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Death in the Crease
The Pro Series: Book Two
By Richard Curtis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 Richard Curtis
All rights reserved.
There's a famous poem that starts, "April is the cruelest month." That may be true for poets, but in my line of business—professional sports—April is the most happy month. It's the month in which baseball season opens, basketball and hockey playoffs get underway, golf tournaments make a swing into the thawing north, tennis and track come outside, and sports groupies strip down to the minimum apparel tolerated by law. In April we shed the morbidity of winter and join hands in a kind of orgiastic communion of spectatorship. It is no accident that all of this coincides with the Easter and Passover holidays, themselves vestiges of profligate fertility rites conducted during planting time in days of yore. Myself, I look my vacation for April. Let others winter in Palm Beach or summer in Ireland; I take two or three weeks in mid-April through early May, and I attend. If I can't cadge free tickets from my friends in league or commission offices, I buy them at the box office; if I can't get them there, I buy them from scalpers at outrageous tariffs; if the scalpers don't have them, I watch the games on television, sometimes firing up three sets at once so I can catch every moment of action from every source.
Obviously, the guy who wrote "April is the cruelest month" never sat in Shea Stadium when Pearl Bailey threw out the first ball, or stood for Kate Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" at the opening round of Stanley Cup Playoffs. And just as obviously, anybody who waxes as rhapsodic as I do about April is going to be pretty ticked off if something comes up to prevent him from indulging his passion for sports that month. It shouldn't be difficult to imagine, then, how profoundly upset I was to get a phone call from Vincent Sturdevant, president of the National Hockey League, asking if I'd be willing to undertake a secret assignment that happened to coincide with these two or three weeks a year for which I live. But Sturdevant's request was couched in terms equivalent to a command, and a man in my position could not afford to refuse a command from a man in his. At least, not out of hand; I was obliged to fly up to Montreal, where the NHL is headquartered, and hear the proposition out. He would not give me a clue about it over the phone.
Which is how I came to be sitting in the death-seat of a windy, creaky, and none-too-stable MG darting in and out of the interstices between leviathan gasoline trucks and tractor trailers coming off the Triborough Bridge heading for Long Island, a little before eight on a Friday morning in mid-April. The driver was my secretary Trish, and possibly the only thing that kept my rage and depression from being total was the sight of her long legs, exposed to within a millimicron of her crotch, operating the pedals of the car.
At any other time, this sight is one of life's keener pleasures. And if the girl is a horrendous driver, which Trish was, this diversion also saves wear and tear on the nerves. You don't have to watch the road, ducking and flinching with each narrowly-averted catastrophe; you just fixate on those dimpled knees at the juncture of well-muscled calves and alluringly tapered thighs as her feet depress clutch, throttle, and brake in ever-changing combinations, like a dancer improvising to music she's never heard before. And if she rams into an ice-cream truck or a Greyhound bus, you go to your death oblivious, your last conscious thought being how great those legs would be wrapped around your waist as you plumb the velvet delights between them.
I was never to plumb Trish's velvet delights. Oh, they were there for the plumbing any time I wished, as she was always making abundantly clear to me with bold displays of her body and verbal invitations of astonishing directness. But I had learned shortly after going into business for myself that while a good bedmate is as ephemeral as a mayfly, a good secretary is forever. The quickest way to lose a gal friday is to take her home with you for the night. Thus when Trish came along, displaying a splendid repertoire of secretarial skills, I decided to forgo the pleasure of seduction in deference to the higher pleasure of a well-run office and a correct lunch order every day. It was just my bad luck that Trish was the kind of girl whose reaction to a man's denial is to redouble her efforts to get him into bed. As a result, I had spent the two years since hiring her in a state of semi-satyriasis.
As she steered the MG into the fast-moving outbound traffic on the Van Wyck Expressway, I removed my eyes from her legs and shifted them to her face, a gamin-like oval with a corona of blond ringlets, intense gray-green eyes, and a soft mouth that concealed a tongue as filthy as a stevedore's when its owner was aroused. At the moment that tongue was flicking frenetically between compressed lips as Trish concentrated on negotiating her boyfriend's rattletrap as far as La Guardia Airport.
"May I ask you a question?" I said, trying to suppress my strong curiosity.
"How come you offered to drive me to the airport?"
"I thought it was the secretarial thing to do."
"You know perfectly well I prefer a taxi to you. You know perfectly well I'd prefer Evel Knievel to you."
She feigned hurt. "I thought my driving had improved."
"Is there something you want to talk to me about? And for Christ's sake, don't take your eyes off the road to answer the question! You know what I look like." The little car, having drifted into the middle lane while she was looking at me, now lurched like a waterbug as she overcorrected, almost slamming us into the right-hand guard rail.
"Something I want to talk to you about? Why, no," she said airily. Too airily to be true. "Of course, I'm curious about this Montreal business."
"You know as much about it as I do. Vincent Sturdevant called me yesterday afternoon and asked if I could fly up to Montreal first thing this morning."
"And all he said was that it's official National Hockey League business?"
"That, and that I'd be well paid for my time."
"But what do you think it is?"
I shrugged. "We don't represent many hockey players. At first I thought, maybe one of them is in some kind of trouble. But that wouldn't merit a drop-what-you're-doing call from the prime minister of hockey."
"Maybe one of our clients is in big trouble."
I shook my head. "I called all of them last night, but nary a one could think of anything that might give the league serious cause for complaint. Stay on your right," I said as a sign saying "94th Street" came into view. "The airport turnoff is just a few hundred yards past this next exit."
We glided past 94th street and onto the exit road, then bore right in the direction of the Eastern Airlines wing of the terminal. Trish pumped the brake pedal heavily as we found ourselves at the end of a long file of cars and taxis inching around a U-shaped approach road. I tapped my overnight bag impatiently. It wasn't just fear of missing my plane, but the realization I'd be trapped in the car with Trish for at least five minutes, and I was certain from little nuances in her behavior that she was going to hit me with some major, urgent problem which had to be resolved this very moment. It wouldn't be the first time she'd pulled such a stunt, and I braced myself against it. With all the other weighty things I had on my mind, I didn't need any excess emotional baggage this morning.
Sure enough, she turned to me and fluttered her eyelids. "Actually, there was something I wanted to talk to you about."
I sighed. "What is it, a raise? I raised you five dollars six months ago. The accountant says—"
"No, it's about Dennis."
"Dennis? What about Dennis?" Dennis Whittie was the new assistant I'd hired. A former backcourt man for the Virginia Squires, he'd faded into obscurity after dislocating a hip in a game against the New York Nets. I'd lost track of him and figured he'd turn up one day tending bar in Harlem or running a MacDonald's franchise somewhere, as is the fate of so many good but not super professional athletes when their playing days are over. Then he'd turned up in a most unexpected place, as a member of a kind of secret service unit connected with the office of the Commissioner of the American Basketball Association. Apparently several sports commissions have similar task forces retained to hunt and destroy "irregularities," like drug use or gambling among players, before they become public scandal. Dennis had helped me locate a kidnapped client, and I liked his intelligence, doggedness, and the cool disdain with which he kicked adversaries in the nuts.
And so when it came to pass that my agency, Red Dog Players Management, began to prosper to the point where I needed help negotiating contracts and managing athletes, I asked Dennis if he'd like to come into the firm as my assistant. He was to start work Monday.
"What is he going to do?" Trish asked.
"He's going to help out. You do admit we need help, don't you?"
"I should think you'd be thrilled, since you're so loaded with work."
"Oh, I'm pleased all right."
"Thrilled is the word I believe I used. Why are you only 'pleased' and not 'thrilled'?"
We advanced a few car lengths. "I guess I don't understand why, if I'm so overburdened, you're the one who gets an assistant. Shouldn't I be the one who gets one?"
"What would you do if you had one?"
"Some of the more glamorous work," she said forthrightly.
"I can't afford the luxury of hiring an employee to do glamorous work. I made it clear to Dennis that until our agency is high on Fortune magazine's list of five hundred top service corporations in the country, he was going to have to do a lot of crap-work. He understands that, and I want you to understand it, too. As far as I'm concerned, Dennis is just a glorified secretary." That was not strictly true, but I said it to mollify Trish, whose passionate views on sexual equality in business were well known to me.
"That's exactly it," she said, pounding the steering wheel. "Why can't I be a glorified secretary?"
"Because somebody's got to order coffee and danish in the morning."
I bit my lip as soon as I said it, and I could see a flush of anger climbing up her throat.
"Aha!" she said triumphantly.
"Is Dennis going to order coffee and danish in the morning?"
"Well ... no."
"Aha again, you sexist bastard."
I sighed again, only louder. "What do you want?"
"But you're only a woman," I said.
Had she been looking at me, she'd have seen the teasing smile on my face when I made the remark. But she was watching the cab in front of us. Like most fanatics, she had no sense of humor when it came to her cause. Her head snapped around and she looked daggers at me. Then she reached for the ignition key, turned the motor off, parted her thighs, inserted the key between them, and crossed her legs. "Take that back," she said.
"Jesus, Trish, I was just kidding. Come on, the line's moving."
"I want some responsibilities," she repeated. A twenty-yard gap had opened in front of us, and horns behind us were beginning to blare. I looked at my watch. My plane left in about four minutes.
"Trish, stop fucking around."
"I'm not fucking around, Dave. Look, I've been with you ... what, a little over two years now? I know every function of our agency. I know sports and I know athletes. I've got a good head for business. I'm attractive and charming, if I do say so myself. In negotiations I'm tough but diplomatic. And I'm dynamite in bed, though that's something you wouldn't know. Above all, I'm ambitious. If I thought I'd go to my grave having achieved nothing beyond remembering who takes 'light' and who takes 'regular' and who takes 'black,' I'd leave you so goddam fast I'd be halfway to L.A. before the door slammed."
"My plane leaves in two minutes," I said, estimating the gap between our car and the cab in front of us at fifty yards. The cacophany of horns behind us had reached a mad crescendo.
"What's it gonna be, boss?" she said coolly.
"You had to spring this on me now."
"I've tried to talk to you before, but you always put me off."
"I miss this plane, it's your job," I said.
"Just say the magic words."
A TWA 727 screamed into the sky, emphasizing my growing desperation. I looked at my watch. The second hand swept around the dial toward a missed appointment. "All right, all right. I'll tell you what. You want feminism, go get me some women athletes. Any you get, you can handle."
She clapped her hands. "You mean that?"
"The key, Trish."
"Oh, you bubby!" She leaned over and kissed me.
"The key, Trish. And please don't call me bubby. I hate that word."
She uncrossed her legs and spread her thighs, looking at me in mute invitation. I reached across the gap between seats and inserted my hand between her thighs. She dosed her eyes and sucked in her breath.
Suddenly a dark shadow fell across us. It was the driver of the car behind us, a huge lumberjacketed guy with a moonface and freckles. He looked down at the admittedly compromising sight of my hand between Trish's legs. "You couldn't wait till you got to the parking lot?"
"She has my key," I explained sheepishly. My fingers touched metal and I withdrew the key and showed it to the guy. "See?"
"Just move out, will ya, fachrissakes?" He spun to walk away.
"Go get fucked, Mac." Trish snarled, starting the car.
He wheeled and gaped unbelievingly at Trish as if she were a dummy and I the ventriloquist. Then he lunged for the car. Trish gunned the throttle and jerked us with a screech into first gear. He ran ten yards after us, then stamped his feet and walked back to his car. We wheeled around the rest of the U and jounced up to the Eastern Airlines terminal.
"You're still a fantastic bubby!" she shouted at me as I dashed up the stairs.
I barely made the plane, a 727 that seemed to begin its descent into Montreal a scant few minutes after it reached cruising altitude. It was a splendid April day, clear as spring water except for that brown haze of polluted air trapped at about fifteen thousand feet that seems to have become a permanent smudge across the northeastern skyscape. Other than that, conditions, as they say, were CAVU—Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited—and I felt a glow of wellbeing that even the contretemps with Trish could not diminish.
In fact, Trish's little act of rebellion could, I decided, produce some highly desirable results. For some time I'd been distressed by the gap in my client list created by the absence of female athletes. My young agency had been picking up momentum in the last year, due largely to my highly publicized acquisition of Richie Sadler, perhaps the finest basketball prospect in decades, as a client, and the sensational terms I'd secured for his services. The number of athletes I represented and managed had almost doubled in the last year, and I now had a solid list of baseball, football, and basketball players, a good sampling of hockey and tennis players and golfers, plus a miscellaneous sprinkling of professional track and field men, boxers, racing-car drivers, and even soccer players.
What I had damn few of, though, was women athletes—golfers, tennis players, track-and-fielders, hell, even jockeys. This omission was not by design; it's simply that they didn't come my way. Yet salaries and prize purses for women had been growing at a remarkable rate. Between increased media exposure and women's militancy, women had become a significant force in sports, and not just a charming novelty. It seemed a shame, I'd reflected lately, that I wasn't cashing in on some of that action. So, if Trish could bring it in—well, God bless her.
Hockey was another area where I held weak cards. Again, it wasn't that I turned hockey players away; it was just that not many came to me to begin with. Also, I had to admit to a certain prejudice against the sport that reflected itself in the low priority I gave it in my hunt for new clients. To an American, and a Texan at that, hockey had a faintly alien flavor. Though of course there were American teams, and since expansion of the National Hockey League in 1967 and the more recent establishment of the rival World Hockey League, that number had grown, but I never could get my head into the mystique of the game. Hell, there was now a hockey team in Dallas-Fort Worth, my home turf, but at the one game I'd attended I felt stranger than a Hindu at a barbecue. Hockey belonged to the Canadians; for me it was an acquired taste, and something I took interest in only because my line of work required it. It wasn't in my blood the way football and baseball are.
Excerpted from Death in the Crease by Richard Curtis. Copyright © 1975 Richard Curtis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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