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
Slightly slumped in a sitting chair whose wooden arms and legs were carved in curlicues and sworls, Connie Unseld raised a tumbler of Scotch to her lips, then set it down on an equally baroque side table. The click as she set down the tumbler - there was no coaster to cushion its impact - echoed through the wood-paneled sitting room. The last few rays of sunlight entered through a set of tall, narrow windows and lay long across the floor. Connie's right hand held onto the tumbler, ready to reraise when the impulse struck, which it would. Her left hand massaged her left temple.
Wes was out. Mr. Pollin - Abe - whatever - had called him in to discuss the team's struggles. Doubtless Wes was sitting across the big wooden desk from Mr. Pollin right now, sharing a cigar, pushing aside papers so they could talk more intimately about defensive intensity and offensive spacing and pace and psychological minutiae of the players and whatever else they talked about. They had talked about all of it, all day, every day, when Wes had been GM. Of course, then, much of it was Wes' doing.
Connie was dressed in a white sweater and navy pencil skirt. She could still pull it off. She crossed her ankles and slumped toward the right ever so slightly. She gazed out the window at the paling day.
Connie loved her husband. A simple statement to make, but one with consequences. When Wes went away, Connie had a lot of time to think, and she didn't like that. The job provided motivation and fulfillment, but you have to have more than a job. There's a home to come to.
She watched the games, of course, but Steve and Phil just made her brood more. Books provided some distraction, but lately, every few pages she just looked up and sighed. She took up knitting once, and dropped it, the pastime feeling ridiculous, playing with bright-colored yarn and shiny needles. Lately she'd been watching that callow Steinbog fellow on Comcast yammer Internet catchphrases in his reticent countertenor, hiding under a man's hat. It had not yet proved compelling.
It wasn't necessarily that she and Wes had long talks about Schopenhauer or took strolls in the moonlight with the wind whistling through the pines when he wasn't sitting at Mr. Pollin's desk strategizing. It was simple: He was with her. And she loved him. Any room felt happily full with they both were in it, at least for Connie. Even before middle age had made him fill every room a bit more, she had felt this way.
The thing was, when Wes had been GM, they had either been winning or losing, and either way he had to be out all the time. Connie understood this. But now that he wasn't GM, Mr. Pollin only wanted to talk to Wes when he couldn't figure out what to do, and needed a sounding board. Or a commiserator. The best way to keep Wes home was to keep the team winning.
And that was doubtless how she had gotten into this thing with that Storey kid and his voodoo bacon head that coincidentally worked when Arenas was playing well and didn't when he wasn't. Storey could watch the bacon change colors or whatever all he wanted. Arenas wasn't going to be great like Wes had been. Too frivolous. No - that wasn't what was holding him back. He desperately wanted to step behind the arc of fate and shoot the seed of talent into the basket of greatness. He was serious about his desire. But he didn't have to, in the way that the ones who became great did.
Admittedly, she thought - jumping back to Storey - the voodoo bacon head was well-supported by a certain type of literature that would forever remain beyond the ken of the casually inquisitive. A Xerox here, a story you heard there. That memorable episode of "Oprah." Being the wife of an NBA player gave you a lot of time to learn things. Storey had nothing but time to watch the bacon, and she knew it had created a kind of background resonance that had elevated Arenas to a new level this year, however halting his advance sometimes seemed. But still - something had to impel Arenas. Waiting on it wasn't going to help.
She knew some ways. But she needed deniability, which comes when you get someone stupid to do the risky but necessary thing you want done. Storey couldn't hang around Verizon anymore without raising suspicions, and obviously Wes needed to be safe from any possible blowback.
Suddenly: Wise, from the Post. She took another sip from the glass, then bent down to retrieve her purse. Wise was who to call. Blithe yet resourceful idiocy. Why hadn't she thought of this before?
She took out her cell phone and began dialing.
--posted by intern Rex Immensae Majestatis Chapman
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
The Awvee Storey continues...
In a basement apartment in Richmond, Awvee Storey sits on a wooden fruit crate, his back leaning against the dirty wall. He is wearing a sleeveless white T and plain boxers. A pair of flip-flops lies a few feet to the side. He stares placidly across the room at a a massive rotating sculpture of Gilbert Arenas's head, cast from frosted glass and lit from within with a diffuse, bright light, like the sun as it rises on a winter day. The features are rendered imprecisely in glass, but Storey has laid strips of bacon cooked just to the point at which the fat becomes translucent on the sphere, in a way that renders an uncanny level of detail. It is the Gilsphere that we last saw at Arenas' 25th birthday party.
Despite the bitter winter tang of the day, the air inside is humid and close, and Awvee is sweating a bit. He drinks from a tumbler that he had set down on the crate. The drink - Vitamin Water and grain alcohol, with a couple drops of orange extract for flavor - is called a Hibachi, but Storey has given up on getting the local bartender to make it. The sphere is steady. He had to lay his initiates off after the incident (though he brought them back special for the gig at Love). To compensate, he has refined his technique, layering his bacon and adjusting the wattage of the Gilsphere to extend the delicious moment of translucency for hours.
Storey takes another sip of the Hibachi and remembers the incident that has driven all incidents since: the thing in Miami. Since when does the superstar stand up for the NBDL player? He still can't get over it. Everything happening that day was bullshit, and Gil walked right into it trying to pull him out.
The bacon turns so slowly that the very imperceptibility of the process has become magnetic. Awvee's eyes lock from across the room on a strip of bacon that forms the upper part of Gil's ear. It will be the next to go, in a few minutes. Still leaning back, he tracks it with the avid attention and confidence of a predator toying with game.
Awvee and the Gilsphere had some rough weeks, true, right after 'Twan got injured and the local 7-Eleven stopped carrying Hormel Black Label. (What better bacon to fulfill a destiny begun during Miami Beach Week than the Black Label?) But while the Gilsphere had been shaky for the last week, it had stayed intact, and Awvee had seen how Gil became bold, driving and dishing, shooting with his customary calculated recklessness. At a perfect moment, when everything glowed so powerfully that the dingy room had filled with light and Awvee could barely see the 20-inch TV/VCR combo in the corner, Gil had leaned into two Golden State defenders and turned back time, to 0.1 seconds on the clock.
That was when Awvee knew his labors had not been in vain.
He ponders this for a moment before getting up to remove the one bacon strip. It is then that his cell phone, laid on top of the TV/VCR, beeps. Awvee removes the strip, gets a new one from the fridge, replaces it with atomic exactitude, and checks the display on the phone.
Connie again. What does she want? No message, so it can wait.
Awvee settles in again. Beads of water collect on the glass and running down its side. He sips and watches, aware of everything in the room and yet feeling nothing specific about it. There are no more distractions. All can thrive here. All there is to hope for is that it can continue.
--posted by intern Rex Immensae Majestatis Chapman