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Home > The Bleachers(4)

The Bleachers(4)
Author: John Grisham

The first jogger appeared and began plodding counterclockwise around the track. It was the time of day when the runners and walkers drifted to the field for a few laps. Rake had never allowed such nonsense, but after he was sacked a movement arose to open the track to the people who'd paid for it. A maintenance man was usually loitering somewhere nearby, watching to make sure no one dared step on the grass of Rake Field. There was no chance of that.

"Where's Floyd?" Neely asked.

"Still in Nashville picking his guitar and writing bad music. Chasing the dream."

"Ontario?"

"He's here, working at the post office. He and Takita have three kids. She's teaching school and as sweet as always. They're in church five times a week."

"So he's still smiling?"

"Always."

"Denny?"

"Still here, teaches chemistry in that building right over there. Never misses a game."

"Did you take chemistry?"

"I did not."

"Neither did I. I had straight A's and never cracked a book."

"You didn't have to. You were the ail-American."

"And Jesse's still in jail?"

"Oh yeah, he'll be there for a long time."

"Where is he?"

"Buford. I see his mother every now and then and I always ask about him. It makes her cry but I can't help it."

"Wonder if he knows about Rake?" Neely said.

Paul shrugged and shook his head, and there was another gap in the conversation as they watched an old man struggle in a painful trot along the track. He was followed by two large young women, both burning more energy talking than walking.

"Did you ever learn the true story of why Jesse signed with Miami?" Neely asked.

"Not really. Lots of rumors about money, but Jesse would never say."

"Remember Rake's reaction?"

"Yeah, he wanted to kill Jesse. I think Rake had made some promises to the recruiter from AM."

"Rake always wanted to deliver the prizes," Neely said, with an air of experience. "He wanted me at State."

"That's where you should've gone."

"Too late for that."

"Why'd you sign with Tech?"

"I liked their quarterback Coach."

"No one liked their quarterback Coach. What was the real reason?"

"You really want to know?"

"Yes, after fifteen years, I really want to know."

"Fifty thousand bucks in cash."

"No."

"Yep. State offered forty, AM offered thirty-five, a few others were willing to pay twenty."

"You never told me that."

"I never told anyone until now. It's such a sleazy business."

"You took fifty thousand dollars in cash from Tech?" Paul asked slowly.

"Five hundred one-hundred-dollar bills, stuffed in an unmarked red canvas bag and placed in the trunk of my car one night while I was at the movies with Screamer. Next morning, I committed to Tech."

"Did your parents know?"

"Are you crazy? My father would've called the NCAA."

"Why'd you take it?"

Chapter Four

"Every school offered cash, Paul, don't be naive. It was part of the game."

"I'm not naive, I'm just surprised at you."

"Why? I could've signed with Tech for nothing, or I could've taken the money. Fifty thousand bucks to an eighteen-year-old idiot is like winning the lottery."

"But still-"

"Every recruiter offered cash, Paul. There wasn't a single exception. I figured it was just part of the business."

"How'd you hide the money?"

"Stuffed it here and there. When I got to Tech, I paid cash for a new car. It didn't last long."

"And your parents weren't suspicious?"

"They were, but I was away at college and they couldn't keep up with everything."

"You saved none of it?"

"Why save money when you're on the payroll?"

"What payroll?"

Neely reshifted his weight and gave an indulging smile.

"Don't patronize me, asshole," Paul said. "Oddly enough most of us didn't play football at the Division One level."

"Remember the Gator Bowl my freshman year?"

"Sure. Everyone here watched it."

"I came off the bench in the second half, threw three touchdowns, ran for a hundred yards, won the game on a last-second pass. A star is born, I'm the greatest freshman in the country, blah, blah, blah. Well, when I got back to school there was a small package in my P.O. box. Five thousand bucks in cash. The note said: 'Nice game. Keep it up.' It was anonymous. The message was clear-keep winning and the money will keep coming. So I wasn't interested in saving money."

Silo's pickup had a custom paint job that was an odd mix between gold and red. The wheels glistened with silver and the windows were pitch black. "There he is," Paul said as the truck rolled to a stop near the gate.

"What kind of truck is that?" Neely asked.

"Stolen I'm sure."

Silo himself had been customized-a leather WWII bomber jacket, black denim pants, black boots. He hadn't lost weight, hadn't gained any either, and still looked like a nose tackle as he walked slowly around the edge of the field. It was the walk of a Messina Spartan, almost a strut, almost a challenge to anyone to utter a careless word. Silo could still put on the pads, snap the ball, and draw blood.

Instead he gazed at something in the middle of the field, perhaps it was himself a long time ago, perhaps he heard Rake barking at him. Whatever Silo heard or saw stopped him on the sideline for a moment, then he climbed the steps with his hands stuck deep in the pockets of his jacket. He was breathing hard when he got to Neely. He bearhugged his quarterback and asked him where he'd been for the past fifteen years. Greetings were exchanged, insults swapped. There was so much ground to cover that neither wanted to begin.

They sat three in a row and watched another jogger limp by. Silo was subdued, and when he spoke it was almost in a whisper. "So where are you living these days?"

"The Orlando area," Neely said.

"What kind of work you in?"

"Real estate."

"You got a family?"

"No, just one divorce. You?"

"Oh, I'm sure I got lots of kids, I just don't know about 'em. Never married. You makin' money?"

"Getting by. I'm not on the Forbes list."

"I'll probably crack it next year," Silo said.

"What kind of business?" Neely asked, glancing down at Paul.

"Automotive parts," Silo said. "I stopped by Rake's this afternoon. Miss Lila and the girls are there, along with the grand-kids and neighbors. House is full of folks, all sittin' around, just waitin' for Rake to die."

"Did you see him?" Paul asked.

"No. He's somewhere in the back, with a nurse. Miss Lila said he didn't want anybody to see him in his last days. Said he's just a skeleton."

The image of Eddie Rake lying in a dark bed with a nurse nearby counting the minutes chilled the conversation for a long time. Until the day he was fired he coached in cleats and shorts and never hesitated to demonstrate the proper blocking mechanics or the finer points of a stiff arm. Rake relished physical contact with his players, but not the slap on the back for a job well done. Rake liked to hit, and no practice session was complete until he angrily threw down his clipboard and grabbed someone by the shoulder pads. The bigger the better. In blocking drills, when things were not going to suit him, he would crouch in a perfect three-point stance then fire off the ball and crash into a defensive tackle, one with forty more pounds and the full complement of pads and gear. Every Messina player had seen Rake, on a particularly bad day, throw his body at a running back and take him down with a vicious hit. He loved the violence of football and demanded it from every player.

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