Read an Excerpt
$3 Million Turnover
The Pro Series: Book One
By Richard Curtis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1974 Richard Curtis
All rights reserved.
Call me Ishmael if you want, but I answer to the name Dave Bolt. Officially I'm an agent. I represent professional athletes—baseball players, football players, hockey players, tennis pros, golfers. You name it: if money is paid for any athletic performance short of copulation, I take a commission on it. I represent athletes during negotiations, handle their contracts, line up personal appearances, speeches, and commercial endorsements, advance them money, advance them more money and, when that's gone, advance them still more money. My outfit is called the Red Dog Players Management Agency, which was cute when I had three clients but has become a liability now that I have many more. But you've got to admit it's a name that sticks in your mind.
I say "officially" I'm an agent because in the last couple of years I seem to have backed into another job, an unofficial moonlighting gig and one I'd be just as happy not to have, but its one of those things where I seem to be the only person qualified to do it. I'm a troubleshooter for a number of pro sports organizations, a kind of undercover operator if you will. Nothing as glorious and glamorous as a private eye; on the contrary, I haven't undertaken a job yet that was anything but a fat pain in the ass. But there are some satisfactions—and some rewards. I help keep the lid on some of the sordid scandals that threaten to wriggle into the public eye and trail slime over what is essentially a decent and noble and beautiful human enterprise. Fixes, drug problems, gangsterism, sex scandals—I try to keep them in the family before the media boys descend and expose some of the uglier seams of professional sports for the world to see. In exchange, the various sports commissions compensate me: a cash bonus here, a referral of a new client there, or some other kind of favor. Sometimes all I get is "Thank You," and sometimes "Thank You" is enough.
"Thank you," for instance, is all I got for finding Richie Sadler, and that didn't quite make up for the hairline fracture of my cheekbone, temporary blindness, a scrotumful of somebody's knee, and the loss of the most promising marital prospect I've run across since my divorce. Oh, I did get the right to keep what already belonged to me: a commission of staggering proportions; and as this was my first "case" I also got the reputation for competence among men very high in the sports establishment. But I think that when you hang the whole mess out to dry and take a good look at it, you come up with a great big Who Needed It?
It started early in May with Trish rattling this note under my nose while I was talking to George Allen. Needless to say, I could have brained her. It's hard enough to negotiate with George Allen without having your secretary wave a piece of paper in your face. I made a brushing-away gesture, which any imbecile would have known meant "Get lost!" but she only sighed loudly, put her hands on her hips in profound annoyance, and stuck the note under my nose again.
"George, can you hold on one second?" I said into the phone. "I have an inexperienced secretary who thinks there is something more important than talking to you." I punched the "hold" button and glared.
"Inexperienced!" Trish snorted. "I like that!"
"Didn't I say no phone calls?"
"You didn't say absolutely no phone calls. I thought you'd want to know about this one."
I looked at the scrawl on the memo pad: "Davis Sadler on 41."
If looks could fire, Trish would have been transported that very second to some shabby employment agency waiting room. "This better be good," I said. "Who's Davis Sadler?"
She looked at me triumphantly. "Richie Sadler's father."
I blinked. It was, as Trish had guessed, perhaps the only call that would justify interrupting a conversation with George Allen. I gazed at the lighted "41" button on my phone panel. Trish did too and said, "That, Mr. Bolt, is a beacon illuminating your destiny."
I tended to agree with her, but a principle is a principle and you've got to keep secretaries in their place. If they think they can bust in on important phone calls, the next thing you know they'll be taking five minutes extra on their lunch hours. "Tell Sadler to call back."
Her blue eyes reflected horror. "Are you crazy?"
I rose from my chair. "Do you want to eat your danish with a full set of teeth?" Shaking her head and muttering, she retreated to her desk with long, saucy strides. As I reached for the "40" button on which Allen was holding, I heard her say breathlessly, "Would you mind holding just one more second, Mr. Sadler? Mr. Bolt is just wrapping up a critical negotiation with George Allen, the George Allen of the Washington Redskins ... Oh you are? Me too. How do you think we look for next fall?" I muttered a silent benediction over Trish's blonde head: she was worth every penny I sometimes paid her.
"Well?" Allen asked. "Was it?"
"Was it more important than talking to me?"
"It could be pretty important," I admitted. "Richie Sadler's father is on the other line."
"Then why don't you take the call?"
"But George ..."
"We can wrap this thing up this afternoon. To tell you the truth, I'm curious myself. If it's what I think, it could be quite a feather in your cap."
"A feather? George, I could line my nest with feathers if it's what I think."
I hung up and looked at the yellow 41 button for a minute, trying to get my head together. I told myself: Keep cool, Sadler may not be calling to ask you to represent Richie. Why should he? But then I asked myself if there were any other reasons that Sadler might want to talk to me. I couldn't think of one.
You didn't have to be a basketball nut to know that Richie Sadler was the hottest professional prospect since UCLA's Bill Walton. In his three varsity years at Illinois he'd racked up an almost unbelievable 3,200-plus points, averaging 33 points per game, making 66 percent of his field goal attempts, tallying seven 60-point games, and snaring forty zillion rebounds. He'd established an Illinois "dynasty" for the three years he was there, leading the team to a string of victories marred only by a fluke loss to Ohio State in his junior year—fluky because an overly ambitious guard knocked him unconscious with an elbow to the temple early in the third period.
Needless to say he'd spearheaded the team to three straight NCAA titles and was the Alleast American since Dr. Naismith hoisted two peach baskets ten feet above the ground in 1891. By his junior year sportswriters had run out of superlatives, and by the time he was a senior they had ceased comparing him to such classical greats as Mikan and Cousy and Dolph Schayes or white superstars of more recent vintage like Rick Barry and Jerry West and Walton. He was that much in a class by himself. The best the pundits could do was describe him as a "tall" Bill Walton or a "good" Rick Barry. Mostly they called him "Wings" because he seemed to spend more time in the air than on the court, and he had that unearthly ability to hang suspended in the midst of a jump shot for longer than the law of gravity says you're supposed to have.
I'd seen Sadler play on a number of occasions at Madison Square Garden and had to confess that in all the time I'd followed the game, I never saw anyone control the ball and dominate the court quite the way he did. For sheer size and bulk he was almost a freak—7'4" and 285 pounds. But he was anything but a clumsy giant. He had a quickness and grace and dazzling speed that made you wonder if he wasn't a fugitive from some extraterrestrial league, the Martian Maulers or the Jupiter Jets or something.
And now Richie Sadler was graduating, and was the subject of every conceivable scheme, legal, illegal, and uncategorizable, that could be contrived by teams to both the NBA and ABA to snare him. The salary figures tossed around made your head swim and rattled the composure of even the most cold-blooded players' agents. I was probably the only one of the lot who didn't lose his head, for the simple reason that I didn't have an ice cube's chance in a pizza oven of getting a crack at representing Sadler. Not that I wasn't as good as guys like Al Ross and Bob Woolf and Mark McCormack, but my agency was young, small, under financed, understaffed, and underheard of. At that time I didn't have enough clients, especially of the big-name variety, to match my competitors' clout with management or attract other biggies like Sadler. What I did have, at least according to those of my clients who swore by me (when they weren't swearing at me), were the following: an intimate inside knowledge of sports, an irrepressible love of athletes, a good head for business, a certain amount of charm and poise and savoir faire—which really boils down to a rich repertory of filthy jokes—and a reputation among management for fairness. In fact, some of my boys felt I was a management man, that I leaned over backwards to please the owners. I will admit to a strong desire to be on good terms with the people who have the money; I'll even admit to having some compassion for them. Having worked in the front office of the Dallas Cowboys for a couple of years, I am convinced that owners are only 85 percent as monstrous as most players say they are. So while I never give an owner an even break, I occasionally stop short of their jugulars.
Now, these may be admirable qualities per se, but they are not the kind that attract Richie Sadlers. I'm a southern gentleman by upbringing and it's simply not in my nature to go lusting after prospects like a whore in wintertime, phoning them, propositioning them, bothering them at all hours, promising them anything, hustling them, begging them, and even threatening them, like some other members of my fraternity I could name. Dignity, for better or for worse, is my long suit. Unfortunately, dignity isn't worth rat shit when there's a Richie Sadler at stake. So when the sharks started swimming around him, I just stood back and watched with detached amusement and made snide comments about human greed and venality. Trish called them sour grapes.
And now Richie Sadler's father was calling me. Me!
I pressed the button and listened for a minute to Trish's astute analysis of the relative merits of Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer, while Davis Sadler made chauvinistic grunts about how knowledgeable she was for a girl. Knowing how Trish gets on that topic, I spoke into the phone. "Um, that'll be fine, Trish. I've got it."
"That you, Bolt?" Sadler's voice was gruff but genial. "Hey, leave that gal on the line. She knows more about sports than Howard Cosell."
Trish threw me a glance over her shoulder and, observing the menacing gesture I was making, begged off and hung up. I threw her a kiss. She could not have buttered him up better if she'd been a Scovill Joe Namath corn popper.
"To what do I owe the pleasure, Mr. Sadler?" I said.
"I'm bringing the family to New York for a couple of days and thought we'd meet a few people we haven't met."
"You haven't met enough agents?"
"Met too goddam many of them, and that's the problem. I don't trust any of them. They don't give two shits about my son. They just want to get fat off him. I heard you're, well, more of a low-key person. I also heard you were very good."
I thought a little candor wouldn't hurt. "I've got to tell you, Mr. Sadler, I wouldn't mind getting fat on your son's commissions."
"Ah hell, Bolt, I don't begrudge a man his commissions, but I do begrudge him a piece of a kid's soul, do you see my distinction? These other clowns—you wouldn't believe what they've offered us."
"You sound like a sensible man, Mr. Sadler. Who told you about me?"
"Lonnie Seaforth, for one. Lonnie was Richie's idol when Richie was a kid. Now Richie may be playing in the same league with him. You've done a great job for Lonnie, and he hasn't become a phony like some other players who've hit it big. Lonnie told Richie you smack him down whenever he starts putting on airs. That impressed us."
I made a mental note to do something extravagant for Lonnie, and said, "Well, Mr. Sadler, the temptations at the pro level are mighty powerful. Someone has to maintain his sense of proportion." Trish looked up from her files and performed a digging pantomime number, leaving no doubt in my mind as to what was on the shovel. But I really wasn't mouthing pieties: I've seen too many good kids ruined by instant stardom.
"We're taking a late afternoon flight out of Chicago," Sadler said. "Are you free for dinner tonight?"
"Dinner?" I rattled the pages of my blank appointment calendar. "I've got a tentative engagement, but I can move it up to another evening."
"Fine, if that doesn't inconvenience you. Say, do you mind if I bring my wife and daughter along? They want to do their spring shipping in the Big Apple."
"You mean bring them along to dinner? Sure!" I said wincing. Two reminder letters from the Diner's Club bearing huge red-ink warnings of dire action stared me in the face even as I spoke.
"And say, you must bring that gal of yours along too. She's a charmer."
"Trish? I'm not sure she's free." You can imagine Trish's reaction to that. Then I thought about it and decided she might be just the extra special ingredient to consummate the deal. "No, she says she can make it," I said picturing the night's tab soaring deep into the three-digit stratosphere. "Would you prefer someplace quiet or noisy?"
"It doesn't matter," Sadler said with an air of resignation. "We're going to be recognized wherever we go. You can't exactly hide Richie. Just pick a good place. We'll phone you when we get in."
I hung up and looked at Trish. "How'd you like to be my date tonight?"
"Only if it includes sleeping with you."
She was hunkered down putting some papers in a low file drawer. Her skirt rode up high on her thighs, exposing the moons of her tight little buttocks rimmed with blue panties. I stared, and she knew I stared, and I felt the same tingle of desire I'd had for her on the average of five times a week for the last year. She had smashingly long legs and loved to show them off with mini-skirts—even though "sensible" lengths had been the proper mode for the past five years. She had small high breasts and loved to show them off with braless sweaters, semi-sheer blouses, and clingy jersey halters. She had this steady boyfriend, Marvin or Melvin or some name like that, who she slept with regularly, but that didn't seem to make much difference to her. Had I given her so much as an eye-flick of encouragement, she'd have gone to bed with me, or even to floor or to desk.
And eventually I'd have had to fire her, which is why I hadn't given her so much as an eye-flick of encouragement.
"Sorry, sweetheart," I said, averting my eyes at last. "I told you what my daddy used to say."
She sighed. "I know: 'Son, never shit where you eat.'"
"That's right. Not that it wouldn't be a pleasure ..."
"... and a privilege to spend the night with me, right? Oh, these courtly southerners," she groaned ... "Where shall I make the reservation?"
"How about Maxwell's Plum?"
"Well, if they don't care about being seen, that's perfect."
Maxwell's Plum is one of my favorite restaurants in New York City. It sprang up on First Avenue and 64th Street in the midst of the explosive migration of young people to the Upper East Side and became one of the most popular spots along that fabulous row of singles bars, discos, and restaurants familiarly known as "The Strip." Then the chic people discovered it and the management revamped its cuisine and service (and prices, of course) to cater to the carriage trade. But it still retains its attraction for hungry young bachelors and single girls, and the mixture of fat cats dining on the upper level and colorful commoners conducting their courtship rites around the bar below is what makes Maxwell's as close to a fashionable Paris boite as New York can claim.
Excerpted from $3 Million Turnover by Richard Curtis. Copyright © 1974 Richard Curtis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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