8 a.m. Friday Morning – Drake Hotel, Chicago
Sledge Walker crawled out of the bed, staggered blindly into the wall, but somehow found his way to the bathroom in the plush suite on the 27th floor of the Drake Hotel. The Drake, one of Chicago’s landmark hotels, was located near the top of the Miracle Mile just a block from the East Oak Street Beach area of Lake Michigan. It was Walker’s favorite place to stay when he was in town, but on this morning he wondered why he even came to town. “What’s the point of waking up feeling like this?” he thought to himself – but he knew the answer to that question. It was the redhead who slept in the bed, 10 feet away. As he found his way into the large bathroom, he didn’t turn on the light because he didn’t want to see what was staring back at him in the mirror.
He also was afraid to look at the woman who was still wrapped up in the sheets in his bed. He feared she might not look as good in the light of day, as she did last night in the dark. “Wine, women and song,” he thought as he dropped onto the toilet like a sack of concrete falling off a truck. “I gotta stop singing or it's gonna kill me.” He shook his head, laughing to himself.
Walker had acquired the hangover in a little bar on the north side of Chicago – Twin Anchors – a favorite place for rib eaters and liars, especially after watching a Chicago Bulls game, or any other Chicago sporting event. Walker had watched the Bulls blow away the Boston Celtics, to easily advance to the championship round of the National Basketball Association playoffs.
Sledge did more than just watch the games with his faded denim-blue eyes he had acquired from his mother 56 years earlier. He watched the games with a critical eye and wrote opinions on the games in his nationally syndicated sports column. And then, he played his own hard game afterward. As a sports columnist, he covered all the major sporting events. He was covering the games for the Charleston Sentinel – South Carolina's oldest and most respected newspaper. He had starred as a basketball player at the Citadel, one of the nation’s premier military schools in Charleston, in the late sixties. A broken leg in a freak work accident during a summer job before his senior year in high school had probably kept him from soaring and scoring as a professional basketball player. The accident also kept him from being shot down in Viet Nam, as all Citadel graduates performed a tour of duty as Second Lieutenants after graduation. Many never made it home from that tour. He witnessed much of that carnage as a reporter during the war.
His leg injury did not affect his ability to score with the ladies. Even at his age, his athletic 6-foot, 4-inch frame looked fit enough for duty in the NBA. His once sandy, light-brown hair was now peppered with silver, but he had not lost any of what appeared to be a perpetual suntan.
“Why do I do this to myself?” he asked his aching head as he finished his business, flushed the toilet and finally squinted into the dark mirror after his eyes had adjusted to the dim light. The eyes that looked back at him were painted hangover red. “Too much whiskey, not enough rib sauce,” he thought. “Damn . . . I hope she can't smell in her sleep.”
His memory started coming back to him during his bathroom visit. He and an old friend from the Chicago Tribune – Brad Ashmore – had met and gone prowling after sending in their stories from the game at the United Center, home of the Bulls. It was another outstanding performance by Bulls center and gazelle-quick giant Marcus Witherow – the player in which Walker had the most interest. He had scored 47 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in his best performance as a second-year pro.
Many people compared Witherow to the late one-time NBA all-time scoring leader, Wilt Chamberlain. Witherow’s performance in the NBA semi-finals would probably be remembered as one of the all-time great games. Most observers saw the game for what it was – a great individual effort by a gifted athlete – but others saw something different. His game probably cost a lot of big time gamblers and some Las Vegas bookmakers plenty of money. He single-handedly had turned what was supposed to be a Boston win to force a seventh and deciding game into a 27-point runaway win for the Bulls. The Celtics were the defending NBA champs, and no one expected them to go down in six games.
Witherow had been a star at the University of South Carolina two years earlier and that’s why Walker was following the league’s most dominant young player from city to city during the playoffs. The fans in Carolina couldn’t read enough about Witherow.
Walker looked down at the sink in front of the mirror. He turned on the cold water and let it run for a few seconds. He reached down and let his cupped hands fill up with cold water and splashed it on his face. He wiped his eyes with the hand towel that hung beside the marble-topped sink. As he dried his face, he thought about the woman in the bed – “was she red-headed?” He thought she was. He’d worry about that later. He moved back into the bedroom and looked at her . . . sure enough, her flaming red hair was about all you could see . . . snoring, coming from a stopped up nose was the only sound he could hear. “Thank you Lord,” Walker said half out loud, referring to her inability to smell the aroma coming from the bathroom, holding his hands under his chin in a prayerful pose. He quietly moved past the foot of the bed and out of the bedroom, trying not to trip over the strewn bedspread.
The hotel suite had a sitting room with a sofa and a TV and Sledge needed to grab a shot of ESPN, just like a hard-core alcoholic needs to grab a beer with his Cheerios for breakfast. He opened the small icebox and pulled out a cold can of Diet DrPepper and rubbed it across his forehead as he found the remote. He pushed POWER on the remote control and started surfing the channels until he found ESPN.
“Now let’s go back to Chris Berman on the scene of last night’s tragedy in Chicago,” Dan Patrick, the ESPN anchor said.
“What tragedy?” Walker thought, as his head cleared almost instantly.
“This is Chris Berman in downtown Chicago on the edge of the Chicago River. As you can see from our vantage point, the crane in the background is preparing to pull what authorities believe is the vehicle of Marcus Witherow, the young center sensation of the Chicago Bulls, out of the icy water. It is believed that Witherow’s car rolled down a boat ramp and into the water sometime late last night or early this morning after the Bulls ended Boston’s reign as NBA champions.
“At this time, we are not sure if Witherow is in the car, but according to police sources, divers have confirmed that the license plate on the black Cadillac Escalade belongs to Witherow. It has also been confirmed that a body is in the vehicle.
“Although the police have issued no statement about the body in the SUV, un-named sources here have told ESPN that the divers did confirm that the body was that of a large black man. We will try to confirm that when the wreck is removed from the river. Police say that it may be several hours before we know who the deceased is for sure, depending on the condition of the body.
“Back to you Dan.”
Causes John Haslam Supports
I support the Constitution of the United States of America.
I support St. Jude's Hospital.
I believe in GOD.