Five staples secured the torn bed sheet to the window’s panel scarcely veiling years of filth and collected grime. The day’s sunlight that escaped through its translucent material, heated a blanketed area where a plastic bowl spilled over and remnants of chewed bone fragments nestled in its creases. Wooden rafters of the attic walls were rotted by moisture and many sections were layered with thinly spun webs. This enclosure hosted a putrid stench that became a normal smell for its one living occupant.
Her low muted hum accompanied her twirls and the untangled sections of her hair caught the wind as she spun in wild, uninhibited circles. She watched as the bottom of her dress ballooned in the air and embraced tightly her most precious friend. As she cupped him with both hands and brushed his soft fur against her face, she listened for his soft purrs to sound and waited to feel his vibration against her cheek. Exhausted and dizzy, she dropped to her knees to catch her breath and breathed in and out deeply the damp and moldy air.
“That was our best dance ever, Mercury, mommy will love it!” She stretched out the edges of her old, thin blanket so it covered as much of the blemished floor as it could and laid down, gently placing Mercury next to her. She pulled out her mother’s white, leather bible that was tucked away and opened it to her favourite story about a young boy defeating a great giant. “Mommy says God has plans for us just like he did for David.” She yawned and curled up close beside her mate dreaming dreams that took her far away from her gloomy dwelling. She used the back of her index finger to follow the smooth and silky direction of his short, white hair and stroked him several times listening closely for him to talk to her but all she could hear was her own heart throbbing in her chest. She wrapped her arm around him and whispered, “You are my only friend. I love you, Mercury.” She kissed his head and snuggled closer to him then closed her eyes and grinned. Her mind was now in a subdued place, only letting fantasies and made up memories of her life enter her thoughts. She wouldn’t dare let it wander to the place where she didn’t feel safe two stories down where her mother forbade her to go on her own.
The creaking of the attic door opening startled her as she jumped up and grabbed hold of her furry companion.
“Hello there!” The voice said.
She pushed back as far as she could and clutched Mercury closely.
“My name is Detective Dean Ellis.”
She looked on with no movement.
“Do you need help?Is it okay that I help you?”
She thought he looked like the man who lived downstairs, the one her mother said was her father, but she wasn’t sure. His lips weren’t hidden under a mass of black hair, and his eyes
weren’t sunk in as far, but he was as big as him, and his teeth were as gleaming white.
As he stooped down on one knee in front of her, his hand steadying his balance, she could see a colourful beaded bracelet around his wrist.
“You like that?” He asked. He held his hand up and fiddled with one of the sparkly, pink beads. “My little girl made it for me. She’s about your age actually,” he rotated the slackly fit ornament around in circles, “she said it’s to protect me from all the bad people in the world. I wear it every day,” he smiled.
She loosened her tensed fingers from around Mercury’s body.
“Oh, and who do you have there? Does he have a name?”
She was silent.
“I bet he’s thirsty and hungry, isn’t he? Why don’t we see if we can find something for him to eat?” The detective slowly held out his hand.
Her gaze followed the glint of his bracelet which she followed to the warmth of his eyes. She cautiously handed Mercury to him, her eyes never leaving his.
“There we go,” he said, accepting her trade with a trusting smile. “Hi there little guy!”
“His name is Mercury.”
“That’s a nice name and what’s yours?” He asked shocked at her sudden exchange.
“It’s nice to meet you, Liddy.”
The detective lifted Mercury up to see his face. His eyes were still closed and his body felt lifeless.
“Okay Liddy,” his voice tentative, “let’s head downstairs so we can find some food for your friend.
Liddy leisurely shuffled herself forward with her feet, passing Detective Ellis and finding her way to the attic door. He kept a comfortable distance between them as they descended down the narrow attic stairs. The awful smell he believed to be coming from the attic now moved along with him. He dug deep into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief that he opened up wide to lay the white kitten on top of. His nostrils burned from the rancid odor and his eyes began to water.
They entered the kitchen swarmed with people. Some were in uniform and others in suits. They were fussing with everything in the house. Draws were opened and furniture was out of its place but the nub of interest never strayed far from the main floor bathroom. Liddy tried to get a glimpse of what the converged group was scrutinizing but Detective Ellis blocked her view.
“Why is everyone in there?”
Ignoring her question, Ellis led Liddy outside to the front of the house where he observed a lush garden full of red and yellow gaillardias, purple periwinkles and the most magnificent shrub roses he’d ever seen. It seemed odd the semblance of the rock border; each stone precisely placed to divide the beauty of the garden from the tall, thick weeds of the disheveled lawn. A tangled mesh of adventure, he thought, for any kid to get lost in, out of view from disapproving parents and a perfect escape from adult rule.
“Here we go,” Ellis said, bringing his attention back to Liddy. He flipped over an old crate for her to sit on then turned over a second one so he could rest Mercury on top of. He let out a brassy cough on the back of his hand before fighting back his urge to vomit. A cold sweat swept over him as saliva ran from the walls of his mouth filling it up faster than he could swallow. After a few moments past, Ellis regained control of his intolerance. He breathed deeply, filling his lungs with the fresh outside air and saluted the accompanied bright blue sky that made death illusory. “So, Liddy,” Ellis began, “has Mercury’s eyes been closed a long time?”
Liddy thought for a moment then shrugged naively.
“I think he’s tired from the dancing.” She ran her finger over his dry, flat nose to the top of his head repeatedly. “He’ll wake up soon.”
“Okay,” Ellis said, accommodating her ignorance. “We’ll let him rest right here for a short while longer.”
They both sat in silence. Liddy watching hoards of people in and out of her house and Ellis watching her watching them.
“Why were those people in the bathroom?” Liddy asked again, this time with unease in her voice. “Was it because,” Liddy paused and lowered her head, “was it because I forgot to flush the toilet? Mommy gets mad when I forget to flush the toilet.”
The corners of Ellis’ mouth turned up in amusement. “I don’t want you to worry about those people in there,” he smiled. “They’re here to make sure everything is safe. You’ve done nothing wrong, absolutely nothing, understand?”
“But I did do something wrong,” Liddy exclaimed. “I came out of the attic when I wasn’t supposed to and the man started yelling at mommy a lot. I was scared and mommy looked scared too. Am I going to see her soon?”
Ellis cleared his throat. “The man? You mean your father, right Liddy?”
“I guess,” Liddy shrugged. “When I moved to the attic mommy always called him the man downstairs so that’s what I called him.”
“Can you tell me how long you were in the attic?”
Liddy picked up Mercury off the crate and pressed him against her chest. “I don’t know but we practiced our dance lots of times. Is the man downstairs gone?”
“Excuse me, Detective, can I see you over here for a minute?” A uniformed officer called.
“Liddy, I’ll be right back,” Ellis said.
Liddy impatiently swung her feet back and forth hitting the sides of her plastic seat. Her expression was untroubled but her eagerness to see her mother grew with every passing minute. She inched her way up onto her feet to stand on the top of the crate that rocked from the uneven ground. Her balance teetered until she could steady her footing and find a comfortable spot to seek out her mark. Through the window, she could see their old oak table and the bottle of spaghetti sauce her mom turned into a beautiful vase brimming with wilted flowers and browning foliage they picked from their garden some time ago. Her eyes jumped from the window to the front door and back to the window again hoping to see her mother appear.
Liddy adjusted her stance and bent down, still holding Mercury with one hand when she glanced a red laced fringe dangling from under a heavy, dark gray covering exiting her house. She sensed a familiarity with the fabric but she was unsure and confused by her awareness. She started feeling anxious and scared, swaying back and forth fervently and shutting her eyes to the commotion around her.
“Mommy, Mommy, where are you?” Tears began streaming down her face. “They told me to come out of the attic. Please don’t be mad.”
The rising shrill of Liddy’s cries went unheard behind the noise from the crowd of strangers invading her life. She lifted Mercury up and cried into his motionless body, drenching his fur with her tears. She waited for him to respond, to give her some comfort but all she could feel was the coldness of his body limp in her hand.
Several minutes later, Detective Ellis reappeared with milk and a forced smile, “Sorry for taking so long. I brought some milk.”
Liddy continued to rock as she stared at the strange, white vehicle they placed the red fringed cloth into.
“Hey, Liddy, you okay?” Detective Ellis asked. He noticed her demeanor was changed and the spirited energy in her eyes, moments ago, was now hollow and disconnected.
She reached her hands frontward, handing Mercury to him with her eyes still stuck on the white van.
“Here. He’s dead. It’s time to put him in the garbage.”
“If I don’t see one of you girls down here in five seconds someone’s going to feel this lamp cord ‘gainst their skin!”
Janie jumped from her bed panicked and headed through their bedroom door leaving her younger sisters, Fiona and Shayna, behind.
“Hurry up you two before mama has a fit,” Janie yelled after them, “you know how she gets.”
The girls rose to their feet with less urgency then Janie puttering around with their things so time would be wasted. They knew when their mother roared it was meant for Janie, her primary shooting target and the perfect scapegoat when they needed her to be. They grew to realize their mother’s affection came in stages; infant to toddler she offered a congenial nurturing void of kisses and hugs; prepubescent ages were met with less patience and a hardened liking and adolescence, that love was almost non-existent. They all knew where they fit; Janie in the third stage, Fiona in the second while Shayna was beginning her transition from stage one to two, but more change was on the rise whether any of them were ready for it or not.
“Do we get to join the game tonight, Fia or do we have to stay in our rooms again?” Shayna asked.
“We have to stay in our rooms like we do every Saturday night,” Fiona answered, irritated by her sisters pestering.
“It’s no fair that just mama and Janie get to play and all I get to do is watch you collect the envelopes and count stupid money. It’s so boring.”
“It may be boring but that’s the way it is, besides the game is for adults.”
“But Janie’s not an adult.”
“Yes, she is. She’s eighteen and Ma says when you reach eighteen, you have to be ready to do things that adults do.”
Shayna shook her head in disagreement. “She’s not a real adult. She still eats kid’s cereal and colours in that black book.”
“She’s not colouring, Shay, she’s sketching and eating sugary cereals doesn’t mean you’re still a child, Daddy use to eat it too.”
Shayna paused. “Well, I still don’t think it’s fair. I won’t be eighteen for another nine years. I’ll never have any fun.” She pouted.
“Well, fun for us will have to wait, I guess. Anyways, there’s nothing fun about sitting around at a table for hours watching the dust settle. I don’t care if we never play.”
After several minutes, Fiona and Shayna met Janie in the dining room. She looked flustered and tired but her focus never waned.
“Fia, go grab the black tablecloth and the seat coverings for me, and make sure all eight are there and hurry up! They’ll be here in an hour and I’m not even dressed!”
Fiona jolted to the hallway closet and opened the box marked, game stuff. “…okay, one tablecloth and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven…” Fiona recounted the seat coverings but still one was missing. She shifted the box side to side and dug through the shoes scattered on the floor.
“Fia, hurry up!” Janie screamed.
“I’m coming!” Fiona threw the box in the hallway and scoured the ground again until she found the black bunched up cloth wedged in the corner. “Finally!” Fiona clutched it with the rest of the items in her hands and bolted back to Janie.
Janie unfolded the black tablecloth and spread it on the old oak table.
“Janie! Janie! Their mother’s voice called from the kitchen, “how is anything supposed to get done if you’re out there foolin’ around?”
“Shit! Fia, can you put the seat covers on for me?”
“I can help too,” Shayna added with her brightest smile.
Janie ran to the kitchen to help her mother set out the glasses and bottles of alcohol. The faint smell of the usual spice pomegranate incense newly lit, was burning and quickly filled the house with its familiar aroma that reminded Janie of the events that were about to take place. It terrified her, left her immobile at times, but she never let her mother see that side. A prayer always lingered in the back of her mind, pleading words that she could never allow herself to utter. All she could hear was her mother say, “God isn’t real. He’s just the desire of the weak, he’s like Santa Clause, but bigger and fancier and said to be here all year round. Prayers are wasted on him.” She was clear on her point of view but somewhere deep inside her Janie felt him.
“I told you a hundred times, Shay, the stitched edges have to fit onto the corners of the chair, like this.” Fiona pulled the seat coverings firmly over the chair and shimmed it into place, “Now here, you try.”
As Shayna grabbed the seat covering from Fiona, something fell from its fold. Shayna reached down and pinched the small cloth between her fingers. It looked like a wash rag but as she held it up, twirling it around to figure out its orientation, she realized immediately what it was.
“Ewe! Disgusting!” Shayna threw it back on the floor and began an infantile outburst.
“What is wrong with you? Fiona asked.
“Someone’s underwear was in the seat covering and it has red stuff on it. Is it blood?”
Shayna kicked it over to Fiona and continued to fuss.
“What is going on out here, you two? Their mother snapped.
Fiona discreetly picked up the underwear and stuffed it into her jeans pocket and pulled her shirt over top. Her eyes narrowed in on Shayna to keep quiet.
“Uh, nothing, ma.” Fiona lied as Janie stepped into her view. “Shayna was having problems with the seat covering but she figured it out.” Fiona peered at Janie with a look of concern and shot Shayna another, shut your mouth, look.
“Sometimes I think something’s wrong with your heads!” Their mother scowled. “Janie, you need to get your ass upstairs and get dressed and let Fiona wear your maroon off the shoulder dress. She’s going to be joining the game tonight.”
Janie was thrown by her mother’s request. “But, mama, Fia’s too young to play, she’s only fifteen and that dress will be too big for her.”
“Look at her,” their mother insisted, “she’s more than ready to take her place at the table plus we need the extra help and the extra money. Use some pins if you have to, just have her ready to play.”
Janie feared this day for so long but she thought she would have been gone with her sisters before its reality showed its face. She felt Fiona’s stare on her but refused to meet her gaze. Her mind was still busy manufacturing reasons to oppose her mother’s demand.
“But…Fiona’s in charge of the collection pot.” Janie stated, knowing it wouldn’t be enough.
“Shayna’s old enough to pick up the collection; she’s got more smarts than the both of yu’s put together. Now git before that doorbell starts ringing.”
Shayna bounced up the stairs ecstatic at the advancement of her participation in the game. Fiona, ahead of Janie, glanced back at her waiting for her older sister to offer assurance but Janie, unhurried and despondent, trudged up the steps looking as though the heavy burdens she carried was about to break her.
“I wish I could wear something pretty tonight.” Shayna’s mood changed as she glared at Fiona in the maroon dress. “Does it itch? It looks itchy but I would still wear it because it would show off my collarbones. Collarbones are a very desirable body part you know!”
Fiona cut her eye at her little sister. “Do I really gotta put this on, Janie?” Fiona huffed while tussling with the zipper.
Janie pulled down on the top of the dress so it rested just below her shoulders. “If mama says you have to wear it then I guess you do.”
Fiona felt uncomfortable in the dress but tried not to complain.
“So, Shayna found something of yours today.” Fiona lowered her voice.
“What are you talking about?” Janie asked.
Fiona removed the underwear from her jeans that was lying on the bed and whispered, “Your underwear was caught in one of the seat coverings. Why was it there?”
Janie looked mortified. She snatched the garment from Fiona and hastily stuffed it in her drawer. “Did mama see it?”
“No. I hid it before she could but Shay is surely going to blab her mouth once she remembers.”
“What are you two talking about over there?” Shayna inquired.
“Nothin’. I was asking Jan about the game.”
Shayna peered at them skeptically but her suspicion never roused her memory.
“Why was there blood on it?” Fiona whispered.
Janie growled. “Never mind about that, we need to finish getting you ready before mama starts calling.”
Janie relaxed her racing heart as she carefully applied mascara to Fiona’s lashes and coloured in her perfect bow-shaped lips with a mulberry shade lipstick. The long, golden brown braid in Fiona’s hair she loosened, leaving a crimp that managed to soften the hard lines around her face. Her sister’s medium toned, olive skin shimmered against the maroon polyester fabric that was clinging to her once hidden body. Janie took a step back to grant her final approval and realized that her fifteen year old, tomboy, sister was the most beautiful being she had ever seen.
“Oh, Fia, you look so pretty!” Shayna gushed.
“I’m not interested in looking pretty, Shay. I hate this!”
Fiona was close to tears but before any could fall, the doorbell rang.
“Girls, get down here, right now!” The clamoring of the chairs and clanging of the glasses pointed towards their frantically charged mother desperately pushing to make the last preparations for the night perfect.
“Listen up, Fia,” Janie placed both hands on her bare shoulders. “Tonight you are going to see things you aren’t going to understand and things might happen that may make you feel very uncomfortable, but remember, you are in charge of what happens to you; not me, not mama and certainly not those monsters…I mean…those players that will be sitting downstairs at that table! Open your mouth.” Janie demanded.
“Why?” questioned Fiona.
“Just open that big mouth of yours!”
Fiona released an annoyed sigh and stretched her jaws apart as far as she could.
“Now lift up your tongue.”
“What? No. This is stupid!” Fiona turned to walk away but Janie grabbed her arm and whipped her around and quietly urged, “Please, Fia, please.”
Fiona sensed her sister’s distressed tone was more than just playful teasing.
“I know it sounds silly but please do this one thing for me.”
“Fine, ah hh hh.”
Janie placed a cold, hard object under Fiona’s tongue. “Whatever you do, do not swallow this.”
“What is it?” asked Shayna.
“It’s nothing…it’s just a…it’s a nail, all right!”
“A nail! Ugh! Are you trying to poison me? Fiona quickly spit the nail into her hand and spewed out some dribble on a towel close by.
“I know, I know but you’ll get used to the weird metal chemical taste in no time. Promise. Just trust me.”
“Nails are sharp,” said Shayna, “what if it stabs her?”
“Well, Shay, that’s kind of the whole point,” Janie answered.
Shayna and Fiona both looked confused.
“It’s your Goliath rock.”
“But it’s a nail?” Shayna said, still puzzled, “and whose Goliath?”
Janie thought for a moment. “Mama never told me. She just gave it to me, said it can help protect me against the stronger players.” Janie peered at Fiona. “I could have used it once a while back, but I forgot it…” Janie became serious. “Anyways, Fia, tuck it into your bra for now but before the game starts put it in your mouth.”
“Ugh! It’s no fair!” Shayna sulked as she flung herself onto the mattress. “I want a Goliath rock too. I bet if you collect the most you win, right?”
Janie’s patience for explaining ran dry. “Sure, Shay, that’s how you win.” She felt guilty for not explaining in more detail but the last thing she needed was for Fiona to freak out. “Do you have any questions?”
Fiona appeared apprehensive but went along with it. “So, when am I supposed to use it?”
“You’ll know when,” Janie answered, her heart skipping at the thought.
“Fine, but if I grow an extra nipple or something in the next couple of days, I’m holding you responsible!”
“Ewe, that is totally disgusting,” laughed Shayna.
Janie tried not to join but their laughter was infectious. “Okay, all right, enough,” Janie let out a few last giggles then took a deep breathe out. “I wish we could run away from here and never come back.”
“With mommy too?” Shayna asked.
Janie turned her head from Shayna and stared into the mirror. “We better get downstairs. It’s almost time.” Janie straightened her dress and wiped the excess lipstick from the corners of her mouth. “Stay close to me tonight, Fia. No matter what, don’t leave my side.”
The stench of mixed colognes crammed every corner of the poorly kept family room. Two men were seated comfortably on a pair of old brown love seats with embossed flourishes, worn down and faded. The tops of the adjacent sofas laid raggedy, beige, crocheted blankets that styled a stringy peach fringe where some were unraveled and others were missing. The two large windows were drawn for complete privacy. Each shade was covered with multi-coloured, floral wallpaper, chosen and applied by the girl’s father in an effort to surprise them upon moving into their first home. It was a hideous design attempt they all joked about for years but the most beautiful shared memory they had of him.
“You’d think with all the money we’ve spent in this place, they would’ve used some of it to fix up this pig sty. Shit, I’ve seen cleaner carpets in a crack house,” Chad scorned.
Freddy leaned in. “Don’t you know Linda’s been using all that money to pay off dem piles of medical bills from Ben’s illness? I even heard if it’s not paid in full by the end of this month, they gonna lose this place and where would that leave us?”
“Well, if that’s true, Freddy, I got no problems helping them out. I’ll even pay double for a couple of extra plays if you know what I mean. I’m sure Ben wouldn’t object to helping keep a roof over his families head!”
Freddy looked on with disgust as Chad chortled at his own tactless joke. Their conversation continued with no one paying particular attention to one another. Their minds were too distracted by their eagerness for the evening’s fun to unfold.
One by one the players arrived. Each entered with envelopes in hand and the usual monotonous chatter that accompanied the somewhat awkward initial couple of first minutes. Joining Chad and Freddy on the sofa was the prominent doctor of the distinct community of Deanhurst, Doctor Goord Higgins, spelled with double O’s, to make you feel ‘ooh so good’ or so his motto claimed. He was the oldest of the group at fifty-five and the wealthiest. Linda always took extra special care of him and he always left her an extra special large envelope at the end of the night for doing so. It was rumored that he was the one who started the game but when asked he always denied it. He was well respected by everyone, except Chad, who had no tolerance for him.
“It’s a cold one out there tonight fellas! I hope you all have something covering those heads of yours. That’s the easiest way for the cold to git ya and before you know it, pneumonia can set in.”
“Thank you Doc, we’re good,” Freddy answered in a courteous voice.
Chad leaned back into the sofa’s sunken pillow top and mumbled something under his breath.
“What’s that Chaddy boy?” Doctor Higgins inquired.
“The name is Chad, Doc, and yeah, um, I was wondering how the wife and kids are tonight? It must be hard for them to keep warm since you’re not there and all. Maybe you should get on home and get them fires burning.”
Doctor Higgins flashed an irritated look at Chad but continued to maintain his fake smile.
“You know, Doc, I just realized that you’re the lone one of this group who is married with kids. Now, what does that say about you, old timer?” Chad linked his fingers together and rested them on his firm abdomen.
“Well, I guess it says, Chaddy boy,” Doc positioning himself directly in front of him, “that a country hick like your self can’t compete with this here old timer! You’d do best to stick with chewing on your hay straw, tending to your hog farm and keep inbreeding with your cousins. Now if you have a problem with that, we can talk about it after the festivities are over.” A shiny, black object appeared as Doctor Higgins pushed his suit jacket to the side.
“Hey, Doc, Chad was only joking. Weren’t ya Chad?” Freddy interjected.
Chad cracked his knuckles with vehemence and sat forward. “Yup, I’s joking, old timer.”
The banter of the next three men introduced an entertaining atmosphere that released an easy and fun energy into the room. Dillon Stockton, a college football coach with his two star players, Roy Pierce and Anthony Murray, both in their senior years at Deanhurst University and both promised an ongoing career in professional football. They arrived in their cleanest dress shirts and best ties full of enthusiasm and noticeable jitters. This was their first time participating but Stockton’s visits were uncountable.
“Good to see you, Doc! Hey, Freddy…Chad.” Stockton shook Doctor Higgin’s and Freddy’s hand and head nodded toward Chad. “I’d like to introduce y’all to two of DHU’s finest linebackers and running backs this town has ever seen!”
“Saw you boys in that game against Tilden last week and, I gotta say I saw some impressive moves from both of you!” Doctor Higgins praised. “How are those knees of yours, Roy? Still holding up? And Anthony, you still having issues with your Achilles?
“Achilles is good sir, thank you,” Anthony responded.
“And I’m still in rehab for my knees but it’s a lot better now, sir.” Added Roy.
“Well, if y’all need anything, you just call me, at any time.”
Roy and Anthony shook their heads in appreciation.
Freddy greeted both boys with a hearty handshake while Chad looked on with a smugness that could easily be summed up as blind jealousy. Up until now, Chad prided himself on being the only real decent looking male participant; lofty, well-defined, muscular frame with short black hair that peaked at the front with a low shaved box beard connected to thin sideburns. His eyes were brown and sultry, which women initially found irresistible but his inflated sense of himself bred a narcissistic attitude that always worked against him. He was now faced with two new superior additions, both at least ten years younger, and Chad’s level of arrogance multiplied. He wasn’t about to let any other man lay claim on what was rightfully his.
“Good evening everyone!” Linda stood at the family room entrance in a slinky, black dress with a deep plunging neckline. Every part of her despised the one-piece garment but she knew it was necessary to the game and to the allure of the men.
Roy and Anthony’s mouth dropped at her beauty. They took note of the curves of her body and the radiance of her fair white skin.
“I see new faces tonight,” Linda said, approaching the boys.
Stockton made the introductions as Linda’s trance-like stare took set on Anthony. She found it difficult to turn her gaze away from the wonderful familiarity of him. His eyes were as they should be and his broad smile that greeted her occupied the exact amount of space on his face that it should have. Linda continued to stare as the happy and sad memories in her head battled for control.
“It’s nice to meet you, ma’am,” Anthony said, extending his hand.
Linda was blank.
“Linda?” Stockton said. “Everything all right?”
“No she’s not all right with this nigger boy in her house,” Chad mumbled.
“You got something to say, Chad?” Stockton asked.
“No, Coach, sir!” Chad yelled in a soldier’s voice then saluted.
“That’s enough, Chad,” Linda said returning back to the present. “So, did your coach inform you boys of the rules?”
“Uh, no ma’am, we don’t know any rules. We don’t even know why we’re here!” Roy answered nervously.
Linda smiled. “Well now, that might be a problem. Many a man has been, “disposed” of because they didn’t know the rules and I don’t want that to happen to you two. Linda stood in front of Anthony.
Chad cleared his throat to get the room’s attention. “No disrespect or anything, but you sure it’s a good idea to have a blackie in this game? Thought there was a rule or something against it?”
“Nonsense!” barked Stockton. “You assume that because you’re an immoral, egotistical, bigot who right now has a super sized case of envy,” Stockton paused, “but I’ll leave that decision to you, Ms. Linda.”
All eyes turned to her.
She presented a smile to Anthony. “All are welcome but everyone must know the rules.”
Anthony turned to Coach Stockton with a concerned expression and whispered,
“I think I’d like to leave, coach.”
Roy agreed quietly. “Yeah, coach. We’ll find our own way home.”
“You heard the lady, boys, all are welcome!” Stockton puffed out his chest as if he’d victoriously intercepted Chad’s pass.
“Can I get anyone a drink before we start? Doc, Stockton, boys, Chad, Freddy?”
“I’ll take one but the boys gonna pass,” Stockton insisted.
Doc took a scotch and Chad a beer.
Linda turned to Freddy. “You need anything, Freddy? I got the light stuff if you want?”
“I’m good thanks, Ms. Linda,” Freddy answered, “but I did want to let you know you look as pretty as ever tonight.” Freddy’s smile was sincere and his conduct always respectful.