Chapter NINE by Pierre Bastien
Charles Buckler lay on the ground. His chest rose and fell as he labored to breathe. He was lying in a pool of blood.
This can’t be good, he thought. Is this my blood?
Out of the corner of his eye, he could make out a red stain on his shirt. Right. I was shot in the chest.
Buckler looked around for a second. He caught sight of some bland wallpaper. Right. It came back to him. He was still in his hotel suite. Not too long ago, he had been banging “Sarah”. He’d come out of the shower thinking I’ve just died and gone to heaven. Right.
He lay there in his warm pool, thinking about Sarah. The long legs and curves. Soft skin, gripped every which way.
A wave of appreciation came over him as he realized his dying moments would be spent savoring such a delightfully vivid recent memory.
Wait, thought Buckler. Who shot me? He considered it for a second. Oh yeah – some dude in a black suit, wearing wraparound Oakleys. Seriously, who walks around hotels that? I guess guys with guns. Is he still here?
Buckler really didn’t want to get up. He wasn’t sure he could. Actually he was pretty sure he couldn’t. He wasn’t even going to try. That’s for sure.
From his spot on the floor, he looked around the room. Anybody there? He didn’t see anybody. Then he gave up and closed his eyes. Fuck it. Best case, he’d see someone. Someone standing over him with a gun.
He didn’t have too many moments left, and he didn’t want to waste them with worry.
He went back to thinking about Sarah. How he’d pushed her and her table across the room. He imagined the sound of the table legs scraping across the floor, a few inches at a time. He pictured in his mind’s eye that moment when the table clicked up against the far wall. Nice.
Damn, he thought. I won’t be able to publish my scoop. My four-part scoop. My finale. I wonder if all that had something to do with me being murdered? Maybe. That’d be pretty cool if my story were powerful enough to commit murder over. Man, the squash powers-that-be must REALLY want this tournament to go on. Otherwise why bother with the whole hit-man thing? Oh well.
Buckler didn’t have enough brain power left to try and map it out. That would be someone else’s treasure to discover.
Suddenly a spasm of energy lit up his whole body. He realized he was about to die, and someone ELSE was going to get the scoop. Probably those assholes at squashoracle.com. That was too much. Fuck! Double fuck. NOT COOL.
He tried to go back to thinking about Sarah, but he couldn’t focus on her now. Good thing I stuck with being a reporter, he mused. If I’m thinking about scoops in a situation like this, it must be in my DNA or something. Life purpose or something. Oh well, he shrugged. Actually, he didn’t really shrug. His shoulders didn’t move. He just kind of mentally shrugged.
Buckler considered his options. He tried to extend his left thumb. It moved. Where was his left thumb anyway? Oh right, attached to his hand, which was lying on the floor along the left side of his body, about level with his pocket. He tried bending his left elbow. It moved. And it dragged his hand closer to his pocket. He kept bending his elbow until his hand was level with the small opening of his pocket.
What’s the absolute easiest way to get my phone out, he wondered? Removing his phone from his trousers was a skill he had long taken for granted. He extended his left index finger and stuck it into the opening of the pocket. Bingo: he could feel the bottom edge of the phone. He wiggled his index finger and thumb in there deeper, working them into position. Pinch — got it. He gripped the device between his fingertips as tightly as he could manage. He bent his elbow slowly, and voilà, the phone slid out.
Buckler unlocked the phone with a swipe. His thumb left a smeary blood trail on the screen. Oops. He tapped where the Twitter app should be. Bingo, it loaded up. He tapped Compose. Inhaled deeply. Exhaled. No typos, no typos, he thought. D-E-A-D. Send.
He let the phone tumble to the ground, and went back to his thoughts.
John Allenby leaned forward in his office chair and peered at his monitor. “‘Dead’?” Since when does Buckler use less than the full 140 characters? And what the hell does that mean?
Allenby leaned back in his chair as far as it would go. Then he put his feet up on his desk. He stared at the conference table on the other side of the room, the same spot where he’d left Erika Hoskin napping after their hookup. The thought made him a bit sleepy.
Things were going roughly according to plan. Main draw play was due to start tomorrow, but the two glass panels were still missing. Thankfully, Shelley, for all her talents, hadn’t been able to track them down. Everything was on course for this tournament to implode. And they couldn’t pin it on him. The insurance money would be his. Right?
Allenby felt a few beads of sweat forming on his temples. The plan had sounded good on the drawing board back in Brooklyn Heights, but now that he was on site, watching Shelley try and work her magic, he wasn’t feeling quite so sure of himself. Got to press ahead, he thought. He wasn’t normally the insurance scam type, but his medical bills weren’t going to pay themselves. Plus there seemed to be some poetic justice in this particular solution. In my next life, he thought, I’ll just work for IBM, selling servers or something. At least they’ll have a decent health plan.
He peered out the small window of the construction trailer, which was still serving as his temporary office. A small, roundish cloud passed through an otherwise clear, blue sky. He glanced over at the glass court construction progress. The floor was set. The court frame was in place. The construction crew had installed as many of the glass panels as they could, at least until the two missing pieces were found. The crew were putting the finishing touches on the seats now. Normally, the seats would be the last thing to go up, but since they couldn’t work on the walls, they set up the seats.
Phil Peters, Allenby’s head of construction, had been in the office just an hour before.
“It’s uncanny, boss. The two missing panels happen to be the ones that are specially designed to fit the court door. If we had lost just about any other two panels, maybe we could have… .” He trailed off.
“Don’t worry Phil, we’ll track ‘em down. Just get working on the stands.”
Allenby snapped back to the present moment. He heard a click-click-click sound of shoes walking up the metal ramp to his trailer. For a second, he got his hopes up that it might be Erika Hoskin again. That didn’t sound right though. She was more the tennis shoe type. He took his feet off his desk, planted them on the floor, and sat up in his chair.
“Coming”, said Allenby. He walked over to the door and opened it. The SombraSoft guy, Renato Bulsara, stood there.
“Renato! What are you doing here? I mean, what a surprise! Come in!”
“Thank you Mr. Allenby. Just checking on our investment.” Bulsara stepped into the trailer and removed his Oakleys. He folded them up and slid them into the inner pocket of his suit jacket.
Allenby led him into the conference room.
“Can I get you some coffee?”
“No, thank you.”
“Nutra Water? Anything?”
Allenby cringed a little bit. He was amped up, and failing to play it cool.
They sat down at the conference table. Allenby noticed that Erika Hoskin had left a faint butt-print on the table. Of course, he’d seated the Brazilian right in front of it. Allenby tried not to stare.
“Mr. Allenby, we are committed to making the SombraSoft Open a success. We are putting all our firepower behind it.”
“Of course. So am I. What can I help you with today, Renato?”
“You’re going to have trouble making this tournament work if your court has holes in the walls, yes?”
How did he know? Allenby thought only Shelley and Phil knew about those missing panels.
“You’re right, that’s been a challenge, but these things happen. I’ve run tournaments for years, you know. Something always happens. We’re working on…”
“Yes, yes.” Bulsara stood up suddenly. “Victor will be bringing the missing panels here within the next hour.”
Allenby was silent. Bulsara watched him for a moment.
“This tournament must go on. Too many people have a stake in its success. You’ll have to find another way to pay your medical bills.”
Allenby paused. Ok, so they know about that? Allenby responded, “I’ve tried everything. I’m out of options.”
“That’s not our problem, Mr. Allenby.” Bulsara walked to the door. He took out his sunglasses and put them on. “You might try buying SombraSoft.”
“The stock. Buy it.” Renato opened the trailer door. He said: “Today.” Then he walked out, shut the door, and click-click-clicked down the outside ramp.
Allenby sat for a minute in silence. He stared at Erika’s ass-print for a while. Then he picked up the phone to call his broker.
Call coming in. 41 21. Rhodanie Maison. Shelley picked up.
“Shelley. They found the panels.”
“Victor had them all along.”
Fucker, thought Shelley. “Why is he returning them now? This doesn’t make sense. Maybe Allenby made it happen?”
“I think we’re not the only big dogs in this fight.”
“Well, now we can get back to the plan. Main draw should be starting tomorrow on schedule.”
“Exactly. But Shelley?”
“You’re losing control.”
“I’m not,” Shelley spat back. “We’re back on track. And worst case, no panels, so what? This would have been a huge black eye for squash.”
“No. This would have been a huge black eye for Allenby. He would have blamed it on the dock workers. They would have blamed it on him. But in the end, this would have been nothing. Minor dysfunction. Tenth page news.”
Shelley said nothing.
Rhodanie continued driving the point home. “We need front page news, Shelley. Otherwise our pals in Moscow won’t be too pleased. And if they’re not pleased, they’re going to do more than pin us to the fucking mat. We need front page news, Shelley, or we’re fucked. You’re fucked. And Tyler is most definitely, one hundred percent, fucked.”
About the Author
PIERRE BASTIEN writes the squash equipment blog SquashSource.com.He’s been playing squash since he was a teenager.
Next Up: Chapter TEN by Richard Millman