Todd took a quick sip from his mug stashed under the counter. Even with his seniority, he wasn't supposed to drink on the job, but his boss wasn't in. He asked, "So how was Christmas around the Frazier house?"
"Ho, ho, ho. I lasted ten miserable days and got the hell out.
"Three days, then duty called and I came back to work. How's Louie?"
"Still seriously indicted, still looking at real jail time. I should feel sorry for him but compassion runs thin for a guy who sleeps half the day and spends the other half on the sofa watching Judge Judy and bitching about his ankle monitor. My poor mom."
"You're pretty hard on him."
"Not hard enough. That's his problem. No one's ever been hard on Louie. He got caught with pot when he was thirteen, blamed it on a friend, and of course my parents rushed to his defense. He's never been held accountable. Until now."
"Bummer, man. I can't imagine having a brother in prison."
"Yeah, it sucks. I just wish I could help him but there's no way."
"I won't even ask about your dad."
"Didn't see him and didn't hear from him. Not even a card. He's fifty years old and the proud papa of a three-year-old, so I guess he played Santa Claus. Laid out a bunch of toys under the tree, smiled like an idiot when the kid came down the stairs squealing. What a rat."
Two coeds walked to the bar and Todd left to serve them. Mark pulled out his phone and checked his messages.
When Todd returned, he asked, "Have you seen any grades yet?"
"No. Who cares? We're all top students." Grades at Foggy Bottom were a joke. It was imperative that the school's graduates finish with sparkling résumés, and to that end the professors passed out As and Bs like cheap candy. No one flunked out of FBLS. So, of course, this had created a culture of rather listless studying, which, of course, killed any chance of competitive learning. A bunch of mediocre students became even more mediocre. No wonder the bar exam was such a challenge. Mark added, "And you really can't expect a bunch of overpaid professors to grade exams during the holidays, can you?"
Todd took another sip, leaned even closer, and said, "We have a bigger problem."
"I was afraid of that. I've texted and tried to call but his phone's turned off. What's going on?"
"It's bad," Todd said. "Evidently, he went home for Christmas and spent his time fighting with Brenda. She wants a big church wedding with a thousand people. Gordy doesn't want to get married. Her mother has a lot to say. His mother is not speaking to her mother and the whole thing is blowing up."
"They're getting married May 15, Todd. As I recall, you and I signed on as groomsmen."
"Well, don't bet on it. He's already back in town and off his meds. Zola stopped by this afternoon and gave me the heads-up."
"It's a long story."
"He's bipolar, Mark. Diagnosed a few years back."
"You're kidding, right?"
"Why would I kid about this? He's bipolar and Zola says he's off his medication."
"Why wouldn't he tell us?"
"I can't answer that."
Mark took a long drink of beer and shook his head. He asked, "Zola's back already?"
"Yes, evidently she and Gordy hurried back for a few days of fun and games, though I'm not sure they're having much fun. She thinks he quit his meds about a month ago when we were studying for finals. One day he's manic and bouncing off the walls; then he's in a stupor after sipping tequila and smoking weed. He's talking crazy, says he wants to quit school and run off to Jamaica, with Zola of course. She thinks he might do something stupid and hurt himself."
"Gordy is stupid. He's engaged to his high school sweetheart, a real cutie who happens to have money, and now he's shacking up with an African girl whose parents and brothers are in this country without the benefit of those immigration papers everyone is talking about. Yes, the boy is stupid."
"Gordy's in trouble, Mark. He's been sliding for several weeks and he needs our help."
Mark pushed his beer away, but only a few inches, and clasped his hands behind his head. "As if we don't have enough to worry about. How, exactly, are we supposed to help?"
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.