Long Lost Page 7

Coach Bobby made a squawking noise. The fight was over right there. I knew that. Or at least I should have. I should have stepped back and let him gasp to the ground.

But that mocking voice was still in my head. . . .

’’Hey, kid, do that again. . . . The rest of the season he\'s a target. . . . We have a chance at a cheap shot, we take it. . . . Chicken!’’

I should have let him fall. I should have asked him if he\'d had enough and ended it that way. But the anger was out now. I couldn\'t harness it. I bent my left arm and began to spin full force counterclockwise. I planned on landing an elbow blow directly to the big man\'s face.

It would be, I realized as I spun, a devastating blow. The kind of blow that caves in the bones of a face. The kind of blow that leads to surgery and months of pain meds.

At the last second, I came just enough to my senses. I didn\'t stop, but I pulled back a little. Instead of landing square, my elbow careened across Bobby\'s nose. Blood spurted. There was a sound like someone had stepped on dried twigs.

Bobby fell hard to the ground.

’’Bobby!’’

It was Assistant Coach Pat. I turned toward him, put up my palms, and shouted, ’’Don\'t!’’

But it was too late. Pat took a step forward, his fist cocked.

Win\'s body barely moved. Just his leg. He snapped a kick at Coach Pat\'s left knee. The joint bent sidewise, in a way it was never supposed to. Pat screamed and dropped to the dirt as though he\'d been shot.

Win smiled and arched his eyebrow toward the other two men. ’’Next?’’

Neither man did so much as breathe.

My rage dissipated all at once. Coach Bobby was on his knees now, cradling his nose as if it were a wounded animal. I looked down at him. It amazed me how much a beaten man looks like a little boy.

’’Let me help you,’’ I said.

Blood poured from his nose through his fingers. ’’Get away from me!’’

’’You need to put pressure on that. Stop the bleeding.’’

’’I said, stay away!’’

I was about to say something in my defense, but I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Win. He shook his head as if to say, No use. He was right.

We left the woods without another word.

When I got home an hour later, there were two voice mails. Both were short and very much to the point. The first was hardly a surprise. Bad news travels fast in small towns.

Ali said, ’’I can\'t believe you broke your promise.’’

That was it.

I sighed. Violence doesn\'t solve anything. Win would make a face when I said that, but the truth was, whenever I resorted to violence, which used to be fairly frequently, it never just ended there. Violence ripples and reverberates. It echoes and really never seems to go silent.

The second message on the voice mail came from Terese:

’’Please come.’’

Any attempt at hiding the desperation was gone.

Two minutes later my cell vibrated. The caller ID told me it was Win.

’’We have a small situation,’’ he said.

’’What\'s that?’’

’’Assistant Coach Pat, he of the need for orthopedic surgery?’’

’’What about him?’’

’’He is a police officer in Kasselton. A captain, in fact, though I won\'t ask to wear his varsity jacket to the prom.’’

’’Oh,’’ I said.

’’Apparently they are thinking of making arrests.’’

’’They started it,’’ I said.

’’Oh yes,’’ Win said, ’’and I\'m certain that everyone in town will take our word over a local police captain\'s and three lifelong residents.’’

He had a point.

’’But I was thinking,’’ he went on, ’’that we might enjoy a few weeks in Thailand whilst my attorney works this out.’’

’’Not a bad idea.’’

’’I know of a new gentlemen\'s club in Bangkok off Patpong Street. We could begin our journey there.’’

’’I don\'t think so,’’ I said.

’’Such a prude. But either way, you should probably make yourself scarce too.’’

’’That\'s my plan.’’

We hung up. I called Air France. ’’Any room left on tonight\'s flight to Paris?’’

’’Your name, sir?’’

’’Myron Bolitar.’’

’’You\'re already booked and ticketed. Would you like a window or an aisle seat?’’

4

I used my frequent flier miles to get an upgrade. I don\'t need the free booze or better meal, but the legroom meant a great deal to me. When I\'m in coach I always get the middle seat between two ginormous bruisers with space issues, and in front of me, without fail, is a tiny old lady whose feet don\'t even touch the ground but she has to put her seat back as far as humanly possible, getting a nearly se*ual thrill as she hears it crunch against my knees, tilting back far enough so that I can spend the entire flight looking for dandruff flakes in her scalp.

I didn\'t have Terese\'s phone number, but I remembered the Hotel d\'Aubusson. I called and left a message that I was on my way. I got onto the plane and jammed the iPod buds into my ear. I quickly slipped into that airplane half-sleep, thinking about Ali, the first time I had dated a woman with children, a widow no less, the way she turned away after she said, ’’We\'re not forever, Myron. . . .’’

Was she right?

I tried to imagine life without her.

Did I love Ali Wilder? Yes.

I had loved three women in my life. The first was Emily Downing, my college sweetheart from Duke. She had ended up dumping me for my college rival from North Carolina. My second love, the closest thing I\'ve had to a soul mate, was Jessica Culver, a writer. Jessica had also crushed my heart like it was a Styrofoam cup or maybe in the end I had crushed hers. It was hard to know anymore. I had loved her with everything I had, but it had not been enough. She was married now. To a guy named Stone. Stone. I kid you not.

The third, well, Ali Wilder. I had been the first man she dated after her husband died in the North Tower on 9/11. Our love was strong, but it was also calmer and more mature and maybe love wasn\'t supposed to be like that. I knew the ending would sting but it wouldn\'t be devastating. I wondered if that too came with maturity, or if after years of getting the heart crushed, you naturally start being protective.

Or maybe Ali was right. We weren\'t forever. Simple as that.

There is an old Yiddish phrase I find apropos but not by choice: ’’Man plans, God laughs.’’ I am a prime example. My life was pretty much laid out for me. I was a basketball star my entire childhood, destined to be an NBA player for the Boston Celtics. But in my very first preseason game, Big Burt Wesson slammed into me and ruined my knee. I tried gamely to come back, but there is a big difference between gamely and effectively. My career was over before I hit the parquet floor.


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