Emily Miller wiped a bit of sweat from her forehead with a magenta wrist band that appropriately matched her skirt and white tank top with magenta trim and stepped out of court 3 at the Copacabana Squash Club. Julia Brown followed. The two plopped themselves on a mint green and pale blue striped couch flanked by floor-to-ceiling lush tropical plants in the spacious lounge area. They tossed their racquets aside and immediately checked their cell phones.
“My dad keeps texting me about my match, but I keep telling him I still don’t know when I’m playing. What’s with this freakin’ tournament anyway?” complained Emily, fixing her blonde pony tail.
“I know. My mum’s been calling as well,” said Julia with a sigh, taking a swig of her now tepid sports drink. “They’re so bloody slow.”
Emily, a college recruit hopeful from the New York area, became friends with Julia, a petite sandy-haired player from Cambridge, on the European junior circuit and at summer camps. Emily’s dad, Maxwell Miller, II, a lawyer and avid player, hoped that squash would be Emily’s ticket to an Ivy League school and thought this tournament would help raise her squash profile plus provide some needed motivation. While Emily liked the game and has had plenty of training and tournament play, her focus wasn’t always there. A little less texting and tweeting and more rails and cross courts would certainly help.
Julia’s parents were also optimistic about their daughter’s squash future, especially now with the Olympics a reality. Julia’s uncle had played for Wales so it seemed only natural for her to carry on the squash pedigree. Like Emily, Julia’s head was sometimes elsewhere, and quite often, celebrities and pop stars commanded her attention. Not that long ago, she and her friends camped out for two nights waiting to see a pop star perform in rain-soaked Hyde Park. She missed her squash lesson and was too wiped out to play in a tournament that weekend, which didn’t bode well at home.
When Emily learned that Julia had entered the qualifier in Rio, that sealed the deal. Both sets of parents felt somewhat relieved that the girls would be together and hopefully stay out of trouble at least until Maxwell Miller arrived after finishing an important case. The girls kept their fingers crossed that they wouldn’t be on the same side of the draw. And more importantly, they prayed that neither of them would have to face Florencia Perez.
“I wonder what’s up with Florencia. I can’t imagine she wouldn’t show,” remarked Julia, standing up briefly to stretch and smooth down her lavender skirt.
“Trust me, she wouldn’t miss this if her life depended on it.”
“Hmm, I guess she’ll just run through everyone here and look amazing at the same time.”
“Yeah, with that backhand that’s so frickin’ annoying. Why is that allowed?”
“I bet since Shelley Anderson is from tennis, that’s why.”
“So what’s next from Shelley Anderson? Are we gonna have freakin’ nets on the squash court? She should have just stayed in tennis.”
Julia looked at her phone again. “Here’s something. Tyler Wolf has been arrested on drug charges.”
“You’re kidding,” said Emily. “I wonder what Shelley Anderson will do about that.”
“Hmm. I don’t know, but there’s nothing about Florenica. Let’s check the board to see if there are any updates there.”
They got up and walked over to look at the notices. Flyers announcing everything from beach fitness training to squash samba parties covered the wall. A posting about the tournament caught Julia’s eye.
“OMG,” she squealed breathlessly, with eyes wide open.
Look who’s on the players list who wasn’t there before!” gasped Julia, practically jumping now. “Andres Lopez from Colombia,” she cried in a whispered scream.
“No way!” said Emily. “He’s like so hot. He played an exhibition at our club last year and he was so amazing.”
“Have you seen him in the Nutra Water commercial?”
“No, he’s on TV? We haven’t seen that in the U.S.”
“He’s a real star now. You can find it on YouTube. He’s at the beach, it’s really hot.” Julia had to stop to catch her breath. She continued: “He takes off his sweaty shirt after a jog, drinks this water and all these girls come running after him. He’s just innnnncredible.”
Emily pulled out her iPad and immediately logged on to YouTube. “Got it.” The two stared at the screen, fixating on the sizzling six pack, chiseled shoulders, long wavy brown hair and vividly inviting dark eyes of Andres Lopez. “Don’t you just love his tattoos?” whispered Julia.
“I thought he was banned from World Squash Tour because of temper tantrums in Toronto.”
“I bet Shelley Anderson let him in.”
“I’m sure she did.”
“Hmm, I just got a brilliant idea. Why don’t we have a look for him? He’s got to be around somewhere and there’s nothing going on here.”
“Cool! Let’s bounce.”
The courts, which were overrun with players, were steamy now and infused with the faint yet familiar scent of muscle rub. Carlos was tired. As a longtime club manager, he had never encountered so much chaos with a tournament. The phone didn’t stop ringing. Players who had been sitting around had now resorted to pacing and several peppered him with questions. “You’ll have to speak with John Allenby,” he said, somewhat exasperated. “I have a call into him now. He should be here any moment.”
“There’s a woman on the phone,” said Alberto, Paulo’s assistant. “A Miss Jackson, she’s asking about Tyler Wolf.”
Paulo took the phone. “Hello Miss Jackson,” he said, trying to maintain a calm voice.
“Mr. Paulo.” The voice was intense with an Australian accent. “I’m trying to locate Tyler Wolf?”
“Tyler hasn’t come to the club yet. I believe there was some problem with lost luggage.”
“Lost luggage! Mr. Paulo, are you not aware that it’s all over the Internet that Ty has been arrested on drug charges. What’s going on? You must have some reasonable explanation of what this is all about.”
“What? Miss Jackson, I can’t believe that.”
“Mr. Paulo, I left my number with your assistant, and I expect to hear from you with any news.” Click
Carlos tried to reach Allenby’s cell phone to inform him about this mysterious and disturbing phone call, but before he could, the TV crew from NBR arrived.
“Shit,” said Carlos, under his breath. Perez and Wolf, both scheduled for interviews, were nowhere to be found.
Carlos greeted the reporter and cameraman who started to shoot some footage of players practicing.
“Player Tyler Wolf isn’t here right now, but..,”
“I know,” said the reporter, Bruno Diaz. “We will interview another player, but quickly. We have to leave in a minute to cover a surfing event at Barra da Tijuca, and that British boy band is rehearsing later at the Plataforma, so we have to get there before the crush. Busy day, typical,” he said, grinning, flashing his sparkling white teeth.
“We film glass box?” the cameraman said to Carlos in broken English. Bruno explained that they went down to the glass court but it was still being assembled.
“When will it be finished?” he asked. “Never mind,” he said before Carlos could figure out an answer. “We’re on a tight schedule, so we got what we need here. It will have to do.”
Amid the clamor, more commotion exploded from the club entrance. Clapping and cheering, a swarm of people gathered to meet and greet a player dressed all in black with a black headband. He gave high fives and shout outs to fans and friends. Like a rock star suddenly appearing on stage or a political favorite taking the podium, Andres Lopez had arrived.
Andres Lopez, thought Paulo. Is he even in this tournament? Wasn’t he banned for conduct?
“Oh, here’s a player for us,” said Bruno, sizing up that this guy had to be important. Relieved that he could finish up this squash story and move on, he made his way over to Andres who acted as if he knew the crew was expecting him.
“But…er,” Carlos tried to follow and stall them, but the cameraman already affixed a mic on Andres.
The camera rolled. “I’m here at the Copacabana Squash Club where players from all over the globe are getting in gear for one of the world’s major tournaments right here on the beach on a soon-to-be completed all-glass court,” announced Bruno. “Here with me is player Andres Lopez from Colombia. How’s it going Andres?”
“It’s going great, Bruno. I’m so excited to be here in Rio,” responded the made-for-TV Andres, as if he had rehearsed his answer to perfection.
“And now that top player Tyler Wolf has been reportedly arrested on drug charges, how does that impact you in this tournament?”
“The draw is wide open. It’s anyone’s game now,” responded Andres, beaming, with a bottle of Nutra Water in his hand.
“Thank you. Mr. Lopez. Bruno Diaz here reporting from the Copacabana Squash Club.
“This will air on tonight’s news,” Bruno called out to Carlos, rushing off with his cameraman as quickly as they raced in.
This can’t get any worse, thought Carlos who immediately called Allenby’s cell phone. Allenby answered: “Carlos, let me get right back to you, I’ve been down at the docks and I need to check at the concierge again about Perez.”
If Carlos was at his wit’s end, Allenby was just about over the edge. Wolf and Perez were still missing, and play was supposed to start today. He’d been hours at the docks and still hadn’t gotten to the bottom of the two missing panels of the glass court. Worries about doping, kidnapping and drugs, let alone the more minor tournament woes were all too much. And that phone call between Shelley and Victor was more than upsetting. But, he had to get back to the club. The players were there waiting. First, though, the concierge.
Passing the free form swimming pool nestled in the sun, filled with turquoise water, and two open-air Jacuzzis under the broad shade trees, he couldn’t help but notice guests relaxing on rattan lounge chairs with soft white cushions looking as if they didn’t have a care in the world. That’s the life, he thought. He raced through the lobby with its glistening white-tiled floors and elegantly appointed furniture in complementary pastel hues and headed to the marble front desk adorned with large pots of flowering plants.
“Just checking again about the airport pick up for Florencia Perez,” Allenby pleaded desperately.
“Oh, yes, Mr. Allenby. It seems that TAM Flight 163 has been diverted.”
“What? Where to?”
GEORGETTA MORQUE is the director of media relations for the Pro Squash Tour.
Next Up: Chapter SIX by John Nimick