who thought he knew how to fix health care in the country. He'd
droned on about the free market and incentives and how forty-seven
million uninsured "isn't really that many." Eventually, I couldn't
take it anymore. I'd bellied up to the conversational bar, armed
with a killer buzz and a self-righteous 'tude. I saw Brooke's face
fall when I opened my mouth, but I couldn't stop myself. "Idiot"
was mentioned somewhere along the way, then "do your homework,"
then "moron." The next thing I knew, Brooke's hand was tugging mine
and we were at the door, saying our good-byes.
Oh, and after beating a retreat from the party--Brooke whispering
to our host, "I'm so sorry, he's been under a lot of stress," me
shooting back, "It's stressful teaching a rock to think"--we got
into the car and I still couldn't quit. "What a dickhead," I said.
"What a complete dickhead." Little did I know that the hostess of
the party was trying to make the gent in the French cuffs.
Terrific work, McCormick.
I closed my eyes and tried to sleep again, but there was the
sunshine and, now, some shuffling. The bedroom door opened, then
the bathroom door opened and closed. Didn't even catch a glimpse of
In my defense, my hard-drinking days were long gone, the guy was an
idiot, and I actually had been under a lot of stress. I had just
effected a cross-country transfer in life, from Atlanta to San
Francisco. Not only was this a big red-state-to-blue-state shift,
the move also marked a kind of a break point in my career. I'd been
finishing up a two-year stint as an officer in the Epidemic
Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and would have been happy to work with the organization
for a few more years. Initially, they said they'd love to have me
stay at headquarters in Atlanta, that they wanted to groom me for
more administrative duties. Not only did I not want to touch
anything like an administrative duty, I certainly didn't want to be
The humidity makes me break out.
Despite the offer of further employment at CDC, my ride there had
been somewhat rocky. Granted, the year before, I got a few feathers
in my cap for solving a case that extended from Baltimore to San
Jose, but those feathers had been plucked from ruffled
institutional poultry. Not to mention that I decided to blow off a
meeting with my superiors--a meeting in Atlanta at which I was to
be honored--following the whole
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