Brink regained consciousness the next day, or perhaps two days later. He was completely disoriented, and his head throbbed with a far greater intensity than any hangover he had ever experienced in his life. He knew right away that he was lying on the ground outside somewhere, probably in his own garden or, worst-case scenario, in Central Park. This had happened to him once before after going on a bender. He and his driver, Alan, had hired some ladies to come over to the house for a night of debauchery. When the ladies passed out early, Alan and Richard challenged each other to an old-fashioned whiskey drink off. The next morning, Alan woke up in a bathtub naked, and Brink found himself lying in the garden.
Being half-drunk still, Brink made no effort to move or open his eyes. It was too painful, so, he curled up tighter and tried to sleep it off a little more, even though the ground was freezing, and the inside of his mouth and throat felt like he had just swallowed a bucket of sand.
Some time later, Brink awoke again, feeling nearly the same as before, except this time he had to urinate. He contemplated for a moment pissing on himself to avoid getting up but couldn't go through with it, so he stood up with great effort and with his eyes still half-closed pointed his urine stream in a random direction.
Urinating helped him feel a little better and encouraged him to think about the next step, even though he really just wanted to lie down again. He needed to find water and some aspirin because sleeping this one off was not going to be enough. He opened his eyes more and for the first time that day looked at the world outside of his own pounding head. Even in his dazed condition, he knew he was not in his backyard. He must have somehow wound up in Central Park, he thought to himself, maybe in the forested area north of The Lake.
He reached into the vest pocket of his suit jacket for his phone to call Alan, but the phone was not there. Nor was it in any of his other pockets. His wallet was missing too. "That stupid whore," he mumbled to himself, referring to Candy Kane whom he suspected of having stolen his possessions. Now he would have to walk at least 15 minutes back to his house, but he wasn't feeling up to it. His head was in too much pain, and each step just jarred it even more. Instead he went to the base of the nearest large tree, sat down up against it and closed his eyes.
When he awoke the next time, morning had progressed into mid-day, and it was hot. His head felt slightly less like a punching bag, but his throat was even more parched. Finding water was now his number one priority, and he was willing to walk home in his dirty and disheveled condition to get it. At the very worst, he would be mistaken for a homeless guy.
Gingerly, he took a few small steps to avoid jostling his head too much. At this rate, it would take him 30-45 minutes to get home, assuming he went in the right direction. He looked up and turned 360 degrees to try to decide which way to go. In most parts of Central Park, he could make out buildings at the periphery of the tree line and recognize which way he was facing, but he was in a more densely wooded area that offered no clues of the city on the outside. Surprisingly, he heard no noises either other than the chirping of the birds, which surprised him. Typically, even if he couldn't see the city from parts of Central Park, you was never too far from another human voice.
The sun being high up in the sky offered no clues for Brink regarding which way was east or west, so he continued to move slowly in a random direction, assuming he would soon come to a walking path or run into another human. He often walked the wooded areas in Central Park when thinking of new book ideas, since they offered the only respite from congested and noisy city life where he could go to think in peace, even if for just 15-30 minutes until stumbling upon another human.
Fifteen minutes went by, and still Brink hadn't seen any sign of civilization or human life. He started to think that he was inadvertently walking in circles. That was the only explanation. How else could he have not come across something or someone yet? He could also be in a different section of Central Park, he thought to himself, with which he was less familiar? There was another wooded area above 105th St. called the North Woods that was even more secluded and peaceful, but he rarely went there because it was further to walk there from his house. That had to be the answer. Just keep walking, he thought, and eventually something would appear. The Park was big, but it wasn't that big. The thought of an able-bodied adult in good health being lost or stranded in Central Park was completely ridiculous he reasoned.
"Jesus," thought Brink to himself as he wiped sweat from his brow using the jacked he was carrying in his hand as a towel. "What I would give to hear a car horn or an ambulance siren right about now." He stopped walking, removed the vest-jacket of his 3-piece suit and began unbuttoning his shirt all the way. He stood there motionless, listening for the city sounds. Nothing. There was just silence.
"Maybe I've been transported into the plot of a post-apocalyptic bestseller, soon to be adapted into a major motion picture?" he wondered wryly. "Alien monsters come to earth and wipe out all of humanity, except for one man and one woman. They must find each other and re-populate the planet while avoiding detection from Earth's invaders. Starring Brad Pitt as the lone male survivor and Megan Fox as the lone female survivor. Or maybe, the lone female survivor should be Melissa McCarthy. Yeah, that would be better, a more interesting twist of fate, not as marketable, but definitely funnier."
He continued walking slowly and tried to piece together the events of the previous evening that had put him in his current predicament. He vaguely remembered leaving Michel restaurant with Candy Kane and catching a cab. After that, though, it was all just a blank. Had he had that much to drink at dinner? He remembered having a few whiskeys and 3 or 4 glasses of wine, but that could hardly account for a total blackout and winding up in the woods. There had to be more. Something else was coming back to him now. Candy Kane had begged and cajoled him into going to a trendy new dance club in the West Village. It was completely unlike him to agree to something like that because he hated dancing and clubs, but she had been very persuasive with her mouth in the back seat of the cab, and he had been weak. He must have had a few more drinks at the club and then tried to walk home and ended up in the Park. That was the only explanation.
Up ahead, Brink could see an opening in the trees. "Finally," he thought to himself. "Harlem, here I come." He fully expected to come to the edge of the opening and look out onto the Lasker Pool & Rink, the dual-purpose facility that acted as a community swimming pool in summer and ice skating rink in winter. There would be children playing, people fishing in the adjacent Harlem Meer, joggers, cyclers, skateboarders and all manner of people engaging in recreational activity. He'd be able to go to a public water fountain and quench his overwhelming thirst. Then, rejuvenated, he would walk home, take an aspirin and a shower, have a meal and collapse in bed for an afternoon nap. It would be wonderful. What he found was something very different, and it filled him for the first time with a real sense of dread and also fear.