Drop Shot, Page 2Harlan Coben
"Ned Tunwell from Nike is in the conference room."
"I guess I'll see him," Myron said. "No use moping around."
Esperanza looked at him. No expression.
"Don't get so upset," he continued. "I'm okay."
"I'm putting on a brave front," she said.
When Myron opened the conference room door, Ned Tunwell charged like a happy puppy. He smiled brightly, shook hands, slapped Myron on the back. Myron half-expected him to jump in his lap and lick his face.
Ned Tunwell looked to be in his early thirties, around Myron's age. His entire persona was always upbeat, like a Hare Krishna on speed--or worse, a Family Feud contestant. He wore a blue blazer, white shirt, khaki pants, loud tie, and of course, Nike tennis shoes. The new Duane Richwood line. His hair was yellow-blond and he had one of those milk-stain mustaches.
Ned finally calmed down enough to hold up a videotape. "Wait till you see this!" he raved. "Myron, you are going to love it. It's fantastic."
"Let's take a look."
"I'm telling you, Myron, it's fantastic. Just fantastic. Incredible. It came out better than I ever thought. Blows away the stuff we did with Courier and Agassi. You're gonna love it. It's fantastic. Fantastic, I tell you."
The key word here: fantastic.
Tunwell flipped the television on and put the tape in the VCR. Myron sat down and tried to push away the image of Valerie Simpson's corpse. He needed to concentrate. This--Duane's first national television commercial--was crucial. Truth was, an athlete's image was made more by these commercials than anything else--including how well he played or how he was portrayed by the media. Athletes became defined by the commercials. Everyone knew Michael Jordan as Air Jordan. Most fans couldn't tell you Larry Johnson played for the Charlotte Hornets, but they knew all about his Grandmama character. The right campaign made you. The wrong one could destroy you.
"When is it going to air?" Myron asked.
"During the quarter finals. We're gonna blitz the networks in a very big way."
The tape finished rewinding. Duane was on the verge of becoming one of the most highly paid tennis players in the world. Not from winning matches, though that would help. But from endorsements. In most sports, the big-name athletes made more money from sponsors than from their teams. In the case of tennis, a lot more. A hell of a lot more. The top ten players made maybe fifteen percent of the money from winning matches. The bulk was from endorsements, exhibition matches, and guarantees--money paid big names to show up at a given tournament no matter how they fared.
Tennis needed new blood, and Duane Richwood was the most exhilarating transfusion to come along in years. Courier and Sampras were about as exciting as dry dog food. The Swedish players were always a snooze-a-thon. Agassi's act was growing wearisome. McEnroe and Connors were history.
So enter Duane Richwood. Colorful, funny, slightly controversial, but not yet hated. He was black and he was from the streets, but he was perceived as "safe" street, "safe" black, the kind of guy even racists could get behind to show they are not really racists.
"Just check this baby out, Myron. This spot, I'm telling you, it's...it's just..." Tunwell looked up, as though searching for the word.
"Fantastic?" Myron tried.
Ned snapped his fingers and pointed. "Just wait till you see. I get hard watching it. Shit, I get hard just thinking about it. Swear to Christ, it's that good."
He pressed the PLAY button.
Two days ago Valerie Simpson had sat in this very room, coming in on the heels of his meeting with Duane Richwood. The contrast was striking. Both were in their twenties, but while one career was just blossoming, the other had already dried up and blown away. Twenty-four years old and Valerie had long been labeled a "has-been" or "never-was." Her behavior had been cold and arrogant (ergo Esperanza's Ice Queen comment), or perhaps she'd just been distant and distracted. Hard to know for sure. And yes, Valerie had been young, but she had not exactly been--to quote a cliche--full of life. Eerie to say it now, but her eyes seemed to have more life in death--more animated while frozen and staring--than when she'd sat across from him in this very room.
Why, Myron wondered, would someone want to kill Valerie Simpson? Why had she tried so desperately to reach him? Why had she gone to the tennis center? To check out the competition? Or to find Myron?
"Watch this, Myron," Tunwell repeated yet again. "It's so fantastic, I came. Really, swear to God. Right in my pants."
"Sorry I missed that," Myron said.
Ned whooped with pleasure.
The commercial finally began. Duane appeared, wearing his sunglasses, dashing back and forth on a tennis court. Lots of quick cuts, especially to his sneakers. Lots of bright colors. Pounding beat, mixed in with the sound of tennis balls being blasted across the net. Very MTV-like. Could have been a rock video. Then Duane's voice came on: "Come to my court..."
A few more hard ground strokes, a few more quick cuts. Then everything suddenly stopped. Duane vanished. The color faded to black and white. Silence. Scene change. A stern-looking judge glared down from his bench. Duane's voice returned: "...and stay away from his court."
The rock music started up again. The color returned. The screen cut back to Duane hitting the ball, smiling through his sweat, his sunglasses reflecting the light. A Nike symbol appeared with the words COME TO DUANE'S COURT below them.
Fade to black.
Ned Tunwell groaned--actually groaned--in satisfaction.
"You want a cigarette?" Myron asked.
Tunwell's smile doubled in wattage. "What did I tell you, Myron? Huh? Fantastic or what?"
Myron nodded. It was good. Very good. Hip, well-made, responsible message but not too preachy. "I like it," he said.
"I told you. Didn't I tell you? I'm hard again. Swear to God, that's how much I like it. I might just come again. Right here, right now. As we speak."
"Good to know."
Tunwell broke into a seizurelike fit of laughter. He slapped Myron's shoulder.
Tunwell's laughter faded away like the end of a song. He wiped his eyes. "You kill me, Myron. I can't stop laughing. You really kill me."
"Yeah, I'm a scream. Did you hear about Valerie Simpson's murder?"
"Sure. It was on the radio. I used to work with her, you know." He was still smiling, his eyes wide and bright.
"She was with Nike?" Myron asked.
"Yep. And let me tell you, she cost us a bundle. I mean, Valerie seemed like a sure thing. She was only sixteen years old when we signed her and she'd already reached the finals of the French Open. Plus she was good-looking, all-American, the works. And she was already developed, if you know what I mean. She wasn't a cute little kid who might turn into a beast when she got a little older. Like Capriatti. Valerie was a babe."
"So what happened?"
Ned Tunwell shrugged. "She had a breakdown. Shit, it was in all the papers."
"What caused it?"
"Hell if I know. Lot of rumors."
He opened his mouth, then closed it. "I forget."
"Look, Myron, most people thought it was just too much, you know? All that pressure. Valerie couldn't hack it. Most of these kids can't. They get it all, you know, reach such big heights and then poof, it's gone. You can't imagine what it's like to lose everything like...uh..." Ned stammered to a stop. Then he lowered his head. "Ah, shit."
Myron remained silent.
"I can't believe I said that, Myron. To you of all people."
"No. I mean, look, I can pretend I didn't just put my foot in my mouth like that, but..."
Myron waved him off. "A knee injury isn't a mental breakdown, Ned."
"Yeah, I know but still..." He stopped again. "When the Celts drafted you, were you a Nike guy?"
"They dump you? I mean, right away?"
"I have no complaints."<
Esperanza opened the door without knocking. Nothing new there. She never knocked. Ned Tunwell's smile quickly returned. Hard to keep the man down. He stared at Esperanza. Appreciatively. Most men did.
"Can I see you for second, Myron?"
Ned waved. "Hi, Esperanza."
She turned and looked right through him. One of her many talents.
Myron excused himself and followed her out. Esperanza's desk was bare except for two photographs. One was of her dog, an adorable shaggy pooch named Chloe, winning a dog show. Esperanza was into dog shows--a sport not exactly dominated by inner-city Latinos, though she seemed to do pretty well. The desk's other picture showed Esperanza wrestling another woman. Professionally wrestling, that is. The lovely and lithe Esperanza had once wrestled professionally under the name Little Pocahontas, the Indian Princess. For three years Little Pocahontas had been a crowd favorite of the Fabulous Ladies of Wrestling organization, popularly known as FLOW (someone had once suggested calling it the Beautiful Ladies of Wrestling, but the acronym was a problem for the networks). Esperanza's Little Pocahontas was a scantily clad (basically a suede bikini) sexpot whom fans cheered and leered at as she bravely took on enormous evil, cheating nemeses every week. A morality play, some called it. A classic reenactment of Good vs. Evil. But to Myron the weekly action was more like those women-in-prison films. Esperanza played the beautiful, naive prisoner stuck in cell block C. Her opponent was Olga, the sadistic prison matron.
"It's Duane," Esperanza said.
Myron took the call at her desk. "Hey, Duane. What's up?"
His voice came fast. "Get over here, man. Like now."
"What's the matter?"
"The cops are in my face. They're asking me all kinds of shit."
"That girl who got shot today. They think I got something to do with it."
Let me speak to the police officer," Myron told Duane.
Another voice came on the line. "This is homicide detective Roland Dimonte," the voice barked with pure cop impatience. "Who the hell is this?"
"I'm Myron Bolitar. Mr. Richwood's attorney."
"Attorney, huh? I thought you were his agent."
"I'm both," Myron said.
"That a fact?"
"You got a law degree?"
"It's hanging on my wall. But I can bring it if you'd like."
Dimonte made a noise. Might have been a snicker. "Ex-jock. Ex-fed. And now you tell me you're a goddamn lawyer?"
"I'm what you might call a Renaissance man," Myron said.
"Yeah? Tell me, Bolitar, what law school would let in someone like you?"
"Harvard," Myron said.
"Whoa, aren't we a big shot."
"Well, you got half an hour to get here. Then I drag your boy to the precinct. Got me?"
"I've really enjoyed this little chat, Rolly."
"You got twenty-nine minutes. And don't call me Rolly."
"I don't want my client questioned until I'm present. Understood?"
Roland Dimonte didn't answer.
"Understood?" Myron repeated.
Pause. Then: "Must be a bad connection, Bolitar." Dimonte hung up.
Myron handed the phone back to Esperanza. "Mind getting rid of Ned for me?"
Myron took the elevator to the ground floor and sprinted toward the Kinney lot. Someone shouted, "Go, O.J.!" at him. In New York everyone's a comedian. Mario tossed Myron the keys without glancing up from his newspaper.
Myron's car was parked on the ground floor. Unlike Win, Myron was not what one would label a "car guy." A car was a mode of transportation, nothing more. Myron drove a Ford Taurus. A gray Ford Taurus. When he cruised down the street, chicks did not exactly swarm.
He'd driven about twenty blocks when he spotted a powder-blue Cadillac with a canary-yellow roof. Something about it bothered Myron. The color maybe. Powder blue with a yellow roof? In Manhattan? A retirement community in Boca Raton, okay, driven by some guy named Sid who always had his left blinker on. Myron could see that. But not in Manhattan. And more to the point, Myron remembered sprinting past the exact same car on his way to the garage.
Was he being followed?
A possibility, though not a great one. This was midtown Manhattan and Myron was heading straight down Seventh Avenue. About a million other cars were doing the same. Could be nothing. Probably was. Myron made a quick mental note and proceeded.
Duane had recently rented a place on the corner of Twelfth Street and Sixth Avenue. The John Adams Building, on the fringe of Greenwich Village. Myron illegally parked in front of a Chinese restaurant on Sixth, got passed through by the doorman, and took the elevator to Apartment 7G.
A man who had to be Detective Roland Dimonte answered the door. He was dressed in jeans, paisley green shirt, black leather vest. He also had on the ugliest pair of snakeskin boots--snow-white with flecks of purple--Myron had ever seen. His hair was greasy. Several strands were matted to his forehead like to flypaper. A toothpick--an actual toothpick--was jutting out of his mouth. His eyes were set deep in a pudgy face, like someone had stuck two brown pebbles in at the last minute.
Myron smiled. "Hi, Rolly."
"Let's get one thing straight, Bolitar. I know all about you. I know all about your glory days with the feds. I know all about how you like to play cop now. But I don't give a shit about none of that. Nor do I give a shit that your client is a public figure. I gotta job to do. You hear what I'm saying?"
Myron put his hand to his ear. "Must be a bad connection."
Roland Dimonte crossed his arms and gave Myron his most withering glare. The snakeskin boots had a high platform of some sort, pushing his height over six foot, but Myron still had a good three or four inches on him. A minute passed. Roland still glared. Then another minute. Roland gnawed on the toothpick. The glare persisted without a blink.
"On the inside," Myron said, "I'm quaking in fear."
"Go fuck yourself, Bolitar."
"Chewing the toothpick is a nice touch. A little cliche perhaps, but it works for you."
"Just keep it up, smart-ass."
"Mind if I come in," Myron said, "before I wet my pants?"
Dimonte moved out of the way. Slowly. The death glare was still locked on autopilot.
Myron found Duane sitting on the couch. He was wearing his Ray*Bans, but that was not surprising. He stroked his closely cropped beard with his left hand. Wanda, Duane's girlfriend, stood by the kitchen. She was tall, five-ten or so. Her figure was what was commonly referred to as tight or hard rather than muscular, and she was a stunner. Her eyes kept darting about like birds moving from branch to branch.
It was not a huge apartment. The decor was standard New York rental. Duane and Wanda had moved in only a few weeks ago. Month-to-month lease. No reason to fix the place up. With the money Duane was about to start making they could live anywhere they wanted to soon.
"Did you say anything to them?" Myron asked.
Duane shook his head. "Not yet."
"Want to tell me what's going on?"
Duane shook his head again. "I don't know."
There was another cop in the room. A younger guy. Much younger. He looked to be about twelve. Probably just made detective. He had his pad out, his pen at the ready.
Myron turned to Roland Dimonte. Dimonte had his hands on his hips, emanating self-importance from every pore. "What's this all about?" Myron asked.
"We just want to ask your client a few questions."
"The murder of Valerie Simpson."
Myron looked over at Duane. "I don't know nothing," Duane said.
Dimonte sat down, making a big production out of it. King Lear. "Then you won't mind answering a few questions?"
Duane said, "No." But he didn't sound very confident about it.
"Where were you when the shooting occurred?"
Duane glanced at Myron. Myron nodded. "I was on Stadium Court."
"What were you doing?"
"Who was your opponent?"
Myron nodded. "You're good, Rolly."
"Shut the fuck up, Bolitar."
Duane said, "Ivan Restovich."
"Did the match continue after the shooting?"
"Yeah. It was match point anyway."
"Did you hear the gunshot?"
"What did you do?"
"When you heard the shot?"
Duane shrugged. "Nothing. I just stood there until the umpire told us to keep playing."
"You never left the court?"
The young cop kept scribbling, never looking up.
"Then what did you do?" Dimonte asked.
"After the match."
"I did an interview."
"Who interviewed you?"
"Bud Collins and Tim Mayotte."
The young cop looked up for a moment, confused.
"Mayotte," Myron said. "M-A-Y-O-T-T-E."
He nodded and resumed his scribbling.
"What did you talk about?" Roland asked him.
"During the interview. What did they ask you about?"
Dimonte shot a challenging glare at Myron. Myron responded with his warmest nod and a pilotlike thumbs up.
"I'm not going to tell you again, Bolitar. Cut the shit."
"Just admiring your technique."
"You'll admire it from a jail cell in a minute."
Another death glare from Roland Dimonte before he turned back to Duane. "Do you know Valerie Simpson?"
Duane shook his head. "No."
"But you've met?"
"You don't know her at all?"
"You've never had any contact with her?"
Roland Dimonte crossed his legs, resting his boot on his knee. His fingers caressed--actually caressed--the white-and-purple snakeskin. Like it was a pet dog. "How about you, miss?"
Wanda seemed startled. "Pardon me?"
"Have you ever met Valerie Simpson?"
"No." Her voice was barely audible.
Dimonte turned back to Duane. "Had you ever heard of Valerie Simpson before today?"
Myron rolled his eyes. But for once he kept his mouth shut. He didn't want to push it too far. Dimonte was not as dumb as he appeared. No one was. He was trying to lull Duane before the big whammy. Myron's job was to disrupt his rhythm with a few choice interruptions. But not too many.