Long Lost Page 3

I barely heard. I couldn\'t move. I sat in the stands and stared at the smug, spiky-haired coach. I felt the tick in my blood.

The buzzer sounded, signaling halftime. The coach was still laughing and shaking his head in amazement. One of his assistant coaches walked over and shook his hand. So did a few of the parents and spectators.

’’I must depart,’’ Win said.

I did not respond.

’’Should I stick around? Just in case?’’

’’No.’’

Win gave a curt nod and left. I still had my gaze locked on that Kasselton coach. I rose and started down the rickety stands. My footsteps fell like thunder. The coach started for the door. I followed. He headed into the bathroom grinning like the idiot he undoubtedly was. I waited for him by the door.

When he emerged, I said, ’’Classy.’’

The words ’’Coach Bobby’’ were sewn in script onto his shirt. He stopped and stared at me. ’’Excuse me?’’

’’Encouraging a ten-year-old to shoot at the wrong basket,’’ I said. ’’And that hilarious line about \'Hey, kid, do it again\' after you help humiliate him. You\'re a class act, Coach Bobby.’’

The coach\'s eyes narrowed. Up close he was big and broad and had thick forearms and large knuckles and a Neanderthal brow. I knew the type. We all do.

’’Part of the game, pal.’’

’’Mocking a ten-year-old is part of the game?’’

’’Getting in his head. Forcing your opponent to make a mistake.’’

I said nothing. He sized me up and decided that, yeah, he could take me. Big guys like Coach Bobby are sure they can take pretty much anyone. I just stared at him.

’’You got a problem?’’ he said.

’’These are ten-year-old kids.’’

’’Right, sure, kids. What are you one of those namby-pamby, touchy-feely daddies who thinks everyone should be equal on the court? No one should get their feelings hurt, no one should win or lose . . . hey, maybe we shouldn\'t even keep score, right?’’

The Kasselton assistant coach came over. He had on a matching shirt that read ’’Assistant Coach Pat.’’ ’’Bobby? Second half\'s about to start.’’

I took a step closer. ’’Just knock it off.’’

Coach Bobby gave me the predictable smirk and reply. ’’Or what?’’

’’He\'s a sensitive boy.’’

’’Boo hoo. If he\'s that sensitive, maybe he shouldn\'t play.’’

’’And maybe you shouldn\'t coach.’’

Assistant Coach Pat stepped forward then. He looked at me, and that knowing smile I was all too familiar with spread across his face. ’’Well, well, well.’’

Coach Bobby said, ’’What?’’

’’Do you know who this guy is?’’

’’Who?’’

’’Myron Bolitar.’’

You could see Coach Bobby working the name, as if his forehead had a window and the squirrel running on the little track was picking up speed. When the synapses stopped firing, Coach Bobby\'s grin practically ripped the boy-band goatee at the corners.

’’That big \'superstar\'’’ he actually made quotation marks with his fingers ’’who couldn\'t hack it in the pros? The world-famous first-round bust?’’

’’The very one,’’ Assistant Coach Pat added.

’’Now I get it.’’

’’Hey, Coach Bobby?’’ I said.

’’What?’’

’’Just leave the kid alone.’’

The brow thickened. ’’You don\'t want to mess with me,’’ he said.

’’You\'re right. I don\'t. I want you to leave the kid alone.’’

’’Not a chance, pal.’’ He smiled and moved a little closer to me. ’’You got a problem with that?’’

’’I do, very much.’’

’’So how about you and me discuss this further after the game? Privately?’’

Flares started lighting up my veins. ’’Are you challenging me to a fight?’’

’’Yep. Unless, of course, you\'re chicken. Are you chicken?’’

’’I\'m not chicken,’’ I said.

Sometimes I\'m good with the snappy comebacks. Try to keep up.

’’I got a game to coach. But then you and me, we settle this. You got me?’’

’’Got you,’’ I said.

Again with the snappy. I\'m on a roll.

Coach Bobby put his finger in my face. I debated biting it off that always gets a man\'s attention. ’’You\'re a dead man, Bolitar. You hear me? A dead man.’’

’’A deaf man?’’ I said.

’’A dead man.’’

’’Oh, good, because if I were a deaf man, I wouldn\'t be able to hear you. Come to think of it, if I were a dead man, I wouldn\'t be able to either.’’

The horn sounded. Assistant Coach Pat said, ’’Come on, Bobby.’’

’’Dead man,’’ he said one more time.

I cupped my hand to my ear, hard-of-hearing style, and shouted, ’’What?’’ but he had already spun away.

I watched him. He had that confident, slow swagger, shoulders back, arms swaying a tad too much. I was going to yell out something stupid when I felt a hand on my arm. I turned. It was Ali, Jack\'s mother.

’’What was that all about?’’ Ali asked.

Ali had these big green eyes and this cute, wide-open face I found fairly irresistible. I wanted to pick her up and smother her with kisses, but some might deem this the wrong venue.

’’Nothing,’’ I said.

’’How did the first half go?’’

’’We\'re down by two, I think.’’

’’Did Jack score?’’

’’I don\'t think so, no.’’

Ali studied my face for a moment and saw something she didn\'t like. I turned away and headed back up the stands. I sat. Ali sat next to me. Two minutes into the game, Ali said, ’’So what\'s the matter?’’

’’Nothing.’’

I shifted in the uncomfortable bleacher.

’’Liar,’’ Ali said.

’’Just getting into the game.’’

’’Liar.’’

I glanced over at her, at the lovely, open face, at the freckles that shouldn\'t be there at this age but made her damn adorable, and saw something too. ’’You look a little distracted yourself.’’

Not just today, I thought, but for the past few weeks things had not been great between us. Ali had been distant and troubled and wouldn\'t talk about it. I had been pretty busy with work myself so I hadn\'t pushed it.

Ali kept her eyes on the court. ’’Did Jack play well?’’

’’Fine,’’ I said. Then I added, ’’What time is your flight tomorrow?’’

’’Three.’’

’’I\'ll drive you to the airport.’’


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