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Ford County
Author: John Grisham

Blood Drive

By the time the news of Bailey's accident spread through the rule settlement of Box Hill, there were several versions of how it happened. Someone from the construction company called his mother reported that he had been injured when some scaffolding collapsed at a building site in downtown Memphis, that he was undergoing surgery, was stable, and was expected to survive. His mother, an invalid, weighed over 400 pounds and was known to be excitable, missed some of the facts as she began to scream and carry on. She called friends and neighbors, and with each replaying of the tragic news various details were altered and enlarged. She neglected to write down the phone number of the person from the company, so there was no one to call to verify our discount the rumors that were multiplying by the minute.

One of Bailey's coworkers, another boy from Ford County, called his girlfriend in Box Hill and gave an account that varied somewhat: Bailey had been run over by a bulldozer, which was next to the scaffolding, and he was practically dead. The surgeons were working on him, but things were grim.

Then an administrator from a hospital in Memphis called Bailey's home, asked to speak to his mother, and was told that she was laid up in bed, too upset to talk, and unable to come to the phone. The neighbor who answered the phone pumped the administrator for details, but didn't get much. Something collapsed at a construction site, maybe a ditch in which the young man was working, or some such variation. Yes, he was in surgery, and hospital needed basic information.

Bailey's mother's small brick home quickly became a busy place. Visitors had begun arriving by late afternoon: friends, relatives, and several pastors from the tiny churches scattered around Box Hill. The women gathered in the kitchen and den and gossipped nonstop on the phone rang constantly. The men huddled outside and smoked cigarettes. Casseroles and cakes began to appear.

What little to do and with scant information about Bailey's injuries, that visitors seized upon every tiny fact, analyzed it, dissected it, and passed it along to the women inside, or to the men outside. The leg was mangled and would probably be amputated. There was a severe brain injury. Bailey fell 4 floors with the scaffolding or maybe it was eight. His chest was crushed. A few of the facts and theories were simply created on the spot. There were even a few somber inquiries about funeral arrangements.

Bailey was 19 years old and in his short life had never had so many friends and admirers. The entire community loved him more and more as the hours passed. He was a good boy, raised right, a much better person than his sorry father, a man no one had seen in years.

Bailey's ex-girlfriend showed up and was soon the center of attention. She was distraught and overwhelmed and cried easily, especially when talking about her beloved Bailey. However, when word filtered back to the bedroom and his mother heard the little slut was in the house she ordered her out. The little slut then hung around with the men outside flirting and smoking. She finally left, vowing to drive to Memphis right then and see her Bailey.

A neighbor's cousin lived in Memphis and this cousin reluctantly agreed to go to the hospital and monitor things. His first call brought the news that the young man was indeed undergoing surgery for multiple injuries, but he appeared to be stable. He'd lost a lot of blood. In the second call, the cousin straightened out a few of the facts. He'd talked to the job foreman, and Bailey had been injured when a bulldozer struck the scaffolding, collapsed it and sending the poor boy crashing down 15 feet into a pit of some sort. They were putting the brick on a six-story office building in Memphis, and Bailey was working as a mason's helper. The hospital would not allow visitors for at least 24 hours, but blood donations were needed.

A mason's helper? His mother had bragged that Bailey had been promoted rapidly through the company and was now in assistant job foreman. However, in the spirit of the moment, no one questioned her about this discrepancy.

After dark, a man in a suit appeared and explained that he was an investigator of some sort. He was passed along to an uncle, Bailey's mother's youngest brother, and in a private conversation in the backyard he handed over a business card for a lawyer in Clanton. "Best lawyer in the country," he said. "And we are already working on the case."

The uncle was impressed and promised to shun other lawyers--" just a bunch of ambulance chasers"-- and to curse any insurance adjuster came slithering onto the same.

Eventually, there was talk of a trip to Memphis. Though it was only two hours away by car, it may as well have been five. In Box Hill, going to the big city man driving an hour to Tupelo, population 50 thousand. Memphis was in another state, another world will, and, besides, crime was rampant. The murder rate was right up there with Detroit. They watched the carnage every night on Channel 5.

Bailey's mother was growing more incapacitated by the moment and was clearly unable to travel, let alone give blood. His sister lived in Clanton, but she could not leave her children. Tomorrow is Friday, a workday, and there was a general belief that such a trip to Memphis and back, plus the blood thing, would take many hours and, well, who knew when the donors might get back to Ford County.

Another call from Memphis proper days that the boy was out of surgery, clinging to life, and still in desperate need of blood. By the time this reach the group of men loitering out in the driveway, it sounded as though poor Bailey might die any minute unless his loved ones hustled to the hospital and opened their veins.

I hero quickly emerged. His name was Wayne Agnor, an alleged close friend of Bailey's who since birth had been known as Aggie. He ran a body shop with his father, and thus had hours flexible enough for a quick trip to Memphis. He also had his own pickup, a late-model Dodge, and he claimed to know Memphis like the back of his hand.

"I can leave right now," Aggie said proudly to the group, and word spread through the house that a trip was materializing. One of the women calmed things down when she explained that several volunteers were needed since the hospital would extract only one pint from each donor. "You can't give a gallon," she explained. Very few had actually given blood, and the thought of needles and tubes frightened many. The house and front yard became very quiet.Concerned neighbors who had been so close to Bailey just moments earlier began looking for distance.

"I'll go too," another young man finally said, and he was immediately congratulated. His name was Calvin Marr, and his hours were also flexible but for different reasons--Calvin had been laid off from the shoe factory in Clanton and was drawing unemployment. He was terrified of needles but intrigued by the romance of seeing Memphis for the first time. He would be honored to be a donor.

The idea of a fellow traveler emboldened Aggie, and he laid down the challenge. "Anybody else?" There was mumbling in general while most of the men studied their boots. "We will take my truck and I'll pay for the gas," Aggie continued. "When are we leavin'?" Calvin asked. "Right now," said Aggie. "It's an emergency." "That's right," someone added. "I'll send Roger," and older gentleman offered, and this was met with silent skepticism. Roger, who was the present, had no job to worry about because he couldn't keep one. He had dropped out of high school and had a colorful history with alcohol and drugs. Needles certainly would not intimidate him.

Though the men in general had little knowledge of transfusions, the very idea of a victim injured so gravely as to need blood from Roger was hard to imagine. "You tryin' to kill Bailey?" one of them mumbled. "Roger'll do it," his father said with pride. The great question was is he sober? Rogers battles with his demons were widely known and discussed in Box Hill. Most folks generally knew when he was off the hooch, or on it."He's in good shape these days," his father went on, though with a noticeable lack of conviction. But the urgency of the moment overcame all doubt, and Aggie finally said, "where is he?" "He's hone." Of course he was home. Roger never left home. Where would he go?

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