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The Client(13)
Author: John Grisham

Hardy was okay, not too bright, and he was making the mistake of talking to Mark as if he were five years old instead of eleven. He described the padded walls, and rolled his eyes around with great exaggeration. He told of patients being chained to beds as if spinning some horror story around the campfire. Mark was tired of it.

Mark could think of little except Ricky and whether he would remove his thumb and start talking. He desperately wanted this to happen, but he wanted to have first crack at Ricky when the shock ended. They had things to discuss.

What if the doctors or, heaven forbid, the cops got to him first, and Ricky told the whole story and they all knew Mark was lying? What would they do to him if they caught him lying? Maybe they wouldn't believe Ricky. Since he'd blanked out and left the world for a while, maybe they would tend to believe Mark instead. This conflict in stories was too awful to think about.

It's amazing how lies grow. You start with a small one that seems easy to cover, then you get boxed in and tell another one. Then another. People believe you at first, and they act upon your lies, and you catch yourself wishing you'd simply told the truth. He could have told the truth to the cops and to his mother. He could have explained in great detail everything that Ricky saw. And the secret would still be safe because Ricky didn't know.

Things were happening so fast he couldn't plan. He wanted to get his mother in a room with the door locked and unload all this, just stop it now before it got worse. If he didn't do something, he might go to jail and Ricky might go to the nuthouse for kids.

Hardy appeared with a tray covered with french fries and cheeseburgers, two for him and one for Mark. He arranged the food neatly and returned the tray.

Mark nibbled on a french fry. Hardy launched into a burger.

"So what happened to your face?" Hardy asked, chomping away.

Mark rubbed the knot and remembered he had been wounded in the fray. "Oh nothing. Just got in a fight in school." "Who's the other kid?" Dammit! Cops are relentless. Tell one lie to cover another. He was sick of lying. "You don't know him," he answered, then bit into his cheeseburger.

"I might want to talk to him." "Why?" "Did you get in trouble for this fight? I mean, did your teacher take you to the principal's office, or anything like that?" "No. It happened when school was out." "I thought you said you got in a fight at school." "Well, it sort of started at school, okay. Me and this guy got into it at lunch, and agreed to meet when school was out." Hardy drew mightily on the tiny straw in his milk shake. He swallowed hard, cleared his mouth, and said, "What's the other kid's name?" "Why do you want to know?" This angered Hardy and he stopped chewing. Mark refused to look into his eyes, and he bent low over his food and stared at the ketchup.

"I'm a cop, kid. It's my job to ask questions." "Do I have to answer them?" "Of course you do. Unless, of course, you're hiding something and afraid to answer. At that point, I'll have to get with your mother and perhaps take the both of you down to the station for more questioning." "Questioning about what? What exactly do you want to know?" "Who is the kid you had a fight with today?" Mark nibbled forever on the end of a long fry.

Hardy picked up the second cheeseburger. A spot ot mayonnaise hung from the corner of his mouth.

"I don't want to get him in trouble," Mark said.

"He won't get in trouble." "Then why do you want to know his name?" "I just want to know. It's my job, okay?" "You think I'm lying, don't you?" Mark asked, looking pitifully into the bulging face.

The chomping stopped. "I don't know, kid. Your story is full of holes." Mark looked even more pitiful. "I can't remember everything. It happened so fast. You expect me to give every little detail, and I can't remember it that way." Hardy stuck a wad of fries in his mouth. "Eat your food. We'd better get back." "Thanks for the dinner."

KICKY WAS IN A PRIVATE ROOM ON THE NINTH FLOOR. A large sign by the elevator labeled it as the PSYCHIATRIC WING, and it was much quieter. The lights were dimmer, the voices softer, the traffic much slower. The nurses' station was near the elevator, and those stepping off were scrutinized. A security guard whispered with the nurses and watched the hallways. Down from the elevators, away from the rooms, was a small, dark sitting area with a television, soft drink machines, magazines, and Gideon Bibles.

Mark and Hardy were alone in the waiting area. Mark sipped a Sprite, his third, and watched a rerun of "Hill Street Blues" on cable while Hardy dozed fitfully on the terribly undersized couch. It was almost nine, and half an hour had passed since Dianne had walked him down the hall to Ricky's room for^a quick peek.

He looked small under the sheets. The IV, Dianne had explained, was to feed him because he wouldn't eat. She assured him Ricky would be all right, but Mark studied her eyes and knew she was worried. Dr. Green-way would return in a bit, and wanted to talk to Mark.

"Has he said anything?" Mark had asked as he studied the IV.

"No. Not a word." She took his hand and they walked through the dim hallway to the sitting area. At least five times, Mark had almost blurted something out. They had passed an empty room not far from Ricky's and he thought of dragging her inside for a confession. But he didn't. Later, he kept telling himself, I'll tell her later.

Hardy had stopped asking questions. His shift ended at ten, and it was obvious he was tired of Mark and Ricky and the hospital. He wanted to return to the streets.

A pretty nurse in a short skirt walked past the elevators and motioned for Mark to follow her. He eased from his chair, holding his Sprite. She took his hand, and there was something exciting about this. Her fingernails were long and red. Her skin was smooth and tanned. She had blond hair and a perfect smile, and she was young. Her name was Karen, and she squeezed his hand a bit tighter than necessary. His heart skipped a beat.

"Dr. Greenway wants to talk to you," she said, leaning down as she walked. Her perfume lingered, and it was the most wonderful fragrance Mark could remember.

She walked him to Ricky's room, Number 943, and released his hand. The door was closed, so she knocked slightly and opened it. Mark entered slowly, and Karen patted him on the shoulder. He watched her leave through the half-open door.

Dr. Greenway now wore a shirt and tie with a white lab jacket over it. An ID tag hung from the left front pocket. He was a skinny man with round glasses and a black beard, and seemed too young to be doing this...

"Come in, Mark," he said after Mark was already in the room and standing at the foot of Ricky's bed. "Sit here." He pointed to a plastic chair next to a foldaway bed under the window. His voice was low, almost a whisper. Dianne sat with her feet curled under her on the bedHer shoes were on the floor. She wore blue jeans and a sweater, and stared at Ricky under the sheets with a tube in his arm. A lamp on a table near the bathroom door provided the only light. The blinds were shut tight.

Mark eased into the plastic chair, and Dr. Green-way sat on the edge of the foldaway, not two feet away. He squinted and frowned, and projected such somber-ness that Mark thought for a second they were all about to die.

"I need to talk to you about what happened," he said. He was not whispering now. It was obvious Ricky was in another world and they were unafraid of waking him. Dianne was behind Greenway, still staring blankly at the bed. Mark wanted her alone so he could talk and work out of this mess, but she was back there in the darkness, behind the doctor, ignoring him.

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