Reckless Love: Episode 11
Reckless Love: Episode 11
Instead of a cheeseburger Leo treated Charley to a one-way trip to Bancroft Sports headquarters. I grabbed burgers on the way. Marie was called and the three of them were locked in her office when I arrived.
“Thanks for letting me in,” I told Hank, the evening security guard.
“No problem Dr. Brown. I hate to do this but I’m going to need you to sit tight in the conference room.”
“I understand. It’s a good thing I brought extra burgers and fries.”
His eyes lit up. “Well, I do have to sit with you until they open up that door. We might as well enjoy ourselves.”
I was grateful for Hank’s company. My head hadn’t stopped spinning in over an hour—ever since Charley Culpepper confessed that he’d intentionally jumped off the base so the runner would be able to score.
I didn’t know details (yet) but I didn’t need them. Charley had specific instructions to influence that game. Just like we’d already seen in football. Just like I’d orchestrated so many years ago.
What. The. Fuck?
If baseball was involved what else didn’t we know about? Hockey? Rugby? Basketball? Dear god, I hoped not basketball. Those fans would lose their minds. What else did people bet on in sports? Racing? Yeah, I was pretty sure people bet on that too. I was Dr. Frankenstein and I’d lost total control of my monster.
“Did the Mantas lose tonight? Everyone looked pretty sad,” Hank said as he unwrapped his double cheeseburger topped with an onion ring, aioli, and bacon. I picked up gourmet burgers from my favorite shop in downtown because they had these garlic parmesan fries that were to die for.
“They sure did. And poor Charley in there took it pretty badly. It was his first game in the majors.”
“Oh, that happens. Sometimes those kids get called up and sent back down several times before they stick. Lots of learning. But then again, baseball is one of those sports that where sometimes the player doesn’t put all the pieces together until they’ve lived a lot of life. Not everyone can be a Seth Butler.”
Thank goodness for that. I made a mental note to send Claudia an email and see how she was doing. “You’re a fan I take it?”
“Ever since I can remember.” He slid the container of fries closer. “It was part of the reason I was happy with this assignment. I like sports as much as the next guy but baseball? Love it. Plus I get to tell my dad how I met Seth Butler and the rest of the World Series team. He’s so jealous.”
“That is pretty cool. Do you like wrestling?”
“You mean like the television kind of wrestling or the Olympic kind?”
“The television kind.”
He shrugged. “I keep up with it I guess. Not really a fan of all the acting or knowing that the end has already been written. Now in baseball anything can happen. A team can be up ten runs and still lose. You just never know how the odds will change.”
“Why is that?”
“The variables.” He balled up the silver wrapper from his demolished burger and sat back. “They play over a hundred games a season which means that different players are rotating in. Pitchers can start off hot and start missing. When you bring in a new pitcher it can change the whole feel of the field. There’s a lot of superstition in the game because we all see how a single event can change everything.”
“That’s some fascinating insight, Hank.”
His gaze drifted over my shoulder. “Looks like our time is up. Thank you for the dinner, Doc. I sure do appreciate it.”
“Thanks for keeping me company.”
The room was quickly swarmed by Leo, Marie, and Charley, who went straight for the food, devouring it in massive bites that, quite frankly, worried me.
“Please don’t choke. I promise the food isn’t going anywhere,” Marie admonished.
“I’m just so hungry,” he moaned between bites the size of small animals. “Is this the best burger ever created? I think it might be.”
“I have a feeling it tastes so good because you’re starving.”
Leo grabbed another burger and sank his teeth into it, all while giving me some sort of secretly coded, wide-eyed stare. I was pretty sure it meant oh my god you’re never going to believe this but silent stares were easy to misinterpret.
“Sorry I stole Leo from you.” Marie picked up a fry and popped it in her mouth. “I’m going to take Charley to the hotel so you two can head home.”
“It’s fine,” I waved it off. “Business is business and Charley had a big day.”
“He did,” Marie murmured almost under her breath.
Leo balled up his hamburger wrapper. “You ready, love?” There was urgency in his voice.
“Of course. Sleep well Charley. Goodbye Marie.”
Leo hurried me out to his car. We left mine in the garage. “Jesus, Esme. It’s the same.” He threw the car into gear and peeled out onto the street, headed toward the bunker. “It’s exactly the same.”
* * *
“He said a man approached him the second week of the season.”
“How? How did he approach him?” These kinds of details were important.
“After practice. In the locker room. Two other players were with him. They told Charley it was how things worked.”
“How what things worked?” Honestly it was like pulling information out of Leo with a string.
“Professional baseball.” He shook his head. “They got the youngest, most talented kid early. They essentially groomed him. They told him never to speak of it with me—that it would put me in a bind because I’d have to report it—but that everyone did this. The agents looked the other way, the coaches were in on it too, they even showed him a few games where they allege fixing took place.”
I thought back to Hank. “Isn’t it harder in baseball? All the variables and stuff?”
“It is. What Charley did might not have worked. In which case he would have done something else to help craft the score. He gets paid differently depending on how closely he delivers the intended result.”
“And how did tonight work?” My head began to spin as fast as my stomach. It was a terrible combination and I was glad I mostly ate fries at the office.
“I’m going to tell you Charley’s version and then I’m going to tell you a suspicion I have, okay?”
“Okay . . . ” I really didn’t like where this was going.
“Charley knew when he was called up that he’d receive a packet. That’s why he was instantly nervous when he got the news. Poor kid hated every second of this. He’s a straight arrow and all this lying and manipulating was tearing him apart. Anyway, the packet arrived as expected. The same man, by the way. Inside was a script, the goal, and a compensation package.”
Leo paused to take a deep breath, his hands clenched in fists. So far all of this sounded extremely familiar. I approached players I knew I could manipulate and buy off. I delivered scripts tailored to my intended result. The only difference was that I paid out a flat fee upon delivery.
“He was to let the game proceed as normal until the seventh inning. If the score was within five he was instructed to wait for the grand slam home run, then miss a throw at first allowing the runner to get on base. The game needed to end with Atlanta winning by two or more runs.”
“Like betting on a point spread in football.”
Leo nodded. “In baseball it’s the runline.”
“How far does this go?”
He went over to the whiteboard and pulled out a dry erase marker. On one of the last clean sections he began listing names of baseball players. “They knew Kiki Montoya would hit a grand slam if the game was within five runs. He’s good but he’s not that good. Alonso Barnes was on the mound. I’m willing to bet he’s also on the payroll.”
Far. It went very, very far. Multiple players on every team, plus players down in double and triple A. “This is massive, Leo.”
“You still haven’t heard my theory.”
My heart sank. Whatever it was I knew I wasn’t going to like it. “What’s your theory?”
“That Brian was removed.”
Brian? “The first baseman Charley replaced?”
Leo nodded. “Maybe they couldn’t buy him off. Maybe they injured him to get him out of the way so Charley could replace him. And if that’s the case . . . there’s management involved.”
I swallowed hard. “We need to track the money. See if we can track who’s making money off these bets.”
“Come here first.” Leo sat in my lone chair and beckoned me into his arms.
I sank into him, took all the warmth and security he had to offer in his strong, firm body. I also took all the loving strokes of my hair and tender kisses. If I could have burrowed inside him I would have.
“This isn’t your fault,” he murmured against my hair.
“It doesn’t feel that way right now.” I tried for so long to make penance for my actions. Every football player I manipulated? I made sure they had good jobs. I did a little light stalking and made sure they were happy. If they weren’t, I did what I could until they were. I even arranged a meet-cute that I’m happy to say resulted in a very happy marriage.
As for all the employees of the Nashville franchise? They all got jobs too. And mysterious bonuses. I couldn’t change the fact that I made their jobs disappear, but most of them simply moved on to another football franchise. The ones who were locals and didn’t want to move were the ones I had to help the most, and even that wasn’t too hard in the end. Every penny I earned from fixing games went into fixing their lives.
I knew there were unintended ripple effects I would never be able to quantify and at the moment I was staring into the eyes of the biggest one yet.
And yes, I’m aware that analogy technically didn’t make sense. Who can make sense at a time like this?
“Whatever is happening now is someone else’s fault,” Leo said. “The people they’re hurting? That guilt is on them. I refuse to allow you to put this on your shoulders.”
I waved at the board in front of us. “No,” I kind of yelled, “I’m not doing this, but I sure as hell set it in motion. Look at all these connections, Leo! Look at them!”
Yeah, I was definitely bordering on hysterical and well into dramatic.
Leo scooped me out of his lap and placed me on my feet, then he stood in front of me, taking my face in his hands. “What will absolve you of any of this? Huh? Is there anything? What is figuring this out going to accomplish? I know you don’t want to hear this but it might be time to walk away.”
I clutched his arms. “This is so much bigger than I ever thought. You’re right.” I hoped he could see in my eyes how much I understood. “And when I started, it was because I thought it was my father. And yes, I wanted to make sure I was on top of the investigation in case I needed to do something, but I can’t stop now. Whatever this is, it’s big and huge and unchecked and someone is getting away with it.”