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Home > Playing for Pizza(6)

Playing for Pizza(6)
Author: John Grisham

Browns. Why is she coming after me?" "Did you sleep with her?" "Of course, but it was my turn. If she's gonna have a million dollar baby, why is she accusing me?" An excellent question from the lowest-paid member of the team. Arnie had made the same point when arguing with Tiffany's lawyers. "Is it possible that you might be the daddy?" "Absolutely not. I was careful. You had to be."

"Well, she can't go public until she serves you with the papers, and if she can't find you, then she can't serve you." Rick knew all this. He'd been served before. "I'll hide in Florida for a while. They can't find me down there."

"Don't bet on it. These lawyers are pretty aggressive. They want some publicity. There are ways to track people." A pause, then the clincher. "But, pal, they can't serve you in Italy."

"I've never been to Italy."

"Then it's time to go."

"Let me sleep on it."

"Sure." Rick dozed off quickly and slept hard for ten minutes when a nightmare jolted him from his nap. Credit cards leave a trail. Gas stations, motels, truck stops--every place was connected to a vast web of electronic information that zipped around the world in a split second, and surely some geek with a high-powered computer could tap in here and there and for a nice fee pick up the trail and send in the bloodhounds with a copy of Tiffany's paternity suit. More headlines. More legal troubles.

He grabbed his unpacked bag and fled the motel. He drove another hour, very much under the influence, and found a dump with cheap rooms for cash, by the hour or by the night. He fell onto the dusty bed and was soon sound asleep, snoring loudly and dreaming of leaning towers and Roman ruins.

Chapter 4

Coach Russo read the Gazzetta di Parma while he waited patiently on a hard plastic chair inside the Parma train station. He hated to admit that he was a little nervous. He and his new quarterback had chatted once by phone, while he, the quarterback, was on a golf course somewhere in Florida, and the conversation left something to be desired. Dockery was reluctant to play for Parma, though the idea of living abroad for a few months was certainly appealing. Dockery seemed reluctant to play anywhere. The "Greatest Goat" theme had spread, and he was still the butt of many jokes. He was a football player and needed to play, yet he wasn't sure he wanted to see another football. Dockery said he didn't speak a word of Italian but had studied Spanish in the tenth grade. Great, thought Russo. No problem. Sam had never coached a pro quarterback. His last one had played sparingly at the University of Delaware. How would Dockery fit? The team was excited to have such a talent, but would they accept him? Would his attitude poison the locker room? Would he be coachable? The Eurostar from Milan coasted into the station, on time as always. Doors snapped open, passengers spilled out. It was mid March and most were clad in dark heavy coats, still bundled from the winter and waiting for warmer weather. Then there was

Dockery, fresh from south Florida with a ridiculous tan and dressed for summer drinks at the country dub>--cream-colored linen sports coat, lemon shirt with a tropical motif, white slacks that stopped at bronze sockless ankles, thin crocodile loafers more maroon than brown. He was wrestling with two perfectly matched and monstrous pieces of luggage on wheels, and his task was made almost impossible because he had slung over his back a bulky set of golf clubs.

The quarterback had arrived. Sam watched the struggle and knew instantly that Dockery had never been on a train before. He finally walked over and said, "Rick. I'm Sam Russo." A half smile as he jolted things upward and managed to slide the golf clubs up his back. "Hey, Coach," he said. "Welcome to Parma. Let me give you a hand." Sam grabbed one suitcase, and they began rolling through the station. "Thanks. It's pretty cold here."

"Colder than Florida. How was your flight?"

"Fine."

"Play a lot of golf, do you?"

"Sure. When does it get warm?"

"A month or so."

"Lot of golf courses around here?"

"No, I've never seen one." They were outside now, stopping at Sam's boxy little Honda. "This is it?" Rick asked as he glanced around and noticed all of the other very small cars. "Throw those in the backseat," Sam said. He popped the trunk and manhandled a suitcase into the tight space. There was no room for the other. It went into the rear seat, on top of the clubs. "Good thing I didn't pack more," Rick mumbled. They got in. At six feet two, Rick's knees hit the dashboard. His seat refused to slide back because of the golf clubs. "Pretty small cars over here, huh?" he observed. "You got it. Gas is a buck twenty a liter."

"How much a gallon?"

"They don't use gallons. They use liters." Sam shifted gears, and they moved away from the station. "Okay, about how much a gallon?" Rick went on. "Well, a liter is roughly a quart." Rick pondered this as he gazed blankly out his window at the buildings along Strada Garibaldi. "Okay. How many quarts in a gallon?"

"Where'd you go to college?"

"Where'dyougo?"

"Bucknell."

"Never heard of it. They play football?"

"Sure, small stuff. Nothing like the Big Ten. Four quarts in a gallon, so a gallon here is about five bucks."

"These buildings are really old," Rick said. "They don't call it the old country for nothing. What was your major in college?"

"Phys ed. Cheerleaders."

"Study much history?"

"Hated history. Why?"

"Parma goes back two thousand years and has an interesting history."

"Parma," Rick said as he exhaled and managed to slide down an inch or two, as if the very mention of the place meant defeat. He fished through a coat pocket and found his cell phone but didn't open it. "What the hell am I doing in Parma, Italy?" he asked, though it was more of a statement. Sam figured no response was best, so he decided to become a guide. "This is the downtown, the oldest section. First time in Italy?"

"Yep. What's that?"

"It's called Palazzo della Pilotta, started four hundred years ago, never finished, then bombed to hell and back by the Allies in 1944."

"We bombed Parma?"

"We bombed everything, even Rome, but we laid off the Vatican. The Italians, as you might recall, had a leader named Mussolini, who cut a deal with Hitler. Not a good move, though the Italians never warmed up to the notion of war. They're much better at food, wine, sports cars, fashion, sex."

"Maybe I'll like this place."

"You will. And they love opera. To the right there is the Teatro Regio, the famous opera house. Ever see an opera?"

"Oh yeah, sure, we were raised on the stuff in Iowa. Spent most of my childhood at the opera. Are you kidding? Why would I go to an opera?"

"There's the duomo," Sam said. "The what?"

"Duomo, cathedral. Think of dome, you know, like Super dome, Carrier Dome." Rick did not respond, but instead went silent for a moment as if the memory of domes and stadiums and their related games made him uncomfortable. They were in the center of Parma with pedestrians scurrying about and cars bumper to bumper. Sam finally continued: "Most Italian cities are sort of configured around a central square, called a piazza. This is Piazza Garibaldi, lots of shops and cafes and foot traffic. The Italians spend a lot of time sitting at the outdoor cafes sipping espresso and reading. Not a bad habit."

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