Four days passed.
Why, Max and his brothers wondered with growing alarm, didn't Sam answer their
phone calls or e-mails? Max twice asked his friend Steven Schneider, who had
moved to L.A., to pay a visit to Sam's apartment. Both times the blinds were
drawn, and Steven's knock on the door went unanswered. On the second visit
Steven slipped through a window, froze, then staggered away to make the
grimmest phone call of his life.
Three days later
James Butler called the LAPD from UCLA Medical Center's psychiatric facility,
where he'd gone in Sam's car seeking a support group for manic depression. He
told police that he'd gone for a short walk a few days earlier, returned to
find Sam dead and felt so distraught that, rather than call the police, he'd
drunk a bottle of wine, filled the bathtub, slit various parts of his body with
a razor blade and lain in the water, hoping to bleed to death. He couldn't
remember starting the fires that left ashes and two circular burn marks in
Sam's bedroom carpet. He was innocent, and Sam was his only ally. That's what
James told Detective Estupinian.
Max. It laid him flat on the earth beside his brother's open grave. He rose
somehow and set his jaw to the task of joining his brothers to shovel the dirt
on Sam's coffin rather than leave that to a stranger. Then they walked away,
vowing that the three of them now must do the work of four.
But it was harder
than Max had imagined. For a few days or a few weeks, any man might suffer the
sobbing and sleeplessness, the shaking and shallow breathing and the blood
rushing so hard to his brain that he has to put his head between his legs to
remain conscious. But the weeks became months, and Max's friends and relatives
feared for his career, his new marriage ... and then for his life. "Don't
let this be a double homicide," his pal, producer Bill Wolff, implored him.
"Don't let this guy kill you both." He missed 12 days of his show, I,
Max, and then, with the crew in tears watching him attempt to compose himself
on his first day back, somehow got a half hour onto tape. Fox canceled the
struggling show five months later, and Max barely cared. Without the two
antidepressants and two antianxiety medications he took daily for a while, he
wouldn't have cared if sunlight never reached the earth again.
Max was too busy
haunting the trail of cause and effect, shouldering should'ves and if-onlys. If
he'd never set a foot in a boxing gym, Sam never would've met Butler. Max
should've never gone to bat for Butler's right to resume his career. Should've
insisted that Sam not let Butler into his home. Should've called Sam back the
night the phone rang at Yankee Stadium. Should've never relaxed his vigilance
as his brother's keeper, no matter how much space Sam wanted. Max could not let
himself off the hook. The only way he might ever do so was perhaps the most
frightening: to concede that he wasn't in control. That it's only if you look
backward, as detectives and storytellers do, that circumstances align, one
leading to the next.
Sorry. Still too early. No saving truth yet for Max. No baby Sam born yet to
Max and his bride, Erin. No satisfaction from the 29-year prison sentence meted
out to Butler last week in L.A. after his guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter
Last October, on
the first anniversary of Sam's death, Max went to the cemetery on Long Island
and stood over his brother's grave, next to Zeida's. Stood there wishing like
hell that he could talk to Sam about this strange new world he inhabits, eerily
similar to the one Zeida escaped, where Irrationality trumps Rationality in the
King of All Games.