Best Show You Don't Know About

Best Show You Don't Know About
Leverage

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mills returns- Chapter 23

After a much longer than expected break, here is the next chapter of Time Out! Chapter 23! There are only about 4 or 5 more chapters. I am hoping to be done by the end of August!

CHAPTER 23

Friday, October 30, 1989


There were only 15 minutes left before Coach was going to allow the team to stop practicing so that they could break for Jake Spencer’s funeral. The entire team was watching the clock, but no one moreso than Jon. The events of the past week had exhausted him and he was ready and waiting for a break, even if that break was sitting in a funeral for two hours.
Jon got to the gym early to wait for Nicholas and the bookbag full of stolen files. Unfortunately, Coach was already there so Jon got an extra half hour of sit ups, since he had to pretend he was there early to do something. Nicholas showed up just a few minutes after Jon and cursed out the fact that Coach had beaten them that morning, of all mornings.
The day started with relays and drills. Jon felt amazingly comfortable doing them, if still winded from all of the situps he had done that morning. Then, Coach broke them into two-on-two teams for the last two hours of practice. Today, Hobbs and Bernard were against Nick and Jon. Stan could do nothing to help his friends as he saw them being berated and cheaply fouled throughout the morning. Not only that, but Stan’s court was on the opposite end of the gym.
Jon and Moss spurred each other on, but the contest was very heavily sided against them. Jason squared made sure that their cheap fouls only bruised Jon and Nick up, never drawing blood, knocking them down, or drawing blood.
The small hand of the clock ticked slowly, very slowly, toward 11. As the Coach’s whistle blew to end the humiliation and torture, Jon bent over to center himself and catch his breath. Moss sat down on the pulled out bench on the side of the gym. Stan came over and placed his hand on Jon’s bent back.
“You okay, good sir?” Stan asked.
Jon panted a few more times before standing up. “I will be. Just two more days, and then I hope to never see another basketball as long as I live.”
Stan smiled. “You’re doing great. Just keep it up. Hobbs and Bernard won’t be any problem to you a week from now.” Stan nodded his head at Moss; Moss nodded back. Jon noticed Coach walking out the side door. “I’m going to go get ready for the funeral. Need me to stick around for a second and help you guys? You need a ride at all?”
Jon shook his head. “I think we’ve got it. I’ll watch Nick’s back while he returns the files. Then, we will shower and head out. Kate is giving us a ride. We’ll probably only be about 20 minutes behind you.”
“All right. I’ll hang around the locker room until I am the only one in there. Then, when I leave, you two will be clear.”
“Thanks, Stan. I never would have made this without you.”
Stan looked at him quizzically. “You’re right. You would’ve been screwed.” Stan turned and headed into the locker room.
Jon slowly strolled over to sit by Moss. “We only have two more days of this, then it’s time for the game. What are you going to do after tomorrow?”
“Either way, I think I’m out of here. We either find out the issues behind the scenes and can prove it, or we won’t. Kate or Bender will probably “transfer” me to another school. They’ll pull me out of here and I’ll get sent on another assignment. Since I’m 23 anyway, it doesn’t matter.”
Jon was shocked. “You’re 23?”
Moss shrugged. “If Cameron Crowe can do it for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, don’t you think our government can do it as well?”
“So this really has been a long time undercover assignment for you, hasn’t it?”
“It’s up there. I was like you, though. I’ve been getting a nice paycheck for 7 years. The first little bit was strange, but you get used to it pretty quickly.”
There was a silence between the two. The first batch of athletes were leaving the locker room.
Moss continued. “I do like the change, though. Never knowing where you’ll be or what you’ll be doing is both really stressful and a lot of fun. Getting to know the country, different types of economic groups and areas… the food is the best part! Did you know that Salt Lake actually has some of the best burgers anywhere as a whole? You can always find one or two really good burgers anywhere you go, but Salt Lake has an amazing array of burgers!”
Jon smiled. “Do you ever miss a place? How do you let go of each area?”
Moss thought for a moment. “You never get too close to anywhere or anyone.”
“Will you miss me? Stan?”
“You’re an agent now, so it’s a bit different with you. It’s possible that we’ll team up later. Stan, though, I’ll be honest. I won’t miss him at all. I keep everyone at arm’s length. When you know you’ll be leaving, you don’t get too attached.” Moss could tell Jon was a little hurt for his friend. “Don’t get me wrong, though, Jon, Stan is a good guy. I like him. Since he knows what you are, keep him close. He’s helped a lot and he’s an amazing friend to you. I just won’t ‘miss’ him. There is a difference.”
“How well do you know Kate?”
“I met her when I came on this assignment.”
“Are all of the liaisons as hot as she is?”
“All? Nowhere near. There are a few, though…” Nick smiled. “She won’t be by your side all the time, though, Jon. Neither will Bender. Since you live here with your parents, they won’t move you around yet, so you’ll still have Kate and Walter with you for another year and a half. After that, though, you’ll jump from office to office and get to meet a lot of good people. A few assholes as well, but a lot of other good people.”
Another batch left the locker room.
“Where is your favorite place you’ve been?”
“I’ll be honest- I love DC. New Orleans was also a great place, even though I was there in the summer and felt like I was going to melt at all times.”
“Least favorite?”
“I was on assignment in Winnemucca Nevada for a 3 month period. That was not too fun.”
“What happened?”
“Can’t talk about the case, but it was really a bad area. Too hot, nothing to do on my downtime, and….”
“And?”
“Got dumped by my girlfriend at the time right before I left for that assignment because I was never around. I was not in a good frame of mind.”
A few more athletes left the locker room and Stan trailed the last one. Stan waved to Moss and Mills as he walked out of the gym.
“Shall we?” Jon asked.
“Let’s do it.” Moss walked over and grabbed his bag full of files. “I’ll go and do a quick check and make sure that Stan didn’t miss anyone. I will turn off any showers that are still on. Then, I’ll put back the files, and go and turn on the showers again. That will be your cue to come back.”
“What if someone comes in the gym? What do you want me to do?”
“It’ll only be a minute- two minutes, tops. If someone does come in, just tell them that there is a hazing or something going on and they can’t go back. But, I don’t imagine that will happen. Keep your eyes forward. I need you to make sure that no one sees me putting away the files- I could be suspended for that and it would go on my permanent record!” Moss laughed. “I also couldn’t be at the game on Saturday and that would be a problem!”
“Got it.” The two of them stood, facing outward, in the small doorway which led to Coach’s office, which led to the long, thin hallway to the locker room and the showers.
“See you in a second.” Moss patted Jon’s shoulder and turned to walk down the hall to make sure they were alone.
The gym was empty. Beyond empty. There was not a ball on the courts, not a towel left on a bench. Only his own gym bag was left sitting by the bench where they had been sitting. Jon never felt comfortable in the gym, but this seemed eerily empty and quiet. Jon let loose a wolf whistle, just to hear it echo and reverberate in the cavernous gym.
“Hey-“ Moss said.
Jon visibly jumped. “Don’t do that!”
Nicolas laughed. “Little jittery are you? Maybe you should switch to decaf.”
“Maybe you should switch to hurry your ass up!”
“I am. I gave the sweep, everything is good. The files will be easy to replace, then I’ll turn on the showers. Listen for the showers and come on back.”
“Got it.”
Moss left again. Jon scanned the empty gym again and then glanced behind him. He saw Nick slide into Coach’s office.
It shocked Jon that someplace could be so empty right now and then a mass of people in just over 48 hours. Why does sports bring out so many people? Why do they feel it is a thing to bond over?
It must be the same thing as movies and books and TV shows. It is a common thing that people experience together with a “good” side and a “bad” side, with yours always being the “good” team or the correct opinion, and create that human bond over. All of a sudden, sports seemed to click for Jon. It still all seemed alien and strange, but at least now it was a little more relatable.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jon saw Moss leave the Coach’s office and head back to the locker room. He also saw the main gym door open at the same time and a high heeled shoe start to enter. Then, he heard an embarrassed laugh, and watched the foot retreat, and the door close again.
The shower water turned on.
Jon left his post and walked down to the main gym door. His footsteps echoed hollowly throughout the gym. He stood next to the door for a few moments and listened intently. He didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary. He pushed the door open a crack and stuck his head out. No one was in the hallway. The girl with the high heels was exiting the school through the door by the auditorium on the other side of the building. He closed the door again and went back to the hallway to the locker room, footsteps echoing again.
Mills could hear the faint sound of the shower. The shower was going, but that’s all he heard, nothing else.
“Moss?” Jon yelled.
Two shots rang from the locker room. Jon jumped and then he began sprinting to the hallway. As he turned the corner, he was hit by someone running at locomotive speed. Jon spun and landed with a thud on the floor. It knocked the wind out of him (he could almost envision the comic book style ‘Oof’ rising from his lips) and he could feel the right side of his face flat against the ground.
Jon’s body writhed in pain on the floor, but it felt as though his face stayed still as he tried to take a breath. He opened his eyes and saw his gym bag on the other side of the gym. If he stayed here, there was nothing that would keep him from dying if there were 2 gunmen. Without being able to take a deep breath yet, Jon slowly started to work his way toward his bag.
The word ‘serpentine flashed through his mind, but he didn’t know why.
After an agonizing 6 foot progression, Jon felt the cool air chill his lungs again. He immediately brought his arms straight and his legs forward so he was in a kneeling position. He took a breath and waited for his mind to clear. After kneeling for 15 seconds, he stood, steadied himself on his feet, and then ran as fast as he could, it was actually more of a fast walk, to his bag. He bent down, wobbled for a moment, then unzipped his bag.
He pulled out his normal towel and threw it aside. He reached in and got his other towel, found the edge and quickly unrolled it. As he did so, his gun fell right in his hand. He reached in and grabbed a folded third towel and thrust his hand into the creases, returning with a magazine. He slid the magazine in, cocked the gun, spun on his heel and headed back for the hallway.
As he approached, he felt the humidity of the showers take effect. Mills decided to go back into the gym a bit so he could sidle against the wall for protection in case someone else came out. Reaching the doorway, he peered around the corner with his gun pointed ahead of him.
Nothing except the sound of water hitting the tile.
Jon rounded the corner and kept his body hugging the left side of the hallway. He would reach his long left leg as far down the wall as he could, plant his foot and scoot the rest of his body to catch up with it. Again, he could hear his own breath echo in his ears, just like at the sniper building several days earlier.
When Jon reached Coach’s office door, he snuck a peek inside. His first reaction was to look at the filing cabinets. All of the drawers were closed. Jon noticed, however, that a supply closet door was wide open.
Damn! That wasn’t Moss that I saw coming out of the Coach’s office- that was the killer!
Jon quickly continued moving along the hall, listening closely for any sounds. He only heard the water from the showers and a slight gurgling sound. He reached the end of the hallway, Mills brought the gun up, holding it in front of his face, ready to turn the corner….
Shitshitshitshitshitshit, Jon thought. He took a deep breath and…
…spun around the corner as he knelt, very Axel Foley-like.
Jon’s gun was pointed down the aisle separating the lockers from the showers. Nick’s locker was on the first row. Jon stood and walked down the first aisle of lockers. Moss’ locker was slightly open. Jon used the front of his gun to open it wider. Nothing special was inside, just Nick’s clothes and his gun medallion was hanging on the hook just inside the door.
Jon turned and walked back up the aisle. It was then that he saw Nick’s shoe for the first time. Sticking out from the showers. Jon holstered his gun and ran to his side.
Nick was face down in the water, breathing shallowly, dribbling water out of his mouth about every other breath to just keep from drowning. Bloody water trails were going to the drain from his stomach and shoulder areas. His hair was wet and fully forward. Nick hadn’t even changed clothes yet. Jon knelt beside him, rolled him over, and brought his head out of the water streams.
“Jon, Jon, Jon, “Nick panted.
“I’m here, pal, I’m here, who was it? What happened?
“Jon, Jon…. Okay? Youhokay?” he still panted his words.
Jon looked and saw a decidedly non-lethal shoulder shot, but a stomach wound that was gushing blood. “I’m okay. They hit me as they came out of the hallway, but they didn’t shoot. I think at that point they just wanted to leave. I’m okay. Let me go get Kate.”
Nicholas became very agitated. “No, no, nono…”
“Okay, okay. I’m here. I’m not going, I’m right here for you.”
“23, 23…”
“I know you’re 23. You’re too young. You’re going to be fine,” Jon started to feel tears stinging his eyes. “You’re going to be fine and playing well on Saturday night, “ Jon lied.
“23!” Nick’s clenched fist reached for Jon’s shirt. “23! Got it? 23! Twenty…”Nick’s clenched fist dropped to the tile floor with a light splash. Jon heard a low gurgle in Nick’s throat as his head flopped backward.
“Nick? Nick? Moss?” Jon raised his hand high in the air and brought it down hard against Moss’ cheek. “No! Fuck you! Don’t die! Don’t die! You can’t die! You can’t die, you son of a-“ Jon’s knees gave way and he crumbled to the wet tile floor as well, dropping Nick’s lifeless body onto the ground as well.
Jon closed his eyes and listened to the shower spray hit his head. He could feel his clothing slowly gain weight from the water and stick to his skin. He couldn’t tell which warm water from his face was from his tears or the shower. He silently cried under the water.
All of a sudden, he took a deep breath and began loudly sobbing. In between the sobs, he was muttering, “What am I doing, what am I doing?”


Kate drove up and took her normal parking space nearest the gym with the side door by the locker room entry. She was expecting her two young agents to be waiting for her. When they weren’t, she turned off the car, got out, and walked up to the door. It was locked. She tried the other door next to it and it was locked, too.
Kate walked around the building, looking for the next open door. She found one about halfway on the west side of the building. She opened it and was met with nothing but a flight of stairs going up- almost like a fire escape, but indoors. She walked up the stairs and opened the door at top.
She then walked down the long hallway past several music and drama classrooms. At the end of the hall was a flight of stairs going down.
At the bottom of the stairs, she saw a pair of wet footprints which led out a door to her right by the auditorium, and came from the gym, on her left. She went toward the gym.
As she reached the gym door, she slowly looked around and, upon not seeing anybody, she unholstered her gun. She opened the door and walked in.
The wet footprints led away from the locker room hallway. Kate pressed her back against the wall to her left upon entering and kept her gun ready. “Moss? Mills?” she repeated calling for them both as she made her way to the hallway.
As she entered the hallway, she started walked determinedly toward the locker room. “Moss? Mills?” she kept calling.
As she entered the locker room, she turned the corner with anxiety starting to grip her throat. Her immediate scan of the area showed a body face down in the showers. Kate quickly walked through the shower with her gun drawn, making sure there was no one else in the showers. Going to the body, she knew who it was as she kicked the body face up.
“Oh, Nick.”
Kate next started the walk down the hallway which separated the showers from the lockers, her gun still drawn. Her pace became quicker as she got to the end of the rows. Kate ran down the last row and yelled, “Freeze!” as she turned the corner. No one. Again, she kept her back toward the wall of lockers as she did the row parallel to the row separating the showers and lockers and was running by the end. She darted up the row of lockers, which included Nick’s, and headed back down the hallway to the gym.
“Jon!” she yelled. “Jon! Where are you? It’s me! It’s Kate!”
Kate went out the side door as soon as she got out of the locker room hallway. The cool wind hit her as she scanned the entire field with her gun and saw nothing.
“Mills!”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 12th

2 days ago, June 12th, 2011, was the anniversary of 2 very important times in my life and both significant events really shaped who I am as a person, albeit they happened 29 years apart.

June 12th, 1981- I was 9, getting ready to turn 10. Being an only child, during the summers, I would go down to Phoenix, Arizona and spend time with my cousins and their larger family of 7 kids. While there, I would learn to interact with a larger family dynamic.
My parents would also send money with me and I would go to movies with my cousins and we would catch as many showings of the big blockbuster movies between 1981- 1985as we could stand.
It started out very strongly in 1981 when my cousin Denny came back from a date after seeing a midnight movie that had very little opening word of mouth.
I have always been a night owl and, even at the age of 9, I was routinely staying up until 2 or 3 am watching old reruns of Twilight Zone, Odd Couple, Real People, and watching any old movies I could find that interested me at the time.
Denny came home from his date and, not surprised that I was still awake, told me to get to bed because he was going to take me to the first showing in the morning of the best movie he had seen in a long time.
We went to the 10 am showing at the Chris-town 5 and several of my other cousins came along. The lines were not too long and we got in easily. This was going to be the last time that ttickets would be easy to get for this film for the next year.
I remember getting a Coke for the movie, but remember very little else about the actual experience as far as seat choice and such bcause once the film started, it was one of the greatest moments of my film going life.
Many people of my generation say that the opening scene of Star Wars is what turned them into movie fans. While I really enjoyed Star Wars, it held nothing in my mind to this experience.
As the Paramount logo turned into a live action mountain in South America (actually Hawaii), I was hooked for the next 115 minutes as the world was introduced to Indiana Jones in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. The story, the action, the characters- I was enthralled! My parents also saw it while I was in Phoenix and were dead set against me seeing it when I came home because they thought it would be too scary. When I got home that summer, though, I had already seen it 3 times.
Before the movie left theaters 86 weeks later, I had seen it in theaters 13 times! I purchased it on VHS when it came out in December of 1983 and I wore out 2 VHS copies. I have purchased it twice on DVD. I will purchase it the day it is released on Blu Ray. On my mission, I could literally watch and hear every moment of it in my head. In 1995, I lost track of how many times I had actually sat down and watched it. At the time, I was up to 435 times of actually sitting and watching it. This does not include the millions of times I have had it on in the background as I wash dishes, cook, do homework, write, anything! And, since then, I have had another 16 years to watch and listen to it. I am sure that I have sat and watched it well over 600, if not 700, times by now and my "listenings" of it probably go up into the several thousands. Even today, I have a digital copy of it on my Zune.
When I got home, I took all of my friends to it at the Villa theater in Salt Lake. My parents took me to the late show on New Year's Eve for our celebration of 1981 turning to 1982.'Raiders' was a phenomenon and there were times when we would have to plan to see a specific showing and you would get your tickets several days before.
Somewhere around the 7th time, I realized just what filmmaking was. It made sense to me how dialogue, acting, costumes, music, cinematography, directing, sound, editing, and the whole moviemaking process worked as a whole to bring a story to life. Although I was already a huge movie fan, 'Raiders' helped me see beyond the screen and get into my true love of films.
My parents encouraged my love of films. My dad took me to see Raiders many times and would watch it with me on video many more. He also showed me his favorite films, most of them starring Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood.

My dad's favorite film was 'Bullitt' starring Steve McQueen. I got to watch it last year on June 12th, 2010- 29 years after the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark and a mere 19 hours after my dad's death.
Denny also factored greatly into last year's proceedings as he and his brother Garry gave my mom and I blessings the day we learned that my dad was terminal.
I am still working through the grief process. June 12th, 2011 was hard. Aleisha and I are in Hurricane spending the time with my mom as a time of reflection and remembering.
I worked late at Blockbuster on Saturday June 11th, 2011 and went home, finished packing and we got on the road. We pulled out at 1:12 AM on June 12th- the exact 1 year mark of the death of my dad. I could not imagine a better place to be at the one year mark. My dad loved to drive and to travel. While travelling, he listened to music and talk radio, so I listened to music, general songs and a few selections from the Raiders soundtrack and Rick Emerson.
I wanted to stop by my dad's grave in Nephi on the way down but wanted to make it to Hurricane instead of being arrested by the Nephi City cops for trespassing, so we will stop on the way home this Sunday.
I thought about holding my dad's hand for the last time during the 1 o'clock hour. My dad was dead for about 45 minutes before we called anyone last year just because we were all too stunned and drinking in the moment to even think about calling anyone at that time.
I was close to tears during the entire day of June 12th, 2011, but yeaterday and today, I feel a weight has been lifted off. While still hard, it is comforting to know that I have done an entire year without my dad. I know that seems strange, but that's how it feels to me. Since I have now done it all once, I can do it a second time. And a third. And a Fourth.
While I don't think it will ever be easy without my dad, I have learned a lot. I have had many friends and relatives give me love and support. Aleisha and I have had to work through it all together and have become much closer in doing so.
I am working on finishing Time Out (another chapter of which should be posted by tomorrow night) and getting my career going in that track and I'm not sure if I could have forced myself to do it without the death of my dad. Even though he has been gone a year, he is still making me a better person.

So, June 12th will forever be filled with tons of emotion for me and will probably be a yearly day which I take off from work.
Thank you, Steven Spielberg.
Thank you, Daddy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chapter 22

Here we are! With this post, I am now posting the last thing I have written. From now on, I will have to write more to be able to post anything else.
This chapter is a little over 3,200 words and, by my guesstimate, I only have about another 20-25,000 words until I finish the book.
For those who know the three act structure, this means that we are headed into the climax. Keep your arms and hands inside the car at all times.
My goal is now to finish the book by June 12th, the 1 year mark of my dad's death. So, posts may only happen every other day or so, so that I feel like I give a lengthy enough chunk of the story at each step. So, please stay with me and let me know what you think of it so far. Are you still interested? Did I lose you somewhere along the way? Please let me know!



CHAPTER 22

Jon’s ears felt like they were going to bleed from the heavy bass that was thumping through the dark hallway. The stale stench of smoke, alcohol, hairspray, and perfume stained the area. Neon lights glowed under the closed doorways.
Jon took small tentative steps through the hall as he had lost sight of Nicolas. From behind him, Jon heard a door open. As he turned, he thought he saw the naked back of a woman as she scurried across the hall to another doorway and closed that door.
“Where the hell…?” Jon asked the empty air but was stopped by slamming into a wall. He placed his hand against the wall and turned slowly as he peeled his face from the plaster.
The hallway had made a turn. He could see a large, heavy metal door leading to another room. The neon pink light shone down the hallway through the cracks in the door. The music was getting louder as he walked toward the door. He could hear the whoops and hollers of men wafting towards him.
“You are kidding me….,” Jon muttered as he reached the door and read the taped up, handwritten sign on the door which read- 2 rules- you can touch them, they can’t touch you, and no actual fornication- Thank You for working at Southern X-posure.
Jon opened the door and found himself in a dimly lit gentleman’s club that had been the answer to his Mom’s question of “Where are you, Stan, and Greg going tonight?” for at least the past five years.
“Nicolas, where are you?” Jon asked to the ghost of Nicolas who he knew was here somewhere.
Jon scanned the room and saw a raised stage with two scantily clad women on the two opposite ends of the stage who were taunting the basketball team members with their wares. By taking a quick head count and facial scan, Jon noticed there were only 4 people from the team not gathered by the stage- Nicolas, Stan, Coach, and himself. Coach, he realized, was actually sitting at the bar, hitting on the brunette bartender serving him. Nicolas and Stan were still MIA. A hand closed around Jon’s arm and he could tell trouble was waiting behind him.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Jon was spun around and was facing a large white guy who resembled Macho Man Randy Savage and whose name badge read Bret.
“Um, I’m part of the team. New guy. Jon- Neal page. I was following Nicolas Moss.” Bret was looking Jon straight in the eyes to try to determine if this was a lie or not.
Another hand closed around Jon’s arm, a much gentler hand. Jon turned and saw a very heavily makeupped blonde woman who, by Jon’s estimation, was five feet tall at the most. She had a drink tray under her arm and wore a very tight midriff top and Daisy Duke shorts.
“Bret,” she said in a mother disapproving of her young son’s behavior type of a tone, “I was told to take good care of this young man. Let him go and I will take care of him.”
The vise grip of Bret’s fist loosened and Jon felt himself shrink back ever so slightly. “Thank you,” he whispered to the waitress.
“Bret’s a good guy. He’s the size of a dinosaur with the brain of one as well. I’m Lorna. Nicolas did ask me to watch you and take care of you right off the bat.”
“Take care of me…?” Jon let the question trail off.
“Don’t worry about a thing, darling. Not like that.” Lorna was leading Jon to the farthest corner of the club. There was a booth away from the floor and the bar. The music was still too loud, but it got Jon out of the way of the uncomfortableness of the club. “This is where the boss can oversee the entire place but still be hidden away a bit. Tonight, he’s actually in the office, so this has been here for you.” She kept her hand lingering on Jon’s arm a little too much for his liking. “I’ll be back in a moment with a drink for you.’
“But, I don’t….” Jon let his thought die right there as Lorna was already out of hearing range. “This is the strangest day.”
Stan showed up and slid into the booth with Jon. “Wanted to make sure you were doing okay. Are you doing okay?”
“I’m 17 and was taken away from a make out session with Aleisha Madsen and brought to a strip club! What do you think?”
“I know Nicolas needs to talk to you. I’ll be wandering around. Generally, when they do these things, I go over to the arcade machine- that thing has over 100 games in it!”
“Generally?”
“I’ll admit- I go up by the stage now and again. Why wouldn’t I?”
Jon shook his head. “Let me guess. Part of the group?”
Stan smiled and patted his friend on the shoulder. “Part of the group. Have a good time. Lorna’s great! She’ll take care of you!” Stan slid out of the booth and walked to another dark corner where Jon could see the crudely rendered depictions of dragons killing the arcade character.
Jon looked back over the leering group of teenagers. One of the dancers was down to a string bikini the size of dental floss. Jason Hobbs was grinning and placing a five dollar bill-
“Here you go, honey!” Lorna reappeared and slid a tall glass full of a dark liquid and a cherry in it toward Jon.
Jon yelled to be heard. “I’m sorry you went to all that trouble! I don’t drink!”
Lorna laughed and leaned closer so she could be heard. “Stan and Nicolas both told me that this is your favorite! Cherry Coke?”
Jon’s heart sunk a bit as he felt very embarrassed for a number of reasons. “I’m sorry. They were right. I love cherry Coke! Thank you!”
“Told you I’d take care of you. Trust me.” She smiled and walked away as Nicolas slid in the spot recently vacated by Stan.
“I’m going to kill you, you know!” Jon told Nicolas.
“For what? Not enjoying yourself?”
“Not really. I’ve always wondered what this place was like, now I know that it is actually just sad and depressing.”
“Strip clubs are for lonely men, or desperate men, who want the fantasy of a beautiful woman with no baggage attached to it. Never been a favorite hang out of mine.”
“How many have you been to?”
“Enough. Look, Jon, I don’t want to talk about strip clubs, like I said they’re not my thing, but we do need to talk. I called ahead and had Lorna set this booth aside for us.”
“Nice of her. Thanks for the Cherry Coke by the way.”
“No problem. I didn’t want you to get parched in here.”
Jon stirred the grenadine into his Coke and took a big swig. “So, what do have planned for this glorious evening?”
Moss brought out the backpack that he had brought in with him. “This. We are going to go through this.” He tossed it to Jon.
Jon opened the bag up cautiously, but was greeted by file folders. A backpack full of file folders “I never would have guessed that my first few minutes in a strip club would include me running into a wall, almost being beaten to a pulp by a dinosaur, drinking a Cherry Coke, and reading through file folders.”
“I’m telling you- being a spy can be glamorous at times.”
Jon started pulling folders out of the backpack. “What are these?”
“Player profiles and folders from Malone’s desk.”
Everything started connecting in Jon’s head. “You son of a bitch! That’s where you went this morning! That’s what the deal was! You weren’t really pissed at me! You just needed some time to yourself to steal these!”
Nicolas nodded a proud smile. “You may make it yet, Mills.”
“Why did you need these?”
“I figure that no matter what is going on, it’s in these. Whatever Spencer found out, it was about a player. Coach protects his players, so I assume that whatever it is must be in these files somewhere.”
“Malone is in no way innocent in this mess.”
“He may be an ass, Mills, but that doesn’t make him guilty of murder.”
“Can we just arrest him for being an ass?”
“If we could, Sean Penn would have no chance of getting out of prison.”
Jon opened the first file. “Artie Clark.” Jon had to squint to make out the type in the dimly lit room. “He’s a Junior, he comes from Idaho. Had a job at a convenience store last year, GPA is a 2.6….” Jon faded off as he flipped through the pages. “I don’t see anything major on Artie, but why do they even list girlfriends in the file?”
“Malone is very thorough.” Moss took the next one. “Donald Adams. Senior. Into the new rap music scene. Comes to us from Oregon. Moved here last year because of his dad’s military job. “ A few more pages flipped and Moss tossed the file on the table. “3 sisters. Mom died of cancer. Adams was arrested for shoplifting from a convenience store, but it was less than $100.00, so the convenience store let him go after paying restitution. Nothing else.” Moss nodded to Jon. “Go.”

“There is the connection of a convenience store. Was it the same convenience store? Jon asked.
Moss picked up Clark’s file from in front of Jon and compared it to the Adams file. “Nope. Adams was a Plaid Pantry and Clark was a 7-11.”
“Oh, well. Worth a shot.” Jon took another sip from his drink as he started yelling across the table. “Jason Bernard. Senior. Also from Idaho. Moved here seven years ago. Top rebounder on the team. Father in Prison,” Jon stifled a chuckle, “He could sure use a father figure. Maybe that’s what Malone is to him.”
“Malone is the team’s father. They all trust him implicitly. That is what a sports team is. The Coach is the dad nobody had.”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” Jon flipped through the file more. “What’s his dad in prison for?
“If I remember correctly, he got into a bar fight and almost killed the guy.”
“Sounds about right.”
There was a loud ruckus over by the main stage. Jon glanced over. The lithe blonde on stage had just removed her top and was twirling it to see which of her gentleman friends was going to be the lucky one tonight. She flung it like a slingshot over to Coach Malone at the bar. It landed on Malone’s head. He reached up, while still flirting with the bartender, and nonchalantely tossed it back toward the stage.
Jon motioned to Nicolas and the pile. “Can you throw me Hobbs’ file?” Moss slid through several of them until he found the file Jon wanted and then slid it across the table. Jon opened it and started reading.
“Hobbs grew up here- my mom taught him in kindergarten.” Jon read silently for a few moments while blocking out the ruckus from the other side of the bar. “He was a firebug and set fire to his own house a few times on accident…”
“Jesus, wouldn’t you figure he learned his lesson the first two times?” Moss asked.
“When it comes to Hobbs, it wouldn’t surprise me if he didn’t learn his lesson after the first few thousand times.”
“Damn!” Jon heard Stan swear and kick the video game machine. Jon glanced over and saw Stan walking over to the table.
Nicolas started to panic, grabbed a bunch of the folders on the table and attempted to get them back in his backpack.
“What’s all this?” Stan asked.
“Nothing. It’s absolutely nothing,” Nicolas replied, still shoving folders in his bag.
“Possible evidence,” Jon told his friend.
“Mills!” Moss hissed.
“Why does Moss have them?” Stan asked.
“He’s yet another agent in this whole mess. Just like Spencer!”
“I warned you, Mills!” Nick was glowering in Jon’s direction.
“No way! Seriously? Both of you guys?”
“Yup. “ Jon confirmed. “Both of them. Never would have guessed it, would you?”
“I thought I told you-“ Nick started.
“Moss, come on! Get real. Stan knows about me and the Agency. Having him know about both you and Spencer will only give us another pair of eyes.”
“Shit, Jon, the more people who know about The Agency, the less secret it is.”
“Scooby Doo had the gang in the Mystery Machine to help out and they always got their man.”
Moss wrinkled his forehead. “Scooby Doo was a cartoon dog. Cartoon dogs are not real.”
Now it was Jon’s turn to smirk. “Thank you. I realize that, but I was making a point. I’m not letting the secret out to the team- just to Stan, who already knows about The Agency. He can help.”
Moss sighed and slumped back into the booth. He started pulling the files out again. “Stan, if you can find a link- go right ahead.”
Lorna wandered back by the table. “How are all of you gentlemen doing over here?”
“How much for the drinks?” Jon asked.
“The sodas are free. They’re picked up by the team. It’s only the alcohol that costs tonight.”
Nick raised a finger and pointed to Stan as well. “We’ll take 4 waters.”
Jon picked up his Cherry Coke and drank the rest of it in one gulp. “I’ll take 2 more Cherry Cokes, please.”
Lorna nodded. “You got it. I’ll make sure I keep it coming.”
Jon ate an ice cube from the cup. “How does Coach get away with having underage boys in here? Doesn’t that seem wrong?”
“Notice we came in through the back, ”Moss reminded him.
“And Malone pays off the local police to look the other way. Another perk of being part of a winning team.” Stan interjected.
“You would think that there might be a vice cop who wouldn’t want to look the other way.”
“Again, as long as the team wins and the cops are having their palms greased, I don’t think it matters to them.” Moss said.
Stan picked up another folder. “Sam Ford.” He started flipping through the file.


It was three hours later as Jon unlocked the door and walked up the stairs, he noticed that a Kate-sized and shaped lump stirred on the couch.
“How was it?” she asked.
“You were just so excited for that to happen, you just couldn’t wait, could you?”
“I knew it was coming because that’s what the team always does. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise.” Kate sat up and rubbed her eyes.
Jon walked over to her and pointed non-threateningly in her general direction. “You, Ms. Thompson, were complicit in their plot. Since I was in a place where 17 yr olds should not be, even though alcohol was not served to me personally, you were a co-conspirator.”
“Come on, Jon, was it really that bad? Nick checked in with me and told me that you were being treated well and kept away from any real trouble. We wouldn’t have let anything happen to you.”
“Tell that to the huge bouncer guarding the back door!”
Kate tipped her head slightly to the side. “I forgot about him. He can be a little rough, but Nick had your back.”
Jon attempted to speak, but caught himself before he said something that he would regret. His hand, which he had brought up to chin level, was lowered in defeat.
Kate perked up on noticing the defeat in his look. “Told ya you enjoyed it.” Then, changing the subject, “What did you and Nick find out?”
“Oh, you mean, Nick Moss? That Nick? Nick Moss, the other Agency Agent who has been available to back me up this whole time? Is that the Nick to whom you are referring?” Jon’s voice had raised ever so slightly.
Kate was still in her waking up stages, but also used silence as a stall tactic to get Jon to calm down. “Yes.”
“Not much, to tell you the truth. Most of the guys have either moved into the area recently, most of them have minor criminal records, but there is nothing that matches on any of them, other than convenience stores, and there’s no connection there, either.”
“I still can’t believe it’s not against the law to mess with a kid’s primary education and upbringing just to get him to a specific school to play sports. It’s shady enough to me in college ball, but at least by then, most of them are over 18 and legal adults to make their own decision. This way, they may still be in the angsty teenage years anyway.”
“Nothing illegal in that on the books. There probably should be, but nothing yet.”
“Great. Another dead end. We are running out of time to find something, Jon.” Kate stood up, stretched, and walked into the kitchen. She turned on the light, opened the refrigerator door, glanced around, and closed it again. “You’re out of milk. Bread, too.”
Jon came around the corner into the kitchen. “While I was at the bar, why didn’t you run and pick up some random and various sundries?”
Kate turned and looked at him matter-of-factly. “If I would have done that, I would have done the same thing 3 times and wouldn’t have had any idea if I could have picked up milk as it wasn’t random, or various, or a miscellaneous item. Random, various, and sundry all mean the same thing.”
“I thought sundry meant grocery.”
“Your vocabulary is definitely better than most of the basketball team, Jon, but you still have a few word choices that are slightly off, like a normal teenager.”
“But, sometimes the little stop and robs are called sundry stores. Since they carry groceries, I assumed that’s what it meant. And, I thought that’s why I was picked for The Agency because I am a normal teenager.”
“It is, but sometimes you still act very much like one. And they are called Sundry stores because they carry a random array of convenient miscellaneous grocery items.”
“What do I act like at other times?”
Kate walked back into the living room.
“Kate, what do I act like at other times?”
Kate was back on the couch by the time Jon caught up to her again in the living room. “It’s late. Tomorrow will be a big day.” Kate’s gun was tucked neatly between the back couch cushions. She was doing a quick check that the gun was still locked and loaded and ready for anything. “You have practice in the morning and Jake’s funeral in the afternoon, and more practice afterwards. You should really get to bed.” She pulled the blanket around her again as she nestled into the couch.
Jon sat and watched her, waiting for her to say anything else, or even to look and see if he was still standing there. She didn’t so he went and turned off the kitchen light to let her sleep in the dark again. “Sleep well, Kate,” he mumbled as he walked down the hall to his room.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chapter 21

This is a pretty lengthy chapter. I thought about splitting it, but it stopped the flow, so, here you go!

CHAPTER 21

An hour into it, the game film had not shown much. At least, not to Jon. It seemed as if each play was slightly different, but nothing he could really learn from. One play, Junior would be passed the ball up the right side, then the left. Jon would’ve probably dozed a time or two if he hadn’t been keeping an eye peeled for Moss’s return. Jon nudged Stan.
“What do you think that was about? Talk to Dutton? What does that mean?”
“I don’t have a clue. Maybe you should talk to Dutton.”
“Do you think he’ll actually tell me what’s going on?”
Stan repeated, “I don’t have a clue. Maybe you should talk to Dutton.”
Coach’s eyes rose from the game film and focused on Jon, who slid lower in his seat.
“You haven’t seen Moss come back, have you?”
“No, I haven’t,” Stan muttered out the side of his mouth, keeping his eyes squarely focused on Malone.
“Have you noticed Coach hasn’t even been looking for him?”
“Must’ve slipped his mind.”
“Something is not right at all about this whole thing. Where is Moss? Why doesn’t Coach care and what does Dutton know about it?”
“Maybe you should ask him.”
“I think I will.”
Jon sat up straight until he found Dutton on the left hand side of the room at the end of the aisle. Jon crouched as he made his way to the side of Dutton’s chair.
“Hey,” Jon lifted his head slightly as he acknowledged Dutton.
Dutton gave Jon a quick, ‘are you crazy?’ look. “Hey.”
“So, I gotta say, being on a sports team is not easy.”
“Yup,” was Dutton’s only response.
Jon opened his mouth a few times, but closed it immediately. Small talk is obviously not going to work on this guy, Jon thought. Let’s just go for the whole shooting match.
“Why did you and Spencer part ways?”
Dutton shot a look at Mills that he couldn’t interpret until he was under Dutton’s steely gaze. “You! Come with me!” Dutton grabbed Jon by the collar and jerked him toward the door.
Jon could see Stan mouthing the words ‘what the hell’ and Jon just shook his head as he followed Dutton.
The next obstacle was the coach. He stood up after Dutton had passed through the door and blocked Jon’s escape route. “Mr. Page, do you remember what I told you?”
“Do you remember what I told you, Coach?”
Malone’s gaze got hotter but he stepped out of the way allowing Jon to continue his pursuit.
Jon entered the huge, empty gym and saw Moss and Dutton standing in the exact center. Jon cautiously walked up to them.
“Guys,” Jon greeted them.
Moss nodded to Dutton, pretending Jon wasn’t even there. “It’s okay, man. I think he just wants to help in some way. He’s an ass, but I think he’s okay.”
“You cutting early?” Dutton asked.
Moss motioned to his backpack. “Yea. Got a load of homework. I want to get most of it done before tonight.”
Jon tried to join in. “What’s tonight?”
Moss just glared. “We’ll chat later.”
Jon couldn’t tell if Moss was speaking to him or to Dutton. “Okay,” Jon said quietly.
“Yo, man. Thanks.” Dutton’s voice boomed through the cavernous gym. He and Moss pounded fists in a goodbye gesture and Jon watched Moss walk out through the double gym doors.
There was a tense silence between Mills and Dutton as Jon could feel the 6’9” gaze barrel down on him. He had to break the silence. “Jake’s death affected everyone, man. I didn’t mean anything by the question. I’m just taking his place and want to know why he’s not here anymore. Stan said he was a good guy. Never hurt anyone. You two had a bust-up and I’m just-“
“You think I killed him?”
“Never said that. Never even meant to imply it. Or infer. Whichever. You two were partners and it didn’t last. Why?”
“He was stupid. That’s it.”
“Stupid? How?”
“He just asked me to do something stupid. I didn’t want to. That’s it.”
“What was stupid about it? He try to pass you a joint or something?”
“No.”
“Steroids?”
“NO! Nothing to do with drugs! He just made me uncomfortable and I couldn’t be his partner anymore.”
“So, the whole teamwork thing. He made you uncomfortable,” Jon was lost as to where to go next. “Did he make advances on you?”
“I’m not even going to dignify that with a response!”
“Definitely not a vaguely gay thing, then.”
“Look, Page, I really don’t want to talk about it.” Jon could feel the apprehension leave Dutton and it left behind an air of resignation. “I understand that you’re the new guy here, but it’s not my job to make you feel loved and wanted. That can be Stan’s job. Jake Spencer is a part of my past. I’m sorry that he died like he did, but it doesn’t affect me now. That’s it. May I go now?”
Jon nodded and locked eyes with the sad tall man. “Yes.”
After he watched Dutton walk back into the team room, Jon stayed behind and listened to the sound of his own breathing in the empty gym. “Now what do I do, Kate?” he asked to the air as he trudged back to watch more game film.

Dana sat down across the cluttered desk of the Cottonwood High Coach. Aaron was making final adjustments to the lights on the camera. A few times he blinded the coach by flashing him directly in the face, but he eventually got the bugs worked out.
“Are you doing okay, sir?” Dana asked.
“I’m fine.”
“I am of course going to start out with questions about Junior to get people into the piece and then I will talk about your school and the history of basketball here and your legacy as Coach. I am going to start right out with the questions, we’ll get your side, and then, right after, if we can just put the camera where you are sitting and I’ll tape the introduction then. Does that sound okay to you?”
“Fine by me.”
“Okay, Aaron. Ready to roll?”
“Whenever you are.”
“Roll on 3, 2,….” Dana heard the cameras gears click on. “Obviously, Coach, we know that the whole reason that our network, or any network for that matter, is carrying this game is because it will be the first actual game with Jason Grissom, Jr, or Junior as he’s affectionately called.”
“That is correct.”
“Do you think that this is going to overshadow the game or the teams?”
“Initially, I believe it will, but, as the game progresses, I believe that the viewers will be treated to an epic battle.”
“Epic battle?”
“Yes. You see, Cottonwood and Taylorsville are rival schools. We always have been. In anything we do, we are at each other’s throats. Whether it’s basketball, baseball, drama, homemaking arts, even the German clubs, we always go after the other. Even though this is still high school basketball, it is a rivalry that rivals any professional team.”
“I hope that that is what we will see on Saturday. Will you be playing Junior right out of the gate?”
“He is one of our starters, yes, but I will not commit to how much game time he will actually see. Our year is just getting started. As I have said before, we are massive rivals, and if this game starts getting a little too mean spirited, I am going to pull him because he will be anchoring our team this year. I can’t take the chance of him getting hurt.”
“So Junior is your secret weapon right off the bat? An unknown player with a lot of potential but no one knows just what he can do. You sure have the element of surprise on your side this weekend, at least.”
“And for at least several weeks to come. Junior is an exciting player with huge potential and loads of tricks up his sleeve. He got a lot from his daddy, that I can assure you.”
“You have been coach here for the last 15 years, have you ever seen a player like Junior?”
“All the time. I see many players with a lot of potential, but very few who make good on that potential. Very few thrive in being on a good team and making good grades. You have to do both here at Cottonwood. We pride ourselves on the outstanding scholastics of all of our players. I must say, however that Junior excels in both athletics and scholastics.”



Jon threw his backpack into the back seat of Kate’s car. “That was one of the most wonderful days that I have ever experienced!”
“Why so glum, chum?” Kate tried to break Jon of his foul mood.
“I angered Moss, pissed off the biggest guy on the team, ran a bajillion laps and was bored out of my mind by game film that I didn’t even care about! It was like watching a poorly filmed scrimmage with no sound! I love films, but even I hate silent films!”
“Did you find out anything?”
“Just that he made Dutton feel, what was the word he used? Uncomfortable, that’s right. Uncomfortable. Why would a guy use that word?”
“Did you ask anything about sexual orientation?”
Jon shot Kate a glare.
“Ok. All right. Sorry. Did you ask him about steroid use?”
“Yes, and even if there was anything physical outside of the gym, and he said that he wouldn’t even dignify that.”
“Well, you have about 48 hours to get some answers, Jon. Then it may be too late.” Kate put the car drive and headed off.
When they pulled into his driveway, Jon got out, but the engine kept running.
“Not coming in?” he asked.
“No, not right now. I’ve gotta meet with Walter. We’re only a few hours away, and we don’t have anything. I have to go make a contingency plan.”
“Sounds painful.”
“Probably will be. But, Walter always gets a huge batch of greasy fries, so I’ll make it.” Kate flashed him a big smile. “Work hard tonight. You’ll figure something out.” She shifted into reverse which indicated it was time for Jon to close the door.
“Right .See you in the morning?”
“Bright and early. Don’t stay up too late.”
Jon shut the car door and trudged up the sidewalk to his home door. Something about the last exchange didn’t feel quite right. He fumbled for his keys and let himself in.
His backpack dropped heavily on the ground as he walked up the front stairs and headed straight for the kitchen. Jon rummaged through the cupboards, found the large electric frying pan and plugged it in. While it was heating up, Jon grabbed bread, deli meat, and slices of Tillamook cheddar cheese from the fridge. He grabbed the butter and started buttering one side of each of the 8 slices of bread he had pulled out. He slapped four slices onto the now heated pan and started stacking them high with meat and cheese. Each one was topped with another slice of buttered bread. After pulling out a long handled spatula from the wooden and plastic spoon/spatula/ladle/whisk jar on the cupboard, Jon pushed down on each mega sandwich and listened to the satisfying sizzle as he did so.
Jon’s mind floated back to the final exchange of the day with Kate. ‘Don’t stay up too late?’ What was that implying? Or inferring? He couldn’t remember which. Was he the one who had stayed up late this past week? Had Kate made him stay up? It seemed as though at this point there was never a time when he had actually had a good night’s rest this week. The comment also seemed as though maybe Kate knew something that he didn’t, in a mischevious way. Like maybe she had shortsheeted his bed. Maybe she had placed lights all around his house to turn on at Midnight, or…
While pushing down on the last sandwich, there was a knock at the door.
“Come in!” Jon yelled.
The doorknob turned and the door started to open and then stopped suddenly.
“Oops! Sorry!” Jon called. “I must’ve locked it! Hang on a sec!”
Jon checked on the darkness underneath the 4 sandwiches. He took two off of the pan and left the other two still cooking as he wiped his buttery hands on the white dishcloth on the counter and hopped down the stairs two by two to unlock the door.
“So, what exactly do you have planned tonight?” Jon asked as he opened the door.
Aleisha looked taken aback by the question. “I don’t have anything planned for tonight although we can definitely change that.” A playfulness in her eyes sparkled in the autumn afternoon.
It seemed as though Jon always seemed sheepish around her. “Sorry. I thought it was someone else.”
“Does that someone else have plans for tonight?”
“I’m not sure. That’s why I thought they were here.”
“Well, I’m here now. Can I come in?”
Jon closed his eyes tightly for a moment. “Of course. Yes. My fault. Please, come in.” He backed up, let Aleisha into the foyer and closed the door behind her. She walked up to the top floor and noticed the 2 sandwiches on the plate and the 2 sandwiches still cooking.
“I see you were making a snack for you and the person with plans.”
“Actually, no. Those are all for me.” Jon noticed how that sounded. “Those were all for me, but, if you are hungry, I can make you a sandwich or two new or you can have any of those you want.” Jon could tell that he was slightly fumbling for words, but couldn’t stop himself.
Aleisha grabbed the plate off the counter and took it to the table. “May I have a seat?” she motioned to one of the chairs.
“Make yourself at home.” Jon gestured to the entire home as he reached and got another plate from the cupboard. He then took the last two remaining sandwiches off the pan, put them on the plate, turned off the pan, and sat down next to Aleisha at the table.
Aleisha had already made herself comfortable by taking off her shoes, pulling her legs in front of her and putting her feet flat on the chair. She was pulling a sandwich apart with the arcing goo of the melted cheese between the sandwich halves. Jon smiled. She looked like a five year old in this position. After the strand broke and she returned one of the sandwich halves to the plate, she noticed Jon was watching carefully. Her mouth screwed into a smirk. “What?”
Jon felt suddenly as if he was under a hot tanning lamp. “You’re just so damn cute.”
“Thank you.” She tucked an imaginarily loose lock of hair behind her ear.
There was an awkward silence as they just stared at each other while Aleisha ate her first half of the sandwich.
“This is pretty good,” she said to break the silence.
“Old family recipe. Bread, butter, meat, cheese, heat. You should see the amazing meal when I add Campbell’s Tomato soup to it.”
“Tomato soup helps most hot sandwiches.”
“I don’t know about that, but, if you say so, it must be true.” Jon kept watching Aleisha eat her sandwich.
“Yours are going to get cold.”
“I think I’ve almost lost my appetite.”
“You made yourself four sandwiches and now you don’t even want to take one single bite?”
“This may sound creepy, but I like watching you. You look like a little- please don’t take this the wrong way- a little elf.”
“I’m glad you warned me. None of that sounds creepy or strange at all!” A wry smile snaked across her face.
“You are just- what’s the word?- yourself.”
“I’d like to think that we are all ourselves. No matter what, we are ourselves. No one can make us any different.”
“But you are so- you. “
“You are you, too, Jon. You just may be too close to yourself to see it.” Aleisha finished one of her sandwiches and walked over to the couch and sat down. She patted the cushion next to her. “Come over here. I don’t bite.”
“I’m doing just great over here, Miss Madsen.”
Aleisha stood up and with a very serious air grabbed Jon by the arm, pulled him off of his chair and led him to the couch. He landed with a plop and she wriggled right next to him by using the give of the couch.
“Mr. Mills,” she said with a silly serious tone, “you are you. You are special. You must see it by now. You’re a head smarter than anyone at school-“
“I am far from the smartest- I don’t get the best grades…”
“Being smart and getting good grades are not necessarily the same thing,” Aleisha paused and let that sink in. “You are a boy king. You are the coolest guy in school!”
Jon let out a spurt of air. “That is absolutely not true!”
“Why is it that you have such low self esteem? I thought we went over this last night! You are one of the only guys in school who can be friends with the jocks, the drama geeks, the stoners, the wavers, the rockers, whoever! For the most part, Jocks hang with Jocks, cheerleaders hang with cheerleaders, drama with drama, and so on. You could have any girl in this school, and when I say have, I mean biblically, and so many girls have swooned over you! Yet, you don’t see it!
I know what people think of me! People see me as the hot unattainable chick and I am like a prize! You don’t think I know that? But you, you are you. You don’t see me like that! You don’t see me as a prize! That’s why you are the coolest guy in school. You’re not the valedictorian, you’re not the spirit king, or the quarterback on the football team- although you have all of a sudden jumped on the basketball team which is a little weird, but that’s besides the point- you are cool! And I have no idea how I can make you see that!” Aleisha threw her hands up in the air in almost a resignatory feeling.
Jon had no comeback. He sat and stared in her deep blue eyes. “Are you bullshitting me?”
“Why would I bullshit you, Jon? Why? What possible purpose would that serve?”
Jon shook his head. “I’m not that guy, Aleisha. I don’t know where you come up with that.”
“You are that guy, Jon. You are that guy. Believe it or not, you are that guy.” Aleisha put her right hand under his chin and felt the 5 o’clock shadow. “Believe me, you are that guy.” She leaned in to kiss him.
This time, Jon kissed back, and he kissed back hard. ALL the girls in school? Damn! That set his mind racing, but the fact that it was Aleisha Madsen, his lifetime crush that he had been mooning over for 10 years, who was kissing him and slowly pushing him back onto the couch, made it that much stronger.
Aleisha took one of her arms from around Jon and found one of the couch pillows and placed it behind Jon’s head as he finally went fully flat on the couch.
“Thanks,” he mumbled through the kiss.
Aleisha laughed and their lips parted for that.
Jon thought it was strange that in such a moment that humor could shine through. He broke away for a second. “Is that a good thing that you laughed?”
Aleisha’s eyes shone with passion. “Trust me, it was a very good thing.” She pressed her body on top of his. Again, through the kiss, Aleisha spoke, “You can touch me, you know.”
“I don’t really want to offend you.”
“Trust me, at this moment, it is pretty much impossible to offend me.”
Jon gingerly touched her back.
“If you’re going to touch me, then just touch me!” Aleisha took one of her hands and pushed Jon’s hands harder into her back and she kissed him harder.
Jon’s blood was pumping. He could feel his heart pounding in his ears. It almost seemed like a door knock. He slid his hands down Aleisha’s back and stopped at the small of her back.
“Don’t be scared, Jon, just go ahead and touch my ass! You won’t offend me.”
Jon’s pulse was pounding and he thought he heard another knock. Jon’s breath was quickening and loved the feel of their breath combining in the intimate space between them. Another knock came. This time, he could tell it was the door. “Shit,” he muttered.
“Let it go,” Aleisha pleaded. “They’ll come back.”
“Aleisha, I really-“ Jon started to lean up.
Aleisha grabbed his hands from supporting his weight forcing him to fall back on the couch. She took his hands and placed them on her breasts. “They’ll come back.”
Jon had flashes of Kate, Bender, anyone, coming in and catching him in his first flailings with Aleisha. He also had flashes of any of the killers that Kate had talked about. He definitely didn’t want her to be caught in the middle of this.
Another knock. Jon stopped breathing. If it was killers, they probably would have busted down the door. It was probably Kate or Walter, or Stan or Greg who needed to talk to him about the mission.
Another knock and Jon let out a huge sigh. Aleisha’s breasts were so warm to the touch…. “I’m sorry. Please hold that thought.” Turning toward the door, he called ”Hold on!”
Jon stood up from the couch slowly and straightened his clothes. He took each step to the front door very deliberately. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he opened the door. “I’m sorry, but I thought you needed to go talk to Walter-“
“Walter’s out of my league.” Nicolas Moss smiled. “I need to talk to you.”
Jon could almost hear the Twilight Zone theme in his head. “I thought I was an ass.”
“You are, but in a good way.” Nicolas grabbed Jon’s shoulder. “I also said that you wanted to help, remember?”
“Yes, I do, but right after that, you said I was an ass.”
“I meant an ass in all of the positive, happy ways.”
“And what ways are those?” Jon leaned against the doorjamb.
“Dude, I am done talking about you, the ass, okay? I need to talk to you the Agent.” Nicolas walked through the Jon-block.
“Excuse me?” Jon asked as pulled himself out of the doorway and shut the door.
“I need to talk to Jonathan Mills, the Agent.” Nicolas walked up the stairs.
“I don’t know what you are-“
“Hey! How are you doing, Aleisha?”
“Hi,” she answered unsteadily. Aleisha locked eyes with Jon as his head became visible above the railing again. Jon shook his head.
“Aleisha, Jon and I need to go somewhere and talk. Will you excuse us?”
“Nicolas,” Jon broke in, “Aleisha and I-“
“I don’t care.” Nicolas stated matter-of-factly. He stopped and Jon ran into the back of his heels. “Me. You. Talk. Now. Comprende?”
Jon shot daggers through his eyes at Nicolas. “Comprende. Can you give us a few minutes, please?”
Moss agreed. “Few minutes. I will wait in the car for you, Jon.” Nicolas slapped Jon heartily on the back as he passed back down the stairs.
Aleisha had a look of sadness mixed with confusion on her face. “Jon, if you don’t want to-“
“Trust me, I want to. I really want to. My life has just been very-“ he paused and took two very deep breaths and exhaled slowly, “- complicated the last few days. I am trying to help out Stan and these things just keep coming up, but, after Saturday, I promise, I will make sure we have the time.”
Aleisha finally stood up. “Are you positive?”
Jon smiled. “Very. I am very positive. Please come to the game on Saturday night. I want you to be there. I really do. I am probably not going to play much. I am there more for the bench, but it is a help to the team and to Stan, so I need to finish what I’ve started. Then, after the game, it will be just you and me. I promise.”
Aleisha gave Jon a giant hug and he crouched ever so slightly so she could reach his neck. “I will be there. And I will wait for you after the game.”
Jon whispered in her ear. :I am so looking forward to it.” He kissed her ear gently.
Aleisha hesitated a moment and then stepped back. “Then, be gone with you both, and Nicolas had better not be there on Saturday night!”
“I promise. Just you & I!” Jon went to the kitchen and retrieved Aleisha’s shoes. He handed them to her and she slipped them on. He placed his hand behind her back and led her down the stairs. As they left, he pulled the door shut and locked it.
Aleisha stayed on the porch as he walked down the first step. “Hey, Mister!” she called.
Jon spun around quickly and, with the step equaling the height difference between them, found himself face to face with Aleisha. She moved in and slowly kissed him.
Moss rolled his eyes.
The duo finally parted. “Do you need a ride?” Jon asked.
“No, I have my car. Thanks though. You and Nicolas are probably going to start talking from the time you get in the car.”
Jon glanced at Nicolas waiting very impatiently in the car. “You are probably right.” He paused, not wanting to say goodbye to Aleisha. “Thanks for coming over. It was fun.”
“Yes it was. I expect Saturday to be even more fun.” She walked to her car and got in, waving at Jon as she did so.
Moss honked the horn.
Jon waved back at Aleisha and then trotted to Nicolas’s car.


“Agent?” Jon yelled at Nicolas. “Agent? What the hell do you know about it?”
Nicolas had already pulled out of Jon’s driveway and was headed to their destination. “A lot, Jon. I know a hell of a lot.” He paused, analyzing the impact. “I am an Agent as well.”
“You are an Agent? And you have been giving me as much shit as you have? What the hell is wrong with you? A little help would have been nice!”
Nicolas made a quick turn from a neighborhood street onto a main street, pushing Jon against the side of the car. “I’ve been giving you help, but, you haven’t been taking much of it.”
“Talk to Dutton? That is help?”
“As much help as I could give at the moment. Jon, I was supposed to be the guy who stays undercover and never reveal my identity. I have been there since Jake Spencer was! You want to know how close I was to Spencer? I was his Agency Partner!”
Jon felt as if he had been sucker punched in the gut. “You and Spencer were partners?”
“Yes. When he was killed, we had no idea if it was personal or business, so I couldn’t reveal myself. I was needing to make sure that we still had a connection. Bender didn’t feel that it was safe for me to be there alone, so they wanted to put Chad in, but you screwed that up nicely by shooting him-“
“If it means anything, I didn’t mean to.”
“I know you didn’t mean to, but that means that he couldn’t come in on this big operation where it needed a little more panache.”
“Sorry. I didn’t know there was a panache limit necessary to be an Agent.”
“Jon, I don’t mean to sound like I am ripping on you personally. I’m not. You are doing an amazing job here, but you are in wayyyy over your head and need a little help. I am here to give you that help. The only catch- you can never reveal to anyone that I am an Agent. I know you’ve let Stan and Greg in on your secret, but they can never know about me. Deal?”
Jon thought about it . Finally, he extended his hand. “Deal.” They shook. After pulling away from the shake, Jon pulled back his right hand and slugged Moss as hard as he could in the shoulder.
“What the hell was that for?” Nicolas asked.
“I should have had knowledge of help a bit sooner!”
“Take it up with Bender! It was his call.”
“I will, but between you and I? it’s now water under the bridge.”
Nicolas pulled into a dirt road that led behind several businesses. “Where the hell are we?” Jon asked.
“We’re here. This is where we are going.”
“Which is where?”
Nicolas pulled the car under a leafless tree behind several businesses that had delivery doors on this side, but these definitely were not the public entrances. Nicolas turned off the ignition and got out.
“So, “ Jon asked hesitantly, “am I getting out as well?”
“Sure. If you need the help, I will be going inside. Therefore, if you want help, you come inside with me.” Nicolas slammed the driver’s side door and opened up the driver’s side back door and pulled out his duffel bag. “Coming?”
Jon got out and shut his door and followed 3 paces behind Nicolas. “You sure this is where we are supposed to be?”
Nicolas laughed. “Well, in a way we are supposed to be here. This is where the team is.”
“The team? The team is here? I can’t even get a night off?”
“Not this time, I’m afraid. But, we’ll be able to have a little alone time. It won’t be hard. Trust me.” Moss rapped on the heavy steel door three times. It opened and a large black man towered over Nicolas. “Hey, Wallace. How are you doing tonight?”
A deep bass voice came out of Wallace’s mouth. “Doing great. Most everyone’s here.”
“Good. Sorry I’m a little late. Had to pick up a friend.”
“Friend?” Wallace’s eyebrows lifted. “No friends allowed.”
Nicolas held up his hands. “I know. You’re right. He is a friend, but he is also a player. This is Neal page. He’s replacing Jake.”
“Hi, Wallace,” Jon waved meekly.
“I was sorry to hear about Jake,” Wallace said. “He was a good guy. I’m going to the funeral tomorrow. You going?”
“I’ll be there, don’t you worry about it.” Moss started to head past Wallace into the dark hallway beyond.
“Save me a seat?” Wallace asked.
“You know it, Wallace! Front and center.”
“Thanks!”
Jon snuck past Wallace. “Have a great night, Wallace.”
All Jon got in reply was a grunt. Jon took that as acknowledgement and followed Moss down the dark passageway.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chapter 20

I am back! Here is a short Chapter 20!

CHAPTER 20

Coach Malone’s loud whistle put an end to Jon’s suffering. Jon finished the laps with Stan by his side encouraging him all the way. After a total of 5 laps, or just over one and a half miles, Jon’s legs could not handle any more. He could barely believe that this was just the beginning of the day and he had several more hours of practice to go before he could lay in his wonderfully comfortable bed.
“Tired already, Page?” Coach asked as Jon slowly made his way into the warm and rank gym.
“I just need a few moments to recover, then I’ll be back as good as new.”
“You haven’t been as good as new since you came out of your momma.”
“Least I’m not a product of inbreeding.” Jon muttered.
Stan snickered.
Coach fumed. “What the hell did you just say?”
Jon just shook his head.
“If I could make you run fifteen more laps, Mr. Page, I would, but we have something a little more important than that right now.” Coach blew his whistle 3 loud and strong times. “I want to introduce everybody to my friend, Pat.” Coach motioned to Pat who nodded toward the team. “I have sent him over to Cottonwood the last few days and he has taken some practice film of the Colts, and, more importantly, of Junior. We will be watching these films and dissecting them and getting the play rundown and figure out how we can stop them on Saturday.”
Jon noticed Nicolas come out of the locker room with a smirk on his face. Nicolas then joined the rest of the team listening to Coach.
“The media pressure will be on us, gentlemen. In fact, just this very morning, Mr. Page was nice enough to invite the enemy into our camp.”
Jon nudged Stan. “Enemy?” Stan waved off the question.
“So, the media is here in town. I would prefer that no one except me speak to the girl who is doing the leg work here this week. They are all here for Junior anyway. He is the only thing that anybody in this entire country cares about. As long as he puts us to shame, everybody will be happy.” Coach stood with his arms folded and looked at his players. “Everyone?”
Jon jumped, as the rest of the team yelled, “No!”
“Who won’t be happy?”
“You won’t, sir!” the team yelled.
Jon felt as if he were in a Leni Riefenstahl film or, at the very least, boot camp.
“And?” Coach prompted.
“We won’t be happy, sir!”
“Good! You better not be! We are a better team than they are! We are a stronger team than they are! We are a smarter team than they are! We will not let them beat us by that sixteen-point spread that they are favored by! We will stick it to them and we will win!”
A loud whooping came from the team. Jon glanced at Stan who was much less enthusiastic as the rest of the team. Nicolas, on the other hand, seemed to be part of the machismo of the group.
Coach continued his rousing speech. “Cottonwood is going to be playing Junior as much as they can! We want to shut him down! We want him to foul out! We want to take him out of the game as early as we can, so that the hoopla is gone and we can just play our best game and win! How will we be able to do that? By knowing their moves, gentlemen. It’s as simple as that. By knowing their moves. Everyone into the weight room and face the east wall. The TV is already set up in there and we will watch what surprises they have in store for us!”
The team thundered through the gym headed to the weight room. Nicolas hung back a little, but Stan and Jon were the last two to start heading toward their own private theater.
Coach Malone came up behind Jon.
“You think you’re a bright funny guy, don’t you?”
Jon just tilted his head in response.
“I know you do,’ Coach continued. “I have my eye on you, and if you mess up one more time, you will be off the team, girlfriend or no.”
“Is that an offer, Coach?”
Jon could feel the slow burn of Coach start to rise. Stan continued up the hallway several feet before he realized that Jon had stopped and had turned to face Coach Malone.
“You accepted me as a player on the team, Coach. Get used to it. It doesn’t matter if you like me or not. I’m a player and I will play on Saturday. That’s just all there is to it.”
“Is that a threat?” Malone growled.
“No threat, Coach. I could say that it was a promise, but that would just be too cliché. Instead I think I’ll just stick with calling it a fact.”
“Mr. Mills, Page, whatever the hell you’re your name is, listen to me and listen to me good. I am the Coach of this team and I will decide-“
“What? What will you decide? I’ve only seen the two of you together for a moment, but I am already quite sure that you can’t do anything that Mr. Hreinson doesn’t decide. He’s pulling the strings. And I will still play whether he coaches me on Saturday or whether he coaches me through you. I am helping the team. I am a player. I will play. It’s just like verb conjugation, Coach. Get used to it.” Jon stared down Malone, who had no response.
Jon turned to catch up with Stan but thought better of it and turned to face Malone again. “By the way, if I see or hear you giving Natalie Hurley or anyone else from any of the reporting teams shit during the next couple of days, that will be noted and taken straight to Mr. Cannon who wants us to play nice with everyone. Do I make myself clear?”
Malone was ready to explode with anger, but he reined it in. “When did you become so confrontational?”
“I guess you bring out the worst in me.” With that, Mills did turn back and join up with Stan. Coach Malone watched as the two of them turned into the weight room.
Pat Hreinson came up the hall and stood next to Coach Malone.

“I can’t believe you said that!” Stan gave Jon a slap on the back as they took their seats near the back of the already full room.
“The man is a bully, Stan. That’s not right.”
“It may not be right, but that is how sports teams have been coached since the beginning of time. That’s how things are done.”
“I’m not a big fan of just accepting how things are done. You know that. Drama geeks, like me, are not known for conforming. I hate the fact that teachers know more than us just because they have the big desk at the front, or because they have the whistle. Mrs. Perry is a testament to that! She is a glorified babysitter who wouldn’t know great literature if it was handed to her on a silver platter! And this guy? Come on! Just because he’s called Coach I have to respect him as a coach even if he weighs four thousand pounds, never runs, and smokes and drinks Coke for every meal?”
“Even so, are you sure that was a good idea to tell him off like that? Kate can help you out, but you can still be kicked off the team for insubordination.”
“He won’t kick me off the team. He doesn’t dare. There’s too much riding on this.”
Moss was near the front of the room but kept glancing back at Jon.
“So, can I ask you a question, Stan?”
“Of course.”
“Why do seemingly intelligent people turn into complete buffoons when a man with the first name of Coach gets in front of them and starts saying a speech that sounds like it came from a Dick and Jane book?”
Stan pondered the question, and then shrugged his shoulders. “I guess I already summed it up the best way I can. That’s how things are done.”
“Fair enough. So answer me this. Why do you do it?”
Stan smiled. “Because that’s how things are done.”
“Why?”
Moss kept glancing back at Jon, pretending to watch the door.
“I guess there are just things that as a society we are told we should do. Men have to be manly and like sports and have certain macho qualities.”
“But you don’t play basketball because it’s expected of you. I’ve known you forever. You play because you like it.”
“Yes I do.”
“So why put up with the stupid shit?”
“Because that’s how things are done. How often do I go to the team parties? Rarely. But, to be part of the group and part of the team, you have to be on each other’s side. You have to know that the other player wants the same thing you do and that he will follow through with what’s best for the team. That’s why the grand standing players may be great point wise, but their team almost always hates them. There’s a reason this is a team sport and games of one-on-one are not televised.”
“So, let me get this straight. If you don’t cheer and clap along with Malone’s speech, the other guys may not trust you on the court enough to pass you the ball?”
“In a nutshell.”
“How insane is that?”
“Again, that’s how things are done. But, think about it. You and Nicolas had a blowup a half hour ago. Now, there is some strange feeling between you two. He keeps looking back here, pretending he’s not looking at you, which he clearly is, and, I would be willing to bet that if you two are paired up either with or against each other later today, both of your games will be off. I’ve seen it happen.”
“Because we no longer feel as one as part of the team?”
“You learn quick.” Stan stopped the conversation and watched Nicolas Moss make several more glances towards them. “Jon, don’t you ever feel like you want to be part of a group?”
“What do you mean? I am part of a group.”
Stan lowered his voice. “Part of a secret government agency that nobody knows about is not being part of a group.”
“Okay, apart from that, I am part of the drama geek group.”
“No, you’re not. You’ve told me about what you do at the tournaments, Jon. You go and perform, and then you hang out by yourself in between rounds and at the awards ceremonies. That’s not part of a group.”
“I’m in plays. We have to trust each other on stage as much as you guys have to trust each other out on the court. Drama people are known for being one of two ways. They either always hang out together and go to the bathroom in groups or they are known for being extreme loners who are good at what they do, and therefore, it doesn’t matter if they conform. Drama people are not known for being the most conforming individuals out there.”
“So, if you’re not a part of that group, then, what are you a part of? You weren’t even a part of the scouting program!”
“I told you before, scouting wasn’t for me!”
“Because you don’t like the group mentality. That’s what it comes down to, Jon. You’re just not one for the group mentality.”
“You would always come back with these horror stories about scout camps how the first timers always had to stick their hands in cans full of shit and they had to eat gross disgusting things just to be initiated. How stupid is that mentality?”
“Again, Jon, that’s how things are done. To be a part of a group, you have to show that you will do what the group does.”
“Does the word peer pressure or flock of sheep come to mind at all, Stan?”
“I’m not saying that it’s a smart thing. I’m not even saying that it isn’t at all levels one of the stupidest things in our society. All I’m saying is that that is how things are done as part of a group, and that it is something that you will probably never quite get because you are one of the few teenagers who doesn’t need to be a part of something. You feel perfectly fine in your own skin and you don’t need the group. That’s all I’m saying, Jon.”
“I have you and Greg. Isn’t that enough?”
“Some people would think that that is vaguely gay, Jon.”
“That’s why I went on a date with Aleisha!” Jon grinned and arched his eyebrows.
Nicolas made his move. He stood up quickly and made a beeline for Jon and Stan. He stood behind the duo.
“Hey, Nick, what’s up?” Stan asked.
“Stan, are you with him?” Moss asked.
Jon put up his hands, as if in surrender. “We were only joking about vaguely gay, we aren’t really.”
Moss was not amused. “Jon-“ he warned.
Mills looked around to see if anyone else was listening. The rest of the group was laughing, joking, paying no attention to the three of them. “Speak clearly, Moss. What do you mean? No more of this code are you with him crap.”
“You want to know what happened to Jake Spencer, don’t you?”
Jon and Stan exchanged glances. “Don’t we all?”
“You want me to cut the crap? You cut it too. Talk to Dutton.” Moss turned and walked out the door.
Jon turned in his seat and called after Moss, but as he did so, Coach Malone entered the room.
“Let’s watch some game film, people!” he yelled as he clapped his hands and rubbed them together.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Status of Time Out

Since Thursday night, I have not ahd a chance to work on editing Chapter 20. Friday was a very busy day and Blogger was down so that I could not notify you, my reader of the inability to edit Chapter 20 and post it. The weekend was also all kinds of crazy as is today and tomorrow. I will ensure that Chapter 20 is posted by the end of tuesday night, and then we will be back to normal posting schedule. And, hopefully, life will not intrude again until the rest of Time Out is posted which should be around the end of May.
I apologize to have gotten off track a bit, but, real life does intrude from time to time. Thank you all for undertsanding, following, and reading.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Chapter 19

CHAPTER 19

As soon as Jon opened the gym door, the slight wind hit his face. He inhaled the cold air deeply, closed his eyes, and turned what would have been his gaze up to the sky. Jon could feel Nicolas just behind him, not moving either. Just the thought of running for twenty-two minutes caused Jon’s legs to ache already. They were already burning from the tremendous week he had experienced, and here it was, only half over. Jon smiled faintly to himself as he took another deep lungful of crisp air.
“Here we go,” he whispered to himself as he opened his eyes and started running with a quick skip.
Nicolas fell in beside Jon.
“Can I ask you something?” Nicolas asked as they hit the snow-covered field.
“Go for it.”
“Page? Why Page?”
Jon looked over and made a grimacing face at Nicolas. “I know. Horrible, isn’t it?”
Nicolas laughed. “Yes, it is.”
“I don’t know.” Jon bought himself an extra moment by forcing himself to laugh this time. “My, uh, cousin is in from out of town. She is the protector of the family, you know. She just doesn’t want it to get around that I’m the one taking over a spot on the team for a few days. If I do well, great, and those who know will be happy but it won’t stick to me like I’m a jock. If I’m not good, I tried, I helped out a friend and I will be saved the embarrassment of being a bad player. I agree and so that’s why.”
Only the sound of their feet shushing through the snow could be heard for several seconds.
“Your cousin has gone just a little around the bend, hasn’t she?”
Both of them laughed for real this time. “I think maybe she has, yes,” Jon commented.
“So, Mister Page,” Moss started, “since we are going to be teammates for a few days, what’s your story? Where are you from? What makes you tick?”
“Born and raised here. Well, kind’ve. I was born and raised for a very short time in Ogden. Moved down here after 11 months in the hospitals up there in Ogden and have been at the same house ever since.”
“Never moved, huh? Wow, I can’t even imagine that.”
“Why not? You’ve moved a few times?”
“I would have loved only moving a few times. In fact, I attended 7 different elementaries in 7 years. It sucked big time.”
“Seven times? I can’t imagine moving seven times in seven years. I’ll bet you had a tough time as a kid, huh?”
“Nah. I got used to it. My dad was a military guy and we’d move as the Army wanted us to. The first few years were rough, and then it just becomes normal. You start expecting your parents to tell you to get your stuff together in May, you move in June, get settled and start a new school every September.”
“I’ve seen enough Oprah to know that you probably were a loner who never made friends.”
“Actually, quite the opposite. Made a lot of friends. Guess how?” Jon shrugged. “Sports. I was the basketball guy. From as long as I can remember, I would play basketball on my first day of school every year. I would make friends, quite often; it was the older kids, too. They would see how well I played, and I would never have to worry about bullies that year. As opposed to all the self-help shit that’s out there, I actually had a good childhood and wasn’t too traumatized by the whole experience.”
“If you moved a lot, why have you stayed in Salt Lake?” Jon asked.
“Believe it or not, the same reason- sports. My dad actually likes Coach Malone and wants me to hopefully graduate and get picked up by a college on a basketball scholarship, and make the family proud. Winning against Junior and looking good on TV would go a long way to accomplishing that.” They again ran in silence as they went back past the gym for the first time. “What about you? What are your plans?”
“My plans?” Jon again smiled to himself. “I don’t know anymore. I want to be an actor to be honest, but, sometimes, life just kind’ve takes you in weird directions, you know what I mean? So I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Planning on college at all?”
“Yea. Probably Utah State. My parents went there so I may as well, too, you know? Where would you like to go?”
“I’m hoping to be a U of U guy. My dad loves the school and the team and the coach up there. He’s even had the coach come down and watch a few of our games. He seems to like me, so it’ll probably be the U. My dad would love something local so that he could watch all my games, but he’d just be happy if I got a full ride somewhere.”
“I’m sorry if I sound a little cynical, but won’t it be kind’ve tough to get a full ride if you’re always rooting for the underdog and getting into fights?”
“Did it stop Jason Grissom? Junior’s dad has been doing that shit since the ninth grade and he was still picked up right out of high school and four years later, even after attacking the head coach and several players at a post-game party, even after getting arrested several times in college, even after saying the big f-bomb on a live national sports show the day before the NBA draft, was the second pick for the NBA. Your behavior doesn’t matter in the wide world of sports, only your performance on the court, or the field, or the ring, or the whatever. If you play well, make a winning team, and can bring fame and success and fortune on everyone involved, you can do whatever you want in your personal life. Any publicity is good publicity.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“Look at Tyson, Rodman, Grissom, Rose, Strawberry, - I don’t even have to say first names! The only reason any of these guys will be kicked out of their respective sports is if the fans turn on them and their teams. If they stop being the best, then they will be dispensable, but not before.”
“You are a true cynic, aren’t you, Nick?”
“I just call it the way I see it, Jon. I mean, Neal.”
The two shared a glance and kept jogging next to each other.
Jon noticed the rest of the team start straggling out to the field. He and Nicolas had done one and a half laps by this time and Jon was glad that he wasn’t being pushed. Even though his legs already felt like rubber, Nicolas was giving him a terrific pace, nice and casual, but consistent. Jon hated running in any form, but if he was forced to run, like this week, he may as well do it in the beautiful crisp air and the bright whiteness of the newly fallen snow. Jon listened to the shooshing of the footsteps, to the sounds of his own breath and started going into his zone.
Dana Hurley was just as pretty in real life as she seemed on the show. Coach Malone was an asshole, but Jon had known that since his sophomore year when he had had Malone as his official PE teacher. Kate was an emotional wreck and trying to get over it by being the toughest member of The Agency. Aleisha seemed to really like him. Stan was sticking by him through all of his mistakes on the team. Greg was- well, he assumed Greg was by him, too, for moral support if nothing else.
“Hey!”
Jon was snapped out of his mental zone. He glanced over and saw Stan catching up. “Hey, Stan! What’s up?”
“Just trying to catch up with you and see how you’re doing.”
“Neal,” Nicolas made the concentrated effort of saying the false first name, “is doing just fine. We’ve set a nice, easy rhythm so that he can make it for the next few minutes.”
“Good to hear,” Stan commented. “Nick, do you mind if I chat with Jon, I mean Neal, alone for a few seconds?”
“Not at all.” Nicolas gave the twosome a nod of the head and sped up for a few moments, getting about twenty five yards ahead and then slowing down to the same pace so that he was still a good pace car for Jon.
“So,” Jon could tell that Stan was about to start a very specific conversation very casually, “how was last night?”
“What exactly are you referring to?” Jon teased his friend.
“Last night, you know, last…night?” Stan emphasized the last two words.
“It was very interesting to say the least.”
“I can imagine. How interesting was it? Was it everything you had hoped?”
“It wasn’t too bad.” Jon downplayed the excitement that he was feeling in his stomach just from discussing it. “We went to dinner and a movie and then I took her home.”
The two longtime friends jogged in silence for what seemed like an eternity to Stan. “That’s it? We went to dinner and a movie and then you took her home? That’s it?”
“I’m not sure if you’re old enough for all the details, my young friend.”
“What details? I would love to hear details! I live for the details!”
Jon laughed. “It was great. Honestly, we went to dinner and the movie and talked pretty much the entire time. What can I say other than it was great?”
“Did you kiss her?”
Jon gave his friend a chagrined look. “I’m not going to tell you that!”
“Come on! You’ve had a crush on her forever! Every time you have seen her the past fifty years, it’s just been, uh, hi, Aleisha. Uh, did you like the hot dogs for lunch? And then, last night, you went on a date, and you’re not going to tell your best friend, or at least the friend who has pushed you to have a meaningful conversation with her for the past three years, if you kissed her or not?”
“That about sums it up.”
“Oh, for crying out loud, come on!”
“Okay, okay, okay. Yes, we kissed. Fine. Happy now?”
“How was it?”
“Now that I won’t tell you!”
“How was it? Come on, Jon, I know that you have never kissed another girl. Even in plays, you say it’s a character choice to kiss the females on the forehead or cheek or wherever when, in all actuality, you’re scared shitless of lips that come from the female anatomy! If you kissed, that would have been your first kiss ever, and I want to know what you thought of it!”
“Can I just say that I know I am not a homosexual and just leave it at that, please?”
“At least that gives me something, man!”
The two friends started busting up as they ran. Jon had now made just shy of two and a half laps as the rest of the team started passing them. Jason Hobbs poked Jon with his elbow as he ran by. Jon just muttered the word dickhead under his breath and Stan stayed right beside Jon.
“How’s the mission coming along?” Stan asked when they were finally alone again.
“Not bad. I got some time to talk to Nicolas this morning, as you saw.”
“Yup. That’s why I gave you the chance. I figured let you talk to him and see what you could find out.”
“Thanks. It’s pretty tough, though, you know? All we know is that there is some strange thing happening here, and we don’t even know what. It kind’ve makes the chats with players strange and forced, you know? I feel like I’m looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.”
“You are. There is nothing to go on. We don’t even know if it is our team or on Junior’s team. Maybe you’ve gone undercover on the wrong team to find out what’s going on.”
“If the problem was on Junior’s team, though, why would they kill Jake Spencer? There’s no reason for it! Jake knew about something on this team, and that is why he got killed.”
“Unless it was just a random fast food killing.”
“Where the victim got his tongue ripped out? Even if I wasn’t a fan of police films, I would have to say that if that was the case, the killer sure went above and beyond the call of duty on that one.”
“You may be right.”
“Of course, I’m right, pal. There is something not right here, and I only have two and a half days to find out what it is.”
“If it were me, Jon, I’d start finding out what people thought about Jake and what they knew about him and go from there.”
Jon looked at Stan as they ran past the gym, making Jon’s third lap. “You just may be onto something.”


“What did you say your name was, again, sir?” the school secretary asked.
“I’m Pat Hreinson.”
The secretary punched a few numbers into her phone and waited. “Hello, Coach Malone? There is a Pat Hreinson here to see you.” She waited for the response and then hung up. “He’ll be right down.”


“How’s our boy doing?” Walter asked.
“Great! He’s doing great! In fact, he’s doing even better than great!” Kate replied hyperbolically.
“How is he?” Walter asked again, sensing Kate wasn’t being totally honest.
Kate sighed. “Having a bit of a tough time, but he’ll do fine. We talked a bit this morning and he told me that he didn’t know how to do investigation undercover.”
“And, what did you tell him?”
“I just said that the more you talk to people, the more they open up, and the bigger the chance that they will say something and drop a clue right in your lap.”
Walter laughed from behind his desk. “And?”
“It seemed to calm him just enough. I think he’s actually more worried about the physical part of it. The playing.”
“If I were forty years younger, I probably would be, too. We have thrown him into the deep end of the pool.”
“But, he seems to be swimming just fine. Just like we’d hoped.”
“Now, can he keep his head above water?”


“What can you tell me about Jake Spencer? Tell me briefly, succinctly, give me the bullet points, not a valedictory address. Talk to me as if I were a small child….”
“May I really? Does widdle Jonny want to come out und play?”
Jon shot a glare Stan’s way.
Stan gave an apologetic smile, thought for a moment and began. “He was partnered up with Dutton when we were sophomores and even about halfway through last year. Then, they had a big argument, some falling out. He then went to be with Glover for the rest of last year. This year he was Nicolas’s partner.”
“Really? Nicolas?”
“Yeah. Do you think that’s why you’ve become Nicolas’s best friend?”
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. What else?”
“I liked him. Jake was a good guy. He played hard, played well. Not the best player, but not bad by any means. He would always leave practice and go straight home. He never was one to party or hang out much, but he was always friendly enough. If he fouled you, he would always apologize and help you up. I don’t think there was a mean bone in his body, just kind’ve a loner.”
“A loner who played organized team sports who then gets murdered and has his tongue ripped out? That sounds a little odd, doesn’t it?”


“Are your players ready?” Pat asked.
“I’ve got them out running laps this morning.”
“In the snow? What kind of a cruel bastard are you?” Pat asked.
”The cruelest.” Malone and Hreinson were walking toward the gym.
“You have a new guy?”
“That’s why I wanted you to take the film. Did you bring it?”
“Would I be here if I didn’t?”
“Good, The new kid will take the place of Spencer. He’s the friend of one of my other players.”
“And?”
“He’s a jerk-off, but I do need the extra body. I don’t want to go into Saturday’s game a guy down.”
“Is he a good player?”
“I don’t know yet. Haven’t really had the time to put him through the motions.”
“What good is an extra body if it can’t play?”
“Even if he just fills up the bench, it will look better on TV.”
“But, won’t the TV cameras notice he doesn’t play?”
“Maybe, but that’s better than having an empty space and have them investigate why we’re a player down.”
“What’s the new guy’s name?”
“Mills. Jonathan Mills, but he had a woman come in yesterday and play a little hardball with me.”
“Who was she?”
“I don’t know. She said she was an agent, but I think it was just a good friend or something. She sang a song at the talent show with him the night before apparently.”
“Will they screw us up on Saturday at all?”
“No, don’t even worry about that. I have everything covered.”
“You’d better. You know how Luke hates to be disappointed.”
“Everything is fine, Pat. I have complete control over everything.”


“I told you it would be easy to find,” Dana told Aaron as they were pulling into the parking lot of Cottonwood High School.
Aaron looked at the marquee as they drove by. “Home of the Colts? The colts? Really? I can understand how one might be afraid of a Warrior, but a Colt?”
“Ever worked on a farm, Aaron?”
“Never.”
“Why don’t you tell me, then, Mr. Smart Guy, just how you would break a colt to be able to ride him. Tell me how you could stay away from the back hooves as they kicked and flailed. Tell me how you could stay away from the big teeth that can deliver a pretty mean bite…”
“Okay, okay. Point well taken.”
“I did some reading up on local high school teams last night. Do you believe that there is actually a high school with the mascot of a beet digger?”
“A beet digger?”
“Yup.”
“That is decidedly less frightening than a colt.”
“Decidedly.”
“Colts can be frightening, especially if we’re talking about the firearm. That would be scary.”
Dana decided to join in the name game. “What about a bottle of liquor that’s endorsed by one Billy Dee Williams?”
“Having Billy Dee Williams as your mascot? That could be decidedly more frightening than a warrior.”
Dana grinned. “Decidedly.”
She parked the van and they walked by the marquee as they entered the front doors of the school. On the marquee was a message that read- Go for it, Junior! We’ll be bucking for you!!!
“Bucking for you?” Aaron asked.
“Don’t even start.”
“Almost sounds like something Christian Patrick might say.”
Dana glared. “Don’t.”


“Thanks for the tip, Stan. Now, do you mind?”
Stan nodded at Jon. “Not at all.”
The two of them jogged faster and caught up with Nicolas. Stan kept going at that speed and this time it was Stan who slowed down after about twenty-five yards.
“Get some chatting time in?” Nicolas asked.
“A bit. I just had a date last night and Stan was wondering how it went.”
“With who?”
“Aleisha Madsen.”
“Aleisha Madsen? Really? She is smoking, dude!”
Jon started feeling extremely embarrassed. “Thanks, but actually, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What did you want to talk to me about?”
“Jake Spencer.”
“What about Jake Spencer?”
“You were his partner this year. What happened?”
“What do you mean what happened?”
“What happened? He was killed on Tuesday and you don’t seem to be too despondent.”
Nicolas picked up the pace. “Am I supposed to be?”
“Working with a guy every day would tend to make you a little close at least.”
“Why the third degree? Your friend Stan doesn’t seem too heartbroken either. Why aren’t you questioning him?”
“I know him. I know what makes him tick. I’ve talked to him and found out that he knew Jake but was never tight with him. As his partner, you should have been a tad bit closer than just a guy on the same team.”
“Jake and I had only been partners for three months. How tight can you get in three months?” Moss continued to pick up the speed. They passed Stan.
Jon’s legs were really starting to burn and he could feel a fire starting in the bottom of his lungs. “Tighter than not at all. What’s the matter, Nicolas?”
“Who said anything was the matter? I just feel like all of a sudden I’m the star suspect from a guy who, until today, had not even played a cop on stage. Maybe I should be asking, what’s the matter with you?”
“Look, I didn’t mean it quite like that, it just seems a little strange to me that you and I never talked before I got on the team, and I walk on, and I am all of a sudden your best friend. I’m taking Jake’s spot, and I’m just wondering if there is maybe some sort of misplaced guilt or something? Am I the only way you can atone for something that happened between you and Jake?”
“Don’t even try to put the blame on me, Mr. Page!” Nicolas lost his temper and took off ahead of Jon with a burst of speed.
Jon watched him take off into the distance as his legs finally gave out. Jon put his hands on his knees and leaned over, trying to catch his breath. Stan came up behind him and grabbed Jon by the arm.
“Come on, Jon, we only have a few more minutes. If you don’t keep running, Coach will have your ass.”
Jon took three deep breaths and nodded. “Thanks. Let’s go.” They went back to their easy consistent pace.
Jon looked ahead and saw Nicolas sprint past a group of the team and run full speed into the gym.