Connie had been watching at home, in the den she and Wes watched the games in when the Wiz were on the road, wearing a cream-colored pantsuit that complemented the earth tones of the brown leather sofa and teak furniture. She had a glass of scotch in her right hand. It caught a glint of the light from the plasma screen, as did a gold bracelet she was wearing. In such a circumstance, the plan caved before her eyes.
She didn't bother calling; she knew Awvee would. Connie hadn't anticipated this, true, but she knew how to buy herself a little time to make it look like she had. She estimated she had just enough time to sigh, which she did. Then the little phone on the coffee table rang. She transferred the scotch to her left hand and flipped the phone open with her right.
"Ms. Unseld?" Awvee was breathless. "I'm so sorry. I broke it. I broke it. It burned up and I broke it. The statue. It burned up and I broke it."
"What happened, Awvee?" She managed to sound genuinely surprised at the catastrophe, without laying it on too thick.
"Ms. Unseld?" At least she had trained him well in how to address her. "I was minding the sphere and watching the bacon, but there was some fat dripping out and it pooled around the power cord. But I didn't see it. Then I guess the sphere got hot and the fat lit on fire and I threw water on it but the fire got bigger." Because it had burned through the casing on the cord, Connie thought. "Then I went and got the fire extinguisher, but when I shot it at the sphere, it knocked the sphere over and now the sphere's broken."
"I see, Awvee." As banal as expected. When Arenas had gone down, she had felt a giant shock run down her spine, one that made her stiffen and straighten up on the couch, that seemed to make her nerves tingle; then the electricity went away just as quickly, and she felt weary and vaguely anxious in a composed way, just as she had before the injury. Why wasn't Wes here? She could feel things when Wes was with her. Instead, she was talking to this very dedicated moron who had done her bidding for the past six months for a pittance.
"Ms. Unseld?" Here was the pleading. "Will you still pay for the apartment?"
"Of course. But there's nothing we can do for Gilbert now. We have to direct our attentions elsewhere. We were making Gil better to make the Wizards better. There are still things we can do to make the Wizards better."
"Is the fire out?"
"Yes. Everything's covered in dust from the extinguisher." Awvee had made sure to buy a C-rated extinguisher, just as she had insisted. He was dumb, but he was smart enough to know to follow orders. There were far words kinds of dumbness loose in the world.
Wes was at Verizon, doubtless in Mr. Pollin's suite. She could almost hear them consoling each other right now. Connie sipped from the glass. "Awvee, clean everything up, first of all. Then get a night's sleep. I'll call you tomorrow."
"Yes yes okay Mrs. Unseld."
She flipped the phone closed and set it down on the coffee table. She sighed again. On the screen, tall men in bright baggy clothes ran around chasing an orange ball.
She braced herself for the greeting she knew she would hear, whether the man picked up or the voicemail message played. It was a greeting that, in its cheerfulness, obliviousness and fatuity, summarized the man precisely.
He did, in fact, pick up. "Hello, I'm Mike Wise!"
"This is Connie Unseld, Mr. Wise. Wes's wife. We've met before."
"Yes! Sure! I'm Mike Wise!"
"Mr. Wise, I've come into possession of some information regarding the fact that DeShawn Stevenson can't feel his face."
"Hey! That's big news!"
"Yes. It may be traceable to a substance, called 'Mister Fifty' in the trade, that makes the basket look as big as a hula hoop. Optical distortion that nonetheless results in deadeye accuracy in shooting. Of course, there are side effects, such as a temporary craniofacial numbness."
"In layman's terms, he can't feel his face."
"I see!" Then, in a lower voice: "Note to Mike Wise: Look up big words later!"
Connie paused for a second to gather herself. "Look, I know you're the Post's top investigative sports journalist."
"What we need to do is establish a control situation. Stevenson apparently intakes Mister Fifty through specially treated bottles of Vitamin Water. What we need to do is to supply Stevenson with unadulterated bottles of the water, then see if he plays any differently. With luck, his play will stay the same, or improve" - Connie allowed herself a little smile here - "and there's no story. But if he plays worse, we'll know he had been using the drug. You see?"
"The advantage to this for you," she said, bringing the discussion where she knew it needed to go, "is that you merely have to observe DeShawn before determining whether you need to undertake a full-scale investigation. This could save you valuable time that you can use to craft new catchy phrases in your columns, or bumrush the stage at charity events, or all of the other important, meaningful things with which you fill up your life."
"If you're free Tuesday morning at 10 am, you can meet Awvee Storey at the loading dock at Verizon. He'll have a pallet full of unadulterated Vitamin Water for Stevenson. You and he can go to the locker room, and Awvee can substitute the new Vitamin Water."
"Let me know if this poses any difficulties. I am happy to help."
And then Wise ended the call, secure in the blithe assumption that everyone sat around all day waiting to give him things or let him into places. Connie shook her head. She had one man she liked - Awvee wasn't a bad man at all, regardless of how incompetent he often was - and one she didn't doing her work for her. That was the safe way to do things.
Wes was now meeting with Mr. Pollin at the Palm, the two sharing big slabs of ribeye, Wes doubtless trowelling on horseradish as if the Palm had secured the last supply of horseradish in the Western world. Connie was nibbling at a salad in the kitchen of the home she and Wes shared. The big windows facing west were flooded with light as the late afternoon blazed before the inevitable slip into the blue evening.
--posted by intern Rex Immensae Majestatis Chapman