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By Rich Silvers
Conure PressCopyright © 2016 Rich Silvers
All rights reserved.
Julian made bets with fate.
Like his tank would fill before the next car pulled into the gas station. He'd reach the cashier before the tall man in the other line. If the balled-up crumpled paper landed in the wastebasket, he'd get promoted.
If he got through the intersection without stopping, he wouldn't lose Julia.
He accelerated down Wendt toward Brewster. The road that cut through the small upstate town was steep. Speedometer up to thirty-five. Steady. The intersection was fifty yards away. Would the light be green when he got there?
He saw Julia's thick black hair falling down her back as she screamed an obscenity.
She loved to be touched. He loved to touch her. As she'd lay on the bed, he'd trace his fingers down her spine and time would fall away. "Don't stop," she'd moan. He wouldn't.
His speedometer was at thirty-five. Ten yards.
He looked up at the light and kept going.CHAPTER 2
Pain on the left side of his body, like he'd been burned. Had he? His left leg was raised. Metal taste in his mouth.
How'd I get here?
Julian was in a white room. Julia stood over him. A fluorescent light was over her shoulder. She was beautiful: full lips, high cheeks, ice blue eyes.
"Julian." Her face was creased.
He couldn't speak. He touched his jaw — something metallic was in his mouth. His left leg was in a cast and he had a searing sensation with each breath.
"It'll take a while, but everything's going to be fine." She sounded confident as her fingers combed his hair, her cool touch more soothing than her words. "You're going to be fine."
He knew he was in a hospital, but he didn't know how he'd gotten there.
"You were in a bad car accident, hon," Julia said. "A doctor from this hospital broadsided you."
He tried putting the pieces together, but he couldn't find them — a hole in his memory. His eyes felt heavy. He was ready to let go, at least for a while.
"Yes, that's it." Julia's gentle yet firm voice led him to sleep. "Rest."
* * *
He dreamed he was driving a monster truck. His feet pressed both brakes to the metal. Neither worked. No steering wheel, hands tied behind his back. "Julia!" he yelled, going down a waterfall. Stones pelted his windshield and webs of cracked glass spread out before him. His speedometer spun round and round, first one way, then the other. Water smashed the truck. The compartment flooded. He couldn't breathe.
He woke with a start. No one was in the room with him.
Where'd she go?
His eyes slid right. The windows lining the side of the room were black. Had it been dark when Julia was here?
A young nurse walked into the room. She was pretty with dirty blond hair. He'd never seen her before. She smiled. A man in a white lab coat was next to her.
"Mr. Barnes, I'm Dr. Stephan Halay. I hope you're feeling better."
His mouth was still wired shut. He was thirsty.
"Do you recall your automobile accident?" Halay said. "Blink once for 'yes' and twice for 'no.'"
He tried to remember. He couldn't.
He blinked twice.
The doctor turned toward the nurse. She looked serious.
Julian's stomach tumbled. A part of his life had been erased. He felt dumb, like the day he got a forty-five on the Trig Regents.
"Do you know your name is Julian Barnes?" Dr. Halay leaned closer.
He blinked once.
The doctor looked pleased and the nurse sighed with relief.
"You're young." Halay picked up his chart. He flipped a page on it and then back again. "You'll heal quickly." He took a thin flashlight out of his breast pocket, pushed up Julian's eyelid, and shone the light in his left eye, then his right. "You'll be here for a few more days and you'll wear this for three months." He tapped the cast with the flashlight. Julian didn't feel a thing. "You'll also be on a liquid diet for a month." He ticked off his fingers. "You have a broken leg, fractured jaw, and two cracked ribs."
Julian noticed a whiteboard on the table next to his bed. He pointed to it. The nurse handed it to him along with a black marker.
WHY CAN'T I REMEMBER?
"The accident could've been especially traumatic for you in some way," the doctor said. "In any case, amnesia is not uncommon in such situations. It's more often temporary than not. Do you recall getting into your car yesterday?"
"It's good you remember that."
He was on his way to Julia's apartment. He wanted to surprise her with orchestra seats to Phantom of the Opera. He hoped Andrew Lloyd Weber and the saltimbocca at Cara Mia would help get things back on track, the way they were in the beginning.
Where are those tickets now?
"When were you born?" Halay said.
"Excellent." Dr. Halay looked over the top of his reading glasses. "Give it some time. Don't force it. The rest will come, though it's hard to say how long that will be."
"My name is Leah." The nurse tucked in the blanket on his bed. "I'm here Tuesday to Saturday, four to twelve. If you need anything, push this call button." She handed it to him.
"I'll give you something for the pain," Halay said. "We can be liberal with it the first week. But after that we're going to have to scale back. We don't want you addicted, right?"
Julian nodded. He wasn't into drugs.
You're addicted to Julia.
"You'll live." Halay patted Julian's shoulder. "Now if you don't have any more questions, I've got to check on another patient."
He had plenty of questions. But none of them were for the doctor.CHAPTER 3
Julian dreamed he and Julia were in the front row of a movie theater. Gigantic images of men running came at them. He had his arm around her. She wore sunglasses. He kissed her and she crumbled — gone. Where was she? He ran down a beach, screaming her name. The sun burned his back. He looked under the seat. Julia laughed.
He drifted toward consciousness and slowly opened his eyes.
An extremely attractive woman sat in the club chair at the foot of his bed. She had short blond hair and blue eyes. Probably early thirties, wearing a dark skirt, a white blouse, and a pearl necklace.
"Mr. Barnes," she said, "I'm Evelyn Wright, Dr. Alan Wright's sister." She paused. "The man who supposedly ran into you?"
Julian swallowed hard. His throat was scratchy. He reached for the cup and sipped some water.
"Are you in a lot of pain?" she said.
"I'm sorry to hear that." Her hands were folded in her lap. "But the fact remains Alan has saved hundreds of lives, and if he continues to operate, he'll save hundreds more."
WHY ISN'T HE HERE?
She looked at her watch.
"He will be in a few minutes." She rose and stepped closer to the bed. "I wanted to talk to you first ... give you the proper perspective."
I DON'T REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED.
"That's what we heard." She ran her finger along the metal bar on the side of his bed. "And the witness ..."
THERE WAS A WITNESS?
"Yes, but things aren't as cut and dried as they seem, Mr. Barnes."
WAS YOUR BROTHER DRINKING?
"No." She stepped back, looking like she'd just swallowed something bitter. "He was coming from the hospital. Imagine the discipline and concentration needed to operate on brains. He's literally performed miracles."
WAS HE TIRED?
"Mr. Barnes, Alan has incredible stamina. He's amazing. If he wasn't my brother, I'd marry him."
TELL ME ABOUT THE ACCIDENT.
"Alan swears the light was green. Not yellow or red or anything in between — green. He wasn't speeding, wasn't distracted. Not drunk, texting, or falling asleep. He was just taking a friend home because she was inebriated. One more good deed after a day of them. Then bam." She smacked her hands together so hard he flinched. "Your car is there. He had no chance to stop. None whatsoever."
He is walking toward Julia's apartment. He comes to her car, puts his hand on the hood. It's warm. She worked late? He makes his way toward the entrance. A man with a little dog opens the door. Julian goes inside. The elevator isn't there. He takes the stairs, two at a time ... Nothing after that.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?
"Admit you're at fault."
I CAN'T — UNTIL I KNOW I AM.
"That's not going to work." She was staring at him, making him uncomfortable.
WHY DON'T YOU BELIEVE WITNESS?
"He's mistaken or a liar. The point is, Alan can't be incarcerated."
A man in a wheelchair entered. He had on a robe and pajamas. He was handsome, early forties with short dark hair. A buxom woman in a white uniform came in behind him. When he turned toward the nurse and whispered in her ear, she departed.
"Mr. Barnes, my name is Dr. Alan Wright." He rolled his wheelchair closer. He covered his mouth as he gazed at Julian. "I'm so sorry, I ..."
"Alan." Evelyn quickly moved around the bed to Wright's side.
"Eve, we were waiting for you," Wright whispered.
"Mr. Barnes and I were having a nice chat. Weren't we?" Julian nodded.
Wright had probably always been the hero, the savior. Now he was accused of causing another's pain. He pictured Evelyn Wright, with her pretty, determined face, telling her brother to fight the good fight.
"I know you can't talk." Wright's fingers were long and slender. It was easy to imagine them holding a scalpel, performing an intricate procedure. "I'm sure my light was green." He held Julian's stare. "I know the witness says otherwise."
Evelyn laid a hand on Wright's shoulder.
"I'm a very attentive driver," he said.
Julian picked up the whiteboard.
I DON'T REMEMBER.
"I've heard." Wright's voice was raspy. "I didn't run the light, but I want to help you."
"Alan." Evelyn knelt next to him. "Are you certain you want to do this? It may not bode well for proving your innocence."
"Eve, whatever else happened, my car ran into his. He could be affected by his injuries for the rest of his life and I'm in a position to ease his burden." Wright looked at him. "I'd like to offer you a million dollars."
Julian made seventy-five thousand dollars a year as an internal auditor. His goal was to amass a million by forty. But when he'd turned thirty-four last April, he had only a quarter of that.
"One stipulation: you and I will have nothing to do with this matter ever again. You're not to speak of it unless required by law. Is that something you can agree to?" YES.
"Do you have a lawyer?" Wright said.
"Get one who's flexible." Evelyn had her hands on her hips. "If we're going to do this, let's do it quickly." She shook her head. "This is a mistake, giving him money. If it's about Cheryl —"
"It's about doing the right thing when one is in a position to."
"You help a lot of people. You don't need to help him." Evelyn pointed to Julian. "He's the one who caused the accident."
"Eve, that's enough," Wright whispered. "Not here."
"Fine." Evelyn gazed at Julian. "Once you have representation, we can proceed with the settlement. Hopefully, your attorney will work with us to expedite it." She turned to Wright. "Better?"
"Eve, I thought we talked about this."
"And I thought you didn't want to talk here."
Alan sighed and pressed his fingertips to his temples.
The buxom nurse reappeared, but Evelyn held up a hand.
"It's all right, Delores. I'll bring my brother back to his room."
The nurse's nostrils flared, and then she turned and left.
"Come on, Alan." Evelyn grabbed the handles of his wheelchair. "We're done here."
Julian felt a surge of relief as she pushed her brother out the door.CHAPTER 4
"Mr. Barnes." A man in a gray double-breasted suit stood alongside Julian's bed. He was tan, trim, with long silver hair combed straight back. He had to be in his sixties. "I'm Milton Zorn. It's a pleasure to meet you."
He stuck out his hand. Julian shook it. Zorn had a huge sapphire pinky ring, wore designer cologne, and had a firm grip.
"Your fiancée left a message with my secretary." Zorn rose up on the balls of his feet, hands behind his back. "I have another client in the hospital, so I figured I'd stop by."
Which sounded fine — except that he and Julia weren't engaged, and Julia would never call a lawyer without consulting with him first.
"There are some forms you'll have to sign." The attorney snapped open a slim attaché. "I have them right here." He held up a stack of papers as if it were Exhibit A.
WHY DO I NEED YOU?
"You still don't remember your accident?"
He shook his head.
"That proves the extent of the trauma." Zorn raised a finger and started pacing. Julian found it easy to imagine this man in a courtroom, giving his summation, knowing what to say to get the jury to rule in his client's favor. "All I need is your signature." He gave Julian a pen and the stack of papers held together by a big black binder clip.
Julian started reading.
"Most of it is boilerplate." Zorn hooked his thumbs under his red suspenders. "Things in there for your protection as well as mine. Nothing to be concerned with."
The words were blurry as he reread the same sentences: Julian Barnes herein referred to as Client engages the services of Milton S. Zorn Esquire. Client agrees to terms and conditions set forth below ...
"You were hit by Dr. Alan Wright Jr.," Zorn said. "An eyewitness says Wright ran the light. You're lucky your injuries aren't life-threatening. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the doctor's passenger."
Julian's stomach shook. A PASSENGER?
"Cheryl Star. A nurse at the hospital. She and Wright were an item. Pretty serious, as I hear it."
"Yes. Wright could be tried for vehicular manslaughter, probably in the second degree."
SO HE COULD GO TO PRISON? Now Evelyn's insistence, her aggression, made sense.
"The district attorney is still gathering evidence, but yes, if they decide to press charges and if Dr. Wright gets convicted, he could. You have serious injuries. They'll want a non-disclosure — that's standard." The attorney looked him up and down. "We'll ask for two and won't take less than a million."
He wouldn't tell Zorn about Wright's offer, at least not yet.
WHO IS THIS WITNESS?
"Neal Store." Zorn pointed. "Once you sign those papers, I can find out more."
Zorn seemed on the level — though how he got here wasn't.
NEED TIME TO THINK.
"I represented another client in a suit against the Wrights." Zorn spoke lower. "We negotiated a fair settlement, and I expect the same in your situation. I've been at this for thirty-five years. What do you say?"
Evelyn made it clear Julian's attorney should be flexible. Could she have sent Zorn because of their prior dealings?
WILL CALL YOU TOMORROW.
"As I said, your fiancée asked me to come." Zorn checked his fingernails.
NEED TO SLEEP ON IT.
"That's fair." Zorn returned the papers to his briefcase and shut it. "Fortuitously, there's a lull in my caseload." He reached into his wallet and dealt a business card onto the table next to Julian's bed. "Retain me. You won't regret it." He turned and left.
Julian had no interest in a lawsuit. Alan Wright seemed like a decent man, and his offer of a million dollars seemed fair.
Even if Evelyn had called Zorn, Julian saw no reason not to use him. The attorney seemed like someone who would expedite things. The less conflict the sooner the Wright siblings would be out of his life.CHAPTER 5
Julian woke with a queasy stomach and a stiff neck. He turned his head to loosen it. Leah sat in a chair next to his bed, her hands cupped in her lap.
He tried to speak. A mumble was all he could muster. His face felt warm.
"Are you okay?" Leah's eyebrows knitted together.
He nodded but wasn't so sure. His chest was sweaty, his back was clammy, and he was frightened for the first time. This was serious. The doctor said he'd heal, but it wouldn't be easy. His body was working overtime to rejuvenate itself, pulling in all its resources like an army under attack. He was mortal — something he didn't usually think about. His injuries were a forceful reminder.
"It'll take time." Leah touched his shoulder. "But you will feel like yourself again."
That was all he wanted.
A man in a brown uniform stood just outside the doorway. He had a buffing machine with him.
"Hi, Melvin," Leah said.
"Mind if I do the floor?" Melvin looked around. "It won't take long."
"You okay with that?" Leah put her hand on top of Julian's.
He nodded — he could use the distraction.
Melvin started up the buffer and began at the far corner of the room. The bristles made a soothing swishing sound, and the machine needed only the lightest touch to glide across the floor, leaving a shine in its wake. Melvin made his way past them.
"That's strange." Leah got up from the chair and went down on one knee.
"What is?" Melvin turned off his machine and knelt next to her.
"This was loose." Leah held up a thin strip of linoleum. "And it's clean cut all around."
Excerpted from Don't Remember by Rich Silvers. Copyright © 2016 Rich Silvers. Excerpted by permission of Conure Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When Julian wakes up in the hospital, he finds that evidently he was in an awful auto accident. Evidently ... because he doesn't remember anything that happened. He discovers that a very prominent brain surgeon broadsided him .. only the doctor says his light was green. But there's a witness who says otherwise. A woman passenger in the doctor's car is dead and the doctor is accused vehicular manslaughter. But that's only the beginning of his problems. The doctor's sister goes to Julian and offers him a million dollars to change his story. And then there's an anonymous man who sneaks into Julian's hospital room and threatens not only him, but his girlfriend with death if he remembers. You know that phrase .. damned if you do, damned if you don't. What exactly is it that he can't remember? And what does he know that has someone worried? The last thing he remembers is driving to his girlfriend's apartment .... yet when he was hit, he was headed in the wrong direction. And does he really want to remember? I can't imagine what it would be like to not be able to remember something that obviously is really important. I like that Julian turns to his brother for help. I found them to be engaging. I was not overly thrilled with the girlfriend. When you read the story, you will understand. I felt sympathy for the doctor ... but the doc's sister is manipulative and overbearing. The story is well-written, suspenseful, and I had no idea of what was coming as I finished reading. I love being surprised. Many thanks to the author / Conure Press / Netgalley for the digital copy of this novel. Opinions expressed here are unbiased and entirely my own.