Best Show You Don't Know About

Best Show You Don't Know About
Leverage

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Chapter 28

I fiddled with this chapter for a long time, so it took much longer to post than I was expecting. I will not quite finish by tomorrow, but it will be this week. CHAPTER 28 The starting lineup for the Warriors consisted of Mills (Page), Bernard, Hobbs, Stan, and Ford. Kate watched as Stan tipped the ball over to Hobbs and the game began. Hobbs dribbled quickly down the court and passed it Bernard. Bernard passed it back to Hobbs and Hobbs popped it immediately back to Bernard who turned toward the basket and shot the ball for an easy 2 points. Number 16 got the ball and passed it in from the sidelines to Jersey Number 27. 27 stopped at half court and waited for his team to get on their side of the court. He then slowly started his approach. He took 4 steps and then handed the ball to his teammate, number 16 again (Kate could now see that his name Mackay), who took the ball and ran to the corner of the court and jumped up for a 3 point shot. The shot bounced off of the rim and Stan got the rebound. He threw it straight down the court to where Bernard was waiting who casually tossed up another 2 points. The game was now into its second minute but the ball had not even gotten close to Jon or Junior. Kate was watching carefully and the two of them were running around the court and keeping their eyes on the ball, but the ball handlers never even looked their way. However, Junior was now at half court while none of the other players were even near, so Junior and Mills trotted down so that Junior could throw in the ball. Even though Junior was close to 2 inches taller than him, Jon stayed in Junior’s face as he tried to pass the ball in. Junior opted to go above Jon and this time it was Biglane who, as his name suggested, was even taller than Junior. Biglane snatched the ball from the air and started driving hard toward the basket. He pulled up quickly at the foul line and tossed it over to Gonzalez, who then passed it right back to Mackay who went in for a layup and got the first two points on the board for Cottonwood. Ford got to in bound the ball this time and he finally passed it to Jon. Jon could feel Jason directly behind him so he started dribbling and slowly kept backing up. Stan rushed by. “Here!” he whisper-shouted at Jon who passed the ball off. Both Jon and Kate gave a huge sigh of relief- Jon had made it through his first possession of the ball with no issues. Granted, he had only had it for a total of 4 seconds, but that was saying something at least. Stan took the ball down the court to the half court mark, passed it to Bernard, who sent it to Ford who came up from behind him, who then passed it to Hobbs, who sent it back to Bernard who drilled through the middle for another layup and two more points, making the score now 6-2. Mackay passed the ball in to Gonzalez who drove all the way to the basket and made another 2 points. Stan passed the ball in to Jon who looked like a deer in headlights. Stan nodded at Jon who passed it back to him. As Stan passed by Jon, he said, “You’re okay. Take it easy. Breathe. You did fine.” With that, he dribbled past Jon. “What did he mean, you did fine?” Jason asked. “He’s a good friend of mine and he trained me to take over for one of the teammates who got killed earlier this week.” “I heard about that. Sorry, man. Did you know him?” “A bit.” Hobbs put another 2 points on the board. “Well, you did a good job as I was trying to pass the ball in.” “Coming from you, I take that as a compliment,” Jon nodded as the ball was passed back in and he and Jason turned their attention back to the game. “Aleisha!” a voice called from the stands. She jumped as she was in her own world in the files. Aleisha quickly closed Ford’s file. Mandy Jensen was standing next to her. “Mandy, how are you?” “Doing very well! Why are you here? I didn’t think you liked sports much.” “I’m here to support friends and, besides, you can’t miss the event of the season.” “How true! Are you going to support the cheerleading squad by buying pizza at the tables outside?” “Hadn’t thought much about it, actually.” “I will be working the tables until halftime. Make sure you come out and see me! Toodles!” Mandy blew a kiss toward Aleisha. Aleisha turned to Greg. “What an airheaded bitch!” Mackay passed the ball in but Hobbs intercepted the pass and went up for another quick two points, the layup was missed, which was met by a loud ‘Awww’ from the crowd, Mackay got the rebound and was finally able to get it passed to his player who took it past Jon. As Hobbs trotted past Jon, Mills spoke up. “What was that?” Jon asked. “What was what?” Hobbs asked in return. “The missed shot? You had that! How could you miss it?” Bernard yelled at the dueling duo, “Hey! We’re playing here!” Jon backed off. “Sorry!” Kate watched as Hobbs missed the basket. “Did you see that?” she asked to her two companions. “See what?” Both Aleisha and Greg looked up from their files and asked the same question at the same time. “I think Hobbs is throwing the game.” Greg looked at Kate with his head tilted slightly. “What makes you think that?” “He just missed that layup.” Greg blinked twice. “He missed a shot and you think he’s throwing the game?” “Yes.” Kate noticed Jon and Bernard talking on the court and her attention diverted. “So, if Jon misses a shot, is he part of the enemy as well?” Aleisha asked. “No,” Kate’s attention came back to the conversation. “ I mean-“ “Kate, “Greg started, “I have played many, many games of basketball just screwing around with Stan. Even when you “know” the shot will go in, sometimes the slightest bits of physics make it so that the shot rolls out, or bounces off. Sports are never something where you know that one outcome will always occur if the same thing is done each time- that’s where the competitiveness comes in.” Kate was silent and watched a play where Cottonwood got a basket of their own before Ford threw the ball into the Warriors. She shook her head. “I guess you’re right. That’s how games open up, isn’t it? One team gets several points in a row and the other team doesn’t.” “Exactly!” Aleisha agreed. Kate thought and bit her lip. “Maybe Cottonwood is throwing the game…” At the end of the first quarter, the score sat at Taylorsville 26, Cottonwood 20. “It has been a rather disappointing first half, Dan, “ Natalie spoke into the camera. “Junior Grissom has only had the ball a few times and his guard, Neal Page, has also done very little so far. At times, it almost seems like there are only 4 players on the court.” Kate could tell, a little camaraderie was developing in their quick bursts of dialogue whenever one of them did get to touch the ball. Kate stood up from her seat. “Nothing yet?” she asked. Greg and Aleisha both shook their heads, but at differing speeds. “Not yet, Kate,” Greg admitted. “If it’s here, we’re not seeing it.” “Keep looking- I’m going to connect up with the rest of the team.” Kate inched her way through the mass of people crowding every available open space and made it to the gym door, leading to the hallway in the school. Greg heaved a huge sigh and dug back into the files. “If it is there in Tanis, then it was something that man was not meant to disturb,” he muttered. “What?” Aleisha asked, puzzled. “Sorry. It’s a quote. Raiders of the Lost Ark? Sallah?” Greg’s voice deepened into a horrible impression of John Rhys Davies, “Indy, there is something that troubles me. If the Ark is there at Tanis, then it is something that man was not meant to disturb.” He shook his head at Aleisha’s blank stare. “No? Really? Wow! We have to get you to see that!” Kate walked into the mass of people which was, rumor had it, one time a hallway in the school. She searched for Bender’s graying hairstyle in the mass of exodus to the restrooms or the snack counters that had been set up on the sides of the hallways which corralled the large group into an even more confined space when she ran into the man in front of her, swinging her elbow into his as she craned around, searching. “Ow!” he yelled. “What in the name of- “ the man turned around, “Kate!” She was surprised to see Chad Peterson turn around. “Sorry! I was looking for Bender. I thought that you were not going to be inside the school.” “Since we’re all kind’ve flying blind, they have requested all hands on deck.” “Come here,” Kate grabbed Chad by the other elbow and ever so slowly maneuvered him to the doorways which led to the main hallway of the school. Reaching the doors, they were, not too surprisingly locked, but Kate slipped a long, thin metal tool out of her jacket and smoothly jimmied the door open. She slipped the tool back into her jacket and she and Chad slipped through a small opening that she made and then quickly shut it behind them so they were alone in the hall. “You guys don’t have anything yet?” Kate asked Chad. “Nothing.” “I had a thought from a shot early on in the game where Hobbs missed a shot and it almost looked deliberate. Is it possible that either team is throwing the game?” “Why would they? It wouldn’t make any sense. There would be nothing in it for anyone. This is a high school game so no money changes hands in Vegas, it is the first time for national TV exposure for either team, so not winning will not look good for either of them, throwing the game is a lose-lose. Did you ever think that it was just the way the ball bounced, literally?” Kate smiled. “I got schooled in the ways of basketball already by Greg. If it’s not about throwing the game, that takes out gambling. Junior hasn’t had the ball much yet, so my guess is that he’s not as good as he’s made out to be-“ “Or he’s better,” Chad interrupted. “Or he’s better,” Kate agreed. “But at this time, we can’t assume that, so that takes out anything against Junior.” They looked at each other while Kate bit her lip again. “Chad, what the hell is going on here?” Coach Malone was in the middle of a profanity laced tirade against his players. “We should be up by a hell of a lot more than those 6 points! We need to really show the world what we have, dammit! This team should be the best of the best, but we are only up by a measly 6 points! What do you have to say for yourselves?” The team was silent. Except for Jon. “So, what you’re saying is that we are a huge disappointment even though we are winning?” “Don’t even start with me, Mr. Mills…” Jon held up his index finger. “Page. Remember?” he thought he saw Coach’s eye twitch. The buzzer sounded and the team returned to the court. Coach grabbed Hobbs by the shoulder. Mustache walked into the gym from behind the curtains of the TSC Sports team. He maneuvered his way around the court. He stood by the Taylorsville team’s water table as Coach Malone gave his rousing speech.. He took a cup of water from the table, drank it, and as he went to set the empty cup down on the table, slipped a piece of paper into it. He then went and found an empty seat in the bleachers. Bender whistled at Peterson from the balcony hallway overlooking the madness of the gym hallway. Chad looked up. Walter pointed to a stairway at the end of a hallway behind the snack tables. Peterson moved to the edge of the snack tables and waited for the cheerleader employees of the snack bar to have their backs turned and he slid his way through the space between the edge of the table and the end of a wall and went up the stairwell. He found Walter waiting for him. “Anything yet?” “Nada, “ Chad confirmed. “Come on, Jon & Kate, it’s got to be there.” Grissom came back out to the court and met Jon in the middle. “Another slow quarter for us?” Junior Grissom asked. “I’m actually hoping to see a bit of excitement, “Jon countered. The ball was thrown in and Stan tossed it Jon’s way. Grissom went to reach for it and deflected the ball, but Jon took a step to his left, stretched and reached and got control of the ball. “There you go!” Grissom grinned. Jon faked going to the left. Grissom countered. Jon stepped to the right and Grissom went to get ahead of him while Jon ended up feigning the move to the right and actually ended up going left. He was able to get two steps on Grissom. Stan had gotten ahead of Jon so Jon passed the ball back to him. Stan nodded. “Ready?” Jon looked at his surroundings and nodded. Stan passed the ball back to Jon, who stopped in his tracks, squared up to the basket and made a shot. The ball hit the front of the rim, spun slightly off to the right, circled the hoop, touched the backboard as it circled around and, wobbling, dropped through the hoop. Stan pumped his fist. “Yeah!” Jon whooped. Natalie clapped her approval. Kate was just walking back into the gym and missed everything except the actual shot. She beamed her approval and started clapping. “Way to go!” she yelled. Aleisha had noticed when Stan passed in the ball to Jon and had made sure that Greg was watching. They both looked up from their files and watched Jon make his basket. They stomped their feet, clapped and hollered their approval as well. Jon’s eyes watched as his two points got added to the board and a sly grin crept onto his face. Everyone’s eyes were on Jon. Nobody saw Hobbs. The grin was only on Jon’s face for a moment before Jason Hobbs collided with Jon, sending Mills sprawling to the floor. Hobbs had been watching the ball being rebounded and ran full speed into Jon as he was backing up. Again, Jon’s lungs exploded as the wind was knocked out of him. His vision dimmed as he tried to get air into his lungs. In what seemed like another world, he could hear whistles blowing in the gym as the referees stopped the game. His body pulled into a fetal position. Kate stopped where she was on the sidelines. “That was a cheap shot, ref!” Aleisha and Greg stopped their clapping and winced as they watched Jon hit the floor. The sly grin moved from Jon’s face to Coach Malone’s and Mustache’s faces. Stan knelt by Jon. “Can you hear me?” Although he was facing the opposite way, Jon nodded slowly as he attempted to straighten out his body. “I’m going to get you to the bench. Let me know when you’re ready.” Jon nodded again. Jason Grissom Junior came and knelt by Stan as well. “I’ll help you out.” Jon’s head was still ringing as he finally fully straightened out. He gave a big stretch to his muscles, turned over, and, while his eyes were still closed, gave his hand to Stan. Stan braced him and, with Grissom’s help on the other side, lifted Jon to his feet. “How sweet. Thank you, Mr. Grissom, our team could not have handled that!” Coach Malone called from the sidelines. “What a dick,” Grissom muttered. “You don’t know the half of it,” Stan replied. Jon took slow, long, breaths as he got his wind back. The referee came over and walked alongside the trio. “You okay, son?” “I will be.” Jon acknowledged. Grissom and Stan went to take him to the bench, but Jon waved them off. “Actually, can you take me into the locker room for a minute?” Grissom looked at Stan. “Are we allowed to?” “I don’t see why not.” They started moving him toward the locker room entrance. “Hey!” Malone yelled. “He can’t go in there!” “That’s where he wants to go,” Stan yelled back. “Not him!” Malone was motioning to the trio, ‘him!” It finally dawned on them that they were talking about Grissom. Grissom nodded and let Jon’s left side down. “No worries,” Grissom said. He looked at Jon. “You going to be okay?” “Yeah. I’ll be okay. Just give me a second.” “Get back soon, okay? I want to see you back here before the half.” Grissom backed off and headed back to the court. Jon looked at Stan. “Take me to my locker, please.” A tall, older, white haired man showed up at Stan’s side. “I’m an off duty ref. Can I take him into the locker room?” Stan looked at Coach who was flabbergasted at all of the people wanting to help Jon. “Sure.” Stan handed off Jon’s right side to the man who helped Jon into the locker room while Stan went back to the court. Kate was making her way to the locker room entrance when Coach Malone stepped in front of her. “Not this time, sweetheart. He wants to play, let him play.” Kate glared at him and went back to the hallway to find Chad or Walter. Jon could hear that the game had started again. “You okay, Mr. Page?” the referee asked. Jon felt his ribs tenderly, testing the strength of the touch. He winced at a few points, but he could tell it was just tender and not broken. “Yes. Yes. I’m okay.” The older gentleman placed his hand on Jon’s back. “If you’re okay, I’m going to go back out and watch the game. “ “Please. Yes, it’s okay. I’ll be fine. I just need to get some ibuprofen out of my locker. I’ll take it, wait a few minutes, and be right back out.” The man patted Jon’s back softly. “Hurry back. You’re doing fine out there.” Jon closed his eyes until he could not hear the man’s footsteps anymore. “What the hell am I doing-?” Jon asked the air. It only took a few seconds to dislodge all of Jon’s confidence that he had built up. Jon took some slow, long breaths and slowly let them out. He progressively let the breaths get deeper and deeper until it felt like he was breathing normally again. He reached into his locker and realized that the ibuprofen was actually in his bag. “Shit, what else can happen?” He slumped back onto the bench. Jon noticed that Nick’s locker was actually still not fully closed. He reopened it and saw Nick’s medallion still hanging on the hook. Jon put his hand under the medallion and watched it shimmer in the light. He heard some cheers and some groans in the crowd outside. “I hope you don’t mind, wherever you are.” Jon took the medallion in his hand and raised it up so that it came off of the hook. He then unclasped the back and put it around his neck. “You’re going to finish this with me, Nick.” Jon tucked the medallion under his jersey, stood up and closed the locker. It was then that he noticed the piece of paper on the floor in front of the locker. He was sure it hadn’t been there previously. Had the man dropped it? Had it come loose when he was kicking the locker before the game? Did he dislodge it while he was getting the necklace? He didn’t know, but he knew it hadn’t been there long. He bent to pick it up. His head still throbbed. Greg’s eyes froze when he spotted the discrepancy. “It couldn’t be that easy, could it?” He flipped from Ford’s file to Hobbs’ and then to Bernard’s. Aleisha stopped her scanning. “What did you find?” Kate heard a whistle as she wandered the halls. She spotted Walter as he was coming down the staircase behind the snack tables. Walter saw her and motioned her to follow him. “What’s the latest?” he asked. “Jon made a basket and then clobbered by Hobbs. Stan & Grissom helped him to the locker room, but Coach cut me off.” “No closer on what’s going on?” “Nothing. I have Aleisha and Greg helping look through the files since Nick said it was there, but we have yet to find it.” They reached the upper hallway. “We are on a very limited time table here. Minutes are skipping away.” Kate turned on him. “Don’t you think I know that? I have been turning this over and over in my head, but I can’t find one damn other thing about the case! Unless Junior is going to be killed, but we have no evidence of that. Gambling was a possibility, but there’s no evidence of that. The best we have is that this could make everybody’s stock go up who is involved in this!” They came to the upper hallway which ran parallel to the crowded lower hallway by the gym. Kate walked to the opposite side and leaned against the wall which came up to her upper thighs. “I have nothing else, Bender. We are stuck!” “I know that, Kate, but we can’t find anything on our side, either. We must be missing something!” Kate closed her eyes and bent her neck back, hearing several cracks as she did so. “I know. I know.” Just as she did so, a stream of water hit her in the back of the head. “What the hell?” she turned around and looked down. Three kids, about 12 years old, were running down the hallway below her, which ran perpendicular to the hallway she and Walter were talking on. “Hey!” she yelled. “It’s a very good thing-“ she stopped her sentence sharply. And looked down. “Oh, no.” “By my estimation-“ Walter started. “Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no-“ Kate repeated as she looked down, back to where she and Walter were standing and back below. Walter continued, “- we only have until either halftime or right after the game-“ “no, no, no, no, no-“Kate continued muttering. “ until whatever is going to happen is going to happen.” Walter finished. Kate unholstered her gun. “Or not even that long.” The fire alarm started sounding through the hallways and almost immediately, spectators started pouring out of the gymnasium. “Oh, shit.” Kate started running for the gym.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chapter 27

And here is Chapter 27. CHAPTER 27 Natalie was already set for Jon as he came out of the locker room. As she stood up to greet him, she made a rolling motion with her hand. “Mr. Page?” she had a nice smile and offered Jon a solid handshake. “Strong shake for such a little woman.” “When you’ve got three older brothers…” “While I don’t have older brothers, I do have some older male cousins who can be quite the handful. One of them is even the starting center for the Brigham Young University Cougars this year.” “Both football and basketball run in the family, does it?” she asked. “To be honest, I don’t really know what the starting center does other than hikes the ball and then tries to stop the big guy right in front of him from sacking the quarterback.” “That pretty much nails it,” Natalie nodded. “So, Mr. Page, how did you get into basketball?” “Women. Purely women. I mean, I get to talk to you because I’m on the team. Would you be talking to me otherwise?” he smiled at Natalie and the camera as he also glanced over at the stands and caught Aleisha sitting next to Greg. “Believe it or not, Mr. Page, I might. To bring the viewers up to speed, Mr. Page stuck up for me while I was being hounded by a particularly rude individual and he stood up for me. Let me just say that in many ways, personality plays a big part.” Jon could feel his face start to go red. “Seriously, Mr. Pa- actually, what is your first name? Neal? Is that right?” Jon nodded. “Joking aside, really, how did you get into basketball in the first place?” Jon took a deep breath and pursed his lips. “No joke? Friendship. That’s why I am here tonight- friendship. I had several friends on this team-“ “Had?” Natalie interrupted. “Had.” Jon let the word hang in the air. “One of them had an accident earlier this week and had to step down, one was the victim of a robbery at his after school job and his life was cut short, and one had a medical emergency last night and did not make it to the hospital and he died in my arms. I said that I would step in and help and play with the team right after the injury of the first friend and, as players kept falling out of being able to play, I stepped it up. Another one of my friends is still on the team and will be playing his heart out on the floor tonight- Stan Ingle. Have you interviewed him?” Natalie was caught up in listening to Jon and was surprised by his question. “Yes. Yes I did.” “I am willing to bet that he never hinted at the behind the scenes trouble of the week, did he?” Natalie shook her head. “No. No he didn’t.” “He never would. He just plays through it all. Stan needs me to be here and play with him tonight so I am here to show support for the team and for all of our players who cannot be on the court for one reason or another tonight.” “So, Neal, how does that factor into how you are going to play tonight?” “I honestly don’t know. It has been a very tough week for me, personally and emotionally and the best that I can do is to play as I have practiced, give it my all and we’ll see what the scoreboard says at the end.” Natalie, feeling she had her quote machine kept digging. “This is the first time that the Taylorsville Warriors have been in the spotlight. This is going to be a huge game on a national stage, with Jason Grissom Junior playing in his first game, is this your first game on the court ever?” “What makes you say that?” Natalie turned around and played with the camera. Jon saw the red light turn off. When Natalie turned back to him, her attitude had slightly changed. “What are you doing here, Mr. Page? You are not the kind of guy that is normally interviewed at these games, ready to go on the court. There is more to you. Why are you doing this?” “It seemed like the best thing to do?” “Cut the shit, Page. Why are you doing this? Friendship? Really? You might just embarrass yourself nationally just because of friendship?” “It’s what I do, okay? It’s what I do! I help! I am a helper. If I see something that needs to be fixed, I’ll fix it. Stan is a friend. I have other friends who care about this team. Honestly, I don’t. The team is not important for me- it’s the people. The group think is ridiculous to me! The fact that all of this importance is placed on a game is beyond ridiculous to me! People have come home from their jobs and all they want is a little entertainment by a bunch of high school kids and the main reason is because there is a teenage son of a sports star who is more known for his runins with the law than for his foul shot percentage? Let the kid be a kid and just let him enjoy the game and the fact that he is in high school! I want to go out and just play the game for the game’s sake and help my friends accomplish what they need to accomplish. All the other stuff is bullshit and doesn’t matter! Let the game be a game and enjoyable and nothing more beyond that!” Natalie smiled and Jon heard a click. It was only then that he looked down and noticed Natalie holding a handheld recorder. “Thank you, Mr. Mills.” “It’s, um, it’s Page,” Jon stumbled. “It’s Mr. Mills. Jonathan Mills. I’ll keep your name as Page in the news clips, but I know who you are. Thank you for the honesty. That is what I have wanted to say all week, but couldn’t, and I knew you could and would. There’s more to you than the little persona you put on, Mr. Mills, but it would be nice to see it and let that out every once in a while.” Natalie took the tape out of the player and handed it to a gentleman standing near the camera. “Whatever the scoreboard says at the end, you and Stan are winners.” Natalie offered her hand again. Jon took it and shook it tightly and strong. “Yes, ma’am. And how did you know about me?” Without letting go, Natalie looked him straight in the eyes. “You think I’m not going to do some research on the first person I see stand up to asshole Coach Malone? And who defends me on top of that? I’m not kidding, Jonathan, you have a future ahead of you. I can see it already.” She pulled him close and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Give ‘em hell.” “You got it!” The handshake pumped one last time before Natalie let Jon go and join the team. Natalie locked eyes across the gym with Coach Malone, smiled, and raised her eyebrows. Jon passed the player’s bench and slid his duffel bag underneath, walked close to Coach Malone, nudging him with his shoulder as we walked by, and made his way to Greg and Aleisha. “You looked like you were going off over there! I’ll bet you become a star after this!” Aleisha enthused. “I honestly hope not. That’s exactly what I was going off about.” Jon turned to Greg. “Have you seen Kate yet?” “No, I’m keeping my eyes peeled, though.” “When she gets here, I need you 3,” he turned to Aleisha, “3- that includes you,” he smiled and she beamed back, “I need you 3 to go back over the files. There is something there. Moss saw it and he said it was there, but he died before he could tell me.” Aleisha gulped. “Died?” “Yes. I’ll tell you everything later, like I said. It’s okay. Everything is okay. Now you are getting a glimpse at the shithill that has been my week. You will be okay, just please dig through the files and find me what I need.” “You got it.” Greg nodded and touched Aleisha’s leg to bring her back to the conversation.”We’ll do it as soon as Kate gets here.” Jon looked at them both straight. “Thank you.” He leaned over and kissed Aleisha. “And thank you.” Jon walked back to the floor into the team huddle. Coach Malone followed Jon with his eyes as Mills made his way to the huddle. Jon couldn’t tell if Coach was trying to hide his contempt or not. Either way, it was clear that after tonight, Jon was not going to be invited to the strip club anymore. “Give us some good quotes?” Coach asked, sarcasm dripping from every word. “I gave my opinion about the game tonight.” “I can hardly wait to see the replay.” Malone clapped his hands. “Here we go, we are in this for the long haul. Mills, er, uh, Page, how are you feeling? You still going to play?” “You couldn’t stop me with a bulldozer, Coach.” “Don’t know what the hell that means, but okay. We are going man to man defense right off and Mills- you get Junior first go round.” All eyes fell to Jon. He nodded. “Well, someone has to, right?” “With Mr. Mills guarding him,” Coach continued, “we’ll be able to truly see how Junior plays unimpeded. Then, we can change up our defense based on what we’re seeing.” Jon noticed Kate come into the gym, look around, and see him in the huddle. She nodded slightly to him. Jon nodded back. He watched as she went up to sit with Greg and Aleisha. Aleisha stood up, shook Kate’s hand, they exchanged a few pleasantries and they sat down. Jon could hear Malone droning about which players of theirs were being assigned to Cottonwood’s players, but he watched as Kate and Greg talked for a minute in front of Aleisha, and then Kate pulled out the copied papers that Nick gave his life for and split them between herself, Greg, and Aleisha, speaking directly to Aleisha for a moment, and then giving her a stack. Coach made his way to the middle of the team area and Jon came back to courtside. “You ready for this?” Malone asked the team. “Yes, sir!” they all shouted in unison. “We have a national TV audience tonight, as you all know. Keep your heads in the game and let’s play this as we have discussed! Go out there, play well, and let’s show them what we’ve got! Who are we?” “Warriors!” the team yelled. “Who are we?” he asked again. “Warriors!” the yell got louder. “Who are we?” “Warriors!” “Go get ‘em!” Coach yelled and started clapping. Now it was Coach’s turn for his eyes to wander through the crowd. As he found Mustache, there was another exchange of nodding that took place. “And pray to God we do what we need to.” Coach muttered as he watched his players settle into the benches or take the court. Kate was glad to see Jon as she came into the gym. He was in the middle of the player huddle and it looked like he had just been sucker punched- his face was drained of all color and his eyes were darting through the gym, probably looking for her. She nodded and he returned her nod. He is at least responding, Kate thought, I’ll wait to intervene, if necessary. She noticed that Stan was right behind him, so nothing too disastrous could have happened, could it? Kate’s eyes now sorted through the mass of people and she found Greg sitting on the fourth row of the bleachers with Aleisha Madsen right by him. She started briskly walking toward him, holding her side bag containing the player files tightly by her side. How was she supposed to explain the player files to Aleisha? This case has definitely gotten a lot harder than anyone expected. As Kate reached the duo, Aleisha stood up and presented her hand. Kate shook it. “I need to apologize to you, Ms. Thompson. I have acted poorly this week towards you and I have no reason to have done so. You kept trying to apologize and I wouldn’t let you…now it is my turn. I’m sorry.” Kate was almost shocked by the maturity and professionalism. Although she had come to really like Aleisha while listening to her and Jon chat all night on the date, this still came as a bit of a surprise. “That’s quite all right, Ms. Mad- may I call you Aleisha?” “Of course.” “That’s all right, Aleisha. I probably would have done the same thing.” They sat down together. “I couldn’t make out all of what Jon said to Natalie when he was interviewed, but it sure sounded juicy. He raised his voice, they stared each other down, she kissed him, it will definitely be interesting.” Greg informed Kate. “She kissed him?” Kate asked. “Yes, but only in a thank you-friendshippy kind of way. You know? Like the French?” “Got it.” Kate reached into her bag and pulled out all of the player files and placed them on her lap. “Aleisha, do you mind trading seats? I should have thought of it sooner, but Greg and I-“ “Jon asked me to help you two.” Aleisha interjected. Again, Kate was momentarily tongue tied. “Excuse me?” “Jon asked if I could help you. He said that Moss had told him something before he died- I meant Moss, not himself, because Jon sure seems alive still.” Kate leaned over Aleisha to Greg. “Is there anybody that Jon doesn’t tell?” Greg leaned toward Kate so they were both in front of Aleisha. “Don’t worry, Jon just asked for her help in looking through the files. He didn’t mention anything about being an agent.” As soon as those words came out of his mouth, Greg paused and waited for the fallout. Aleisha’s eyes widened as she put the pieces of the puzzle together. “Agent? As in secret agent? If he were a cop or something he would’ve been called Detective or Lieutenant or something, but agent….” Kate’s eyes closed ever so slightly. “Thank you, Greg.” “So then, you are an agent, too? His trainer, right Ms. Thompson?” “Looks like we have our own Scooby gang, “Kate muttered before turning to get closer to Aleisha. “Yes, he is a secret agent, the important word being secret. I am his trainer, that’s why this week has been so strange and he couldn’t tell you anything and why he joined the basketball team. Something very big is going down here and we don’t have any idea what it is. We would greatly appreciate your help, but, please, keep it down and keep it quiet, okay?” Aleisha nodded. “Mum’s the word. What good would a reporter be who gave up her sources?” “Thank you.” Kate started to split up the files. “Nick Moss was with us too, Aleisha, as was Jake Spencer. Jon jumped in to help out. Nick and Jon looked through these files the other night and could not come up with anything while they were together. Nick must have seen something else and he put two and two together but unfortunately got killed before he could tell Jon. Now, we get to find it before whatever it is that is planned to happen here, happens. Nothing is too small. Let’s keep our eyes, ears, and minds open, okay?” She gave approximately a third of the stack to Greg and a third to Aleisha. Greg opened his stack and started perusing the information. Aleisha looked at the stack, then turned and asked Kate, “How much of our date the other night did you spy on?” The team started walking onto the court and Jon watched as Junior took his place on the northeast side of the court. Jon strode up to the young player. “How are you doing tonight?” Jon asked. “Nervous as hell,” Junior answered. “Same here. I’m Neal Page. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Junior.” Jon offered his hand. Junior looked at it for a second, smiled, and shook it. “Pleasure is mine, Mr. Page. I overheard you talking to Natalie over there earlier and I just want to thank you.” “For?” “Treating me like a human.” “Aren’t you? Are you a human or are you some kind of alien or cannibalistic humanoid underground dweller?” Junior laughed. “No, I am human. Although sometimes I wish I was one of those cannibalistic underground thing-a-ma-bobs you talked about. My life would sure be a lot easier sometimes.” He laughed and the two players watched as the team captains spoke to the referee to prepare to start the game. The Warriors had Stan as their captain for the evening “Neal, can I ask you for three favors tonight?” Jon was taken aback at how normal Junior seemed. “As long as none of the requests are illegal, sure.” “Play as well as you can, and as hard as you can against me.” “And the third?” Jon asked as he saw Stan look around and find Jon on the court as Stan took the ball in his hands and handed it back to the referee. “Please don’t call me Junior. It’s Jason” Jon grinned. “I understand. I am sorry for calling you that earlier. I just assumed-“ “Most people do,” Grissom answered. “Then, let’s play ball!” Jon said, as the referee threw the ball in the air to begin the game.

Chapter 26

I am done with fiddling around with this thing! I am ready to finish it! Here is Chapter 26 CHAPTER 26 Kate was speeding through the streets of Salt Lake. It was now 5:15- less than two hours to go until game time. Jon had gotten extremely quiet. “You okay over there, Jon?” “How do we do this, Kate? What do I do?” “First, you show up, then we see what happens!” “What is that? Some kind of Zen kind of attitude?” “It’s one of Napoleon’s battle plans. First, you show up, then, you see what happens.” “Meaning?” “You can’t anticipate everything about tonight, Jon. There are way too many variables. It’s like seeing a math problem with no numbers in it and only letter variables from A-Z. We will hope that as the night goes on, numbers will start to fill in those variable spots and then we will be able to solve the equation. Until then-“ “-we show up and see what happens. Right.” Jon sunk in his seat. “Kill me now, Kate.” “After the past few days, do you really mean that?” Jon glared at her. “Forget I said anything. Let’s just get there.” “Dammit!” Kate slammed her palm against the dashboard. The traffic on the freeway was backed up at a dead stop a mile before their exit. “Can we not get a break at all?” “I wonder if there’s something going on tonight?” Jon smirked. “While I had planned for a lot of things, I had not planned for this.” “It’s 5:30. I still have time to get there.” Kate shook her head. “You really are not much of a jock, are you?” “No, I’m not, but I thought we had established that.” “You can’t just show up and walk on the court. You have a pre-game meeting, you get dressed, and ready for the game. Just like in your precious drama, you have to prepare for the performance. You probably should have been there about a half hour ago.” “Then, you should’ve found me sooner and laid on the guilt trip about an hour ago.” Jon grinned. Kate leaned over and opened the car door. “Go. Get out of the car and get to the school. We’re at a dead stop, you can make it on foot faster than by driving.” Kate pointed to the side of the road. “Go down that hill and cut across the business parking lots and it will probably only take you about 15 minutes to get there. I’ll meet you there.” “Kate, what if I need you? What if something happens?” “Got your gun?” Jon motioned to his gym bag. “Always.” “Use it if you need it. Now, go on. Don’t run otherwise you might tire yourself out. A nice brisk walk might help, though.” Jon got out of the car, grabbing his gym bag. “You’ll be there?” “Wouldn’t miss it!” Jon shut the door and climbed over the barricade to start his descent down the hill and to the school. Kate sighed deeply. “Good luck, Jon.” Jon was breathing heavily as he got to the Harmon’s grocery store parking lot. He looked at his watch. It was 5:50. All he had left to do was get across the large parking lot, cross 2 streets and he was at the school. But the parking lot was already packed with people getting out of their cars and making their way over to the school. Cars were not moving in the traffic lanes- either on the road or in the parking lot lanes. Since he was already a little tired, he decided that walking briskly would be best. Aleisha Madsen had parked in the Harmon’s lot, ready to walk across to the school, and saw Jon darting between 2 parked cars. “Jon! “ she called, but he didn’t hear her. She grabbed her purse, locked the doors, dropped her keys in the purse and ran after him. As she got closer, she reached through the mass of people separating them and grabbed his bag. “Jon!” Protecting his bag, and his gun, Mills twirled and stopped himself before he physically hit her in any way. He had also stopped walking. “Aleisha!” he sheepishly looked down at his hand, shaped to give a karate chop. “How are you?” Crowds of people parted and reconverged around the couple. “I was going to ask the same thing. I have had a couple of interesting talks with your new boss, Kate.” Aleisha locked eyes with him. Jon felt his heart plummet to his stomach. “Oh, really? What about?” “You. Where you were. Where you may have gone. What the hell is up with you. All of it.” “I’m so so-“ “Don’t tell me you’re sorry! I have everybody and their dog telling me that they are sorry and I don’t want to hear it anymore! Jon,” she grabbed his hand, “I like you. I hope you know that. This week has been one of the strangest that I have ever experienced, but it doesn’t change how I feel about you. I know that this basketball game has something to do with the weird week that you have had, and I just hope, that after the game is over, you can tell me what is going on. I know that Kate is not lying to me, necessarily, but I know that she’s not telling me everything as well. Please, just don’t tell me you’re sorry, just trust me and tell me what has been going on this week later tonight.” Jon thought for a minute and started slowly nodding. “Let the game finish, and I will.” Aleisha pulled him toward her and kissed him. “Good enough! Let’s get you to the game!” Aleisha kept Jon’s hand tightly clutched in hers as they made the way to the gym. They passed the Trager Sports Channel van as they made their way. Jon noted that Natalie was not there, but that there was a thin man with glasses in the van turning dials and speaking to his headset. “I haven’t seen him yet, Natalie, but I’m keeping my eyes open for him.” Jon took Aleisha by the player’s entrance. He opened the door and held the door open for Aleisha, but there was a large tarp in front of the door. Jon and Aleisha walked in and shut the door. Jon, while still holding her hand, guided Aleisha around the tarp and found that it was actually the background for Natalie’s camera. Jon quickly turned his head. But it was too late. Natalie had already seen him. “Mr. Page! I am so glad to see you!” Jon smiled crookedly. “Hey. Good to see you, too!” “I never knew that you were such a ladies man!” Aleisha chided. “Normally I’m not,” Jon shot back. He started scanning the bleachers, which were already filling up. “Are you ready for your on-camera interview? Is that why you’re here?” Natalie asked. “Not yet. I actually need to talk to her,” Jon motioned to Aleisha, “go in there,” Jon motioned to the locker room, “and then I will gladly talk to you!”” Jon started walking Aleisha toward the bleachers “Sounds good. Just make sure that you don’t forget about me, Mr. Page!” “Mr. Page?” Aleisha asked. “I couldn’t if I tried!” Jon yelled over his shoulder. Then, to Aleisha, “Please don’t even ask about the Mr. Page thing. I don’t even understand it fully.” Jon saw Greg in the crowd. “Greg!” he yelled. Greg looked around and finally saw Jon. He heaved a visible sigh of relief and threw his hands out to his side, pantomiming a look of exasperation. Jon put up his forefinger, as if to say one moment, then pointed to Aleisha and then back to Greg. Greg nodded. “Do you know Greg Taylor?” Jon asked Aleisha. “Doesn’t everyone?” “Good point. He’s up there on the third row,” Jon pointed to him. “Please go sit next to him for the game. Then, immediately after the game, I will promise that Stan & I will be there.” Aleisha fixed her gaze on Jon again. “You’d better be.” She kissed him again. “Good luck.” “Thanks!” Jon let go of Aleisha’s hand and headed to the locker room while she maneuvered her way up to sit next to Greg. As Jon walked by Natalie again, she called to him, “Don’t forget!” “I won’t! In fact, I’m counting on it!” he called back. Jon opened the door and walked into the locker room. Jon’s heart started pounding as he entered the hallway. Now this is just silly, he told himself. There is no way that anything could happen right now- there are way too many witnesses, he told himself. Coach Malone’s voice echoed through the hallway. Jon could tell that he was barking orders that wouldn’t mean much of anything- a bunch of ‘go out there and win one for the gipper’ routines- “If we play our best out there, nothing can stop us!” “There is no I in team” Jon was sick of them just thinking about them. Jon took a deep breath as he rounded the corner into the locker room. The team’s backs were to him as Jon entered. Coach was in the middle of them so all attention was in the middle of the circle and not at all on Jon. He walked slowly to his assigned locker and started dialing the combination on his lock. Coach stopped his speech. He let the silence linger in the air while Jon opened his locker. The opening of the door echoed in the thick, steamy air. “Mr. Mills, how nice of you to join us today.” Coach started walking toward Jon and the group slowly parted for him. Hobbs and Bernard had wicked grins on their faces while Stan had a look of genuine relief mixed with concern. “Coach,” Jon acknowledged him but put his gym bag in the locker and sat on the bench, all without looking at Malone. “Mr. Mills, would you care to tell us where you have been? Why did you miss your teammate’s funeral yesterday?” Jon was changing socks. “No, I wouldn’t care to tell you.” “I tried to get hold of you last night to ask for an early morning practice with you. You were not answering your phone. I even stopped by your house this morning to try to find you and make sure you were okay. Why were you not at home?” “Would you care to tell me why you feel it is any of your goddamned business?” “You were supposed to be here almost an hour and a half ago! Why could you not be bothered to show up?” “Because I have absolutely no respect for you, Coach. I told you that I would play in the game and I am here to do what I said I would do.” Jon caught Stan smirk ever so slightly at that. “I have already replaced you, Mr. Mills. You will not be playing in this game!” “I think that you will find that I will in fact be playing in this game,” Jon took off his shirt. “I have replaced you and Moss with 2 players from other students that I have in other classes. It’s over, Mr. Mills! I will not put up with your shit anymore!” Jon stood up. “Oh, you will be putting up with my shit for at least another 3 hours, Coach. I will be playing in tonight’s game.” He pulled a basketball jersey over his head and straightened it out. “Let’s have a chat, shall we?” Jon motioned to the hallway, meaning to take this into Coach’s office. “We’ll chat right here, Mills!” Jon took a breath. “Okay, then. You want to do it here, we’ll do it here.” Jon took another breath and stepped into the Coach’s personal space. “Regulations state that you must submit your final team roster 2 days before each game. It has already been submitted. Moss and I were on it. Due to the extreme issue which befell Moss, since you have already substituted a player in the past week, me, you do not get any more. I will be playing. We will be down one player. The only way in which you could get 2 “new recruits” would be to play them as Moss and Page. We have many TV cameras out there. If you try anything like this and kick me off the team, I will go and speak openly about everything, Coach.” Coach Malone was beet red. “You can’t do that! You signed a non-disclosure agreement!” “Actually, I did no such thing. I signed nothing. You needed a player, I took over. You need me, Coach. This is national television and a huge spotlight for the school. If we win, you will be given your choice of assignments for next year, all over the country. Hell, you’ll probably get that even if we just show up and play. As I walked in here, Natalie from SportsTime wants to interview me. I told her that I would be back and that I would not forget the interview. If you want me to stay quiet about all the shit, and I mean all, Coach, including the okayed upon hazing of new players, the creepy way that you kept looking for me last night, and the strip club violations, then you will put me in as a starter and I can be in the game whenever I want to be.” Coach was fuming, but silent. Jon let the silence linger. Not one player dared make a move or a sound. Stan’s eyes darted from Jon to Coach and back again. Coach stepped toward Jon, making the space between them infinitesimal. When he finally spoke, even though the team was gathered around, Coach’s voice was so filled with rage, yet so soft, that only Jon could hear it. “There is no way in which I don’t hate you right now,” he hissed. Jon stood his ground. “Nor I you, Coach.” Coach stared into Jon’s eyes for a full five seconds before Coach turned, and walked back to his office. Jon continued getting ready while the locker room got back to a normal noise level. Stan came up and sat down beside Jon. “You okay?” Jon considered for a moment if he should play it off as a joke or not. Deciding that he needed to level with his friend, he told him the truth. “Not at all. But I’m here.” Jon slowly took a deep breath, “I guess you know about yesterday?” Stan nodded. “Yup. Greg and I went to headquarters and we sat in on a meeting with everyone. They were extremely worried about you, Jon.” “I know. This whole thing is so screwed, it’s not even funny. Spencer is dead, Moss is dead, I am sure that Coach was looking for me so that he could kill me. If you’re not careful, you may be on that list as well. But I am here, and I am here for you.” Stan let the silence rule as Jon contemplated the small tiles in the locker room floor. “Can I do anything for you?” Jon nodded, almost imperceptibly. “Yes. Go tell Natalie that I will be out in about 10 minutes, let Kate know to watch Coach very carefully as I don’t think I made him feel all warm and squishy inside just now, and...” Jon finally looked back up and looked at Stan for the first time during this conversation, “help us win this whole fucking thing.” Stan smiled. “That’s the Jonathan Mills I know. You got it!” Stan patted his friend on the shoulder and hurried out of the locker room. Jon finished getting dressed. With the silent room, he closed his locker gently and walked over by the showers. He leaned against the wall as he looked at the spot where, just a little more than a day ago he had held Nicolas Moss in his arms as Nick died. Jon let out a huge sigh, “Shit.” He squatted and touched his fingers to the tile floor and ran them back and forth several times. “I’m so, so sorry, Nick.” After he stopped moving his hand, he still stayed near the ground, just staring at nothing in particular. After several minutes, Jon stood back up and walked over to Nick’s locker. The door was slightly ajar. He opened it and glanced inside. Hanging from the hook inside the door, Jon saw Nick’s medallion again. With a soft backhand, the door opened fully, bounced, and closed this time. Lightly punching the locker door with his fist, he listened to the rattling it made. Jon slowly started to punch it harder and harder, listening to the echoing in the locker room. He was starting to notice the noise of the crowd which had been slowly rising as he had been alone in the locker room. Mills stopped punching the locker and then silently listened to the crowd before kicking the locker hard by its base. “Let’s kick this pig,” he muttered as he grabbed his duffel bag and headed out of the locker room into the continually growing roar of the crowd.