COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
By lunchtime I began to feel less like the walking wounded, and I decided to go up to the gym—the "fitness center," excuse me—to get in a quick workout. The fitness center was on the roof of E Wing, in a sort of bubble, with tennis courts, all sorts of cardio equipment, treadmills and StairMasters and elliptical trainers all outfitted with individual TV/video screens. The locker room had a steam room and sauna and was as spacious as any high-end sports club I'd ever seen.
I'd changed and was about to hit the machines and the weights when Chad Pierson sauntered into the locker room.
"There he is," Chad said. "How's it going, big guy?" He opened a locker near mine. "You here for B-ball?"
"Actually, I was going to—"
"There's probably a game on, you wanna play?"
I hesitated a second. "Sure."
There was no one else on the basketball court, so we waited around for a couple of minutes, dribbling and taking shots. Finally, Chad said, "How about a little one-on-one?"
"To eleven. Winners out?"
"Listen, how 'bout we put a little wager on the game, huh? I'm not really a competitive guy—maybe that'll juice it up a little."
Yeah, right, I thought. You're not competitive. "Like a six-pack or something?"
"Come on, man. A C-note. Hundred bucks."
A C-note? What, were we in Vegas with the Rat Pack? Reluctantly, I said, "Okay, sure, whatever."
A mistake. Chad was good, played aggressively, and I was hungover. He went to the top of the three-point line, shot, and sank it. Then, looking pleased with himself, he made a pistol with his finger and thumb, blew the smoke off the barrel, and said, "Smokin'!"
Backing me in, he hit a few fadeaway jumpers and immediately took the lead. From time to time he'd do this little Alonzo Mourning move where he waggled both hands back and forth like a sharpshooter slinging his guns around at a shootout. It was supremely annoying. "Looks like you didn't bring your A game, huh?" he said. His expression seemed benevolent, even concerned, but his eyes gleamed with condescension.
"Guess not," I said. I was trying to be a nice guy, enjoy the game, not go after him like a dick, but he was beginning to piss me off. When I drove, I wasn't in sync, didn't have a feel yet. I missed a few shots, and he blocked a couple. But then I scored a few points off him, and before long it was six to three. I began to notice he kept driving right.
He pumped his fist, did his stupid finger-pistol thing. He drove right, hit another jumper. "Money!" he crowed.
It was at that point that I sort of hit a mental toggle switch and let the competitive juices flow. Chad kept driving to the right and shooting right, I noticed. It was obvious he couldn't go left, didn't have a decent left hand. So I started taking away his right, forcing him left, then I hit a layup.
I'd guessed right. He had no left hand. He missed shots going left, and a couple of times I easily picked off the ball as his dribble crossed over. I got in front of him, then suddenly jumped back and to the right, forcing him to switch directions quickly. Mostly, as I got into the rhythm of the game, I'd been driving, so Chad must have figured I didn't have a jump shot. He looked stunned when my jump shot started dropping.
"You've been holding out on me," he said through gritted teeth. "You do have a jump shot—but I'm going to shut it down."
I started playing with his mind a little. I faked going for a jump shot, forcing him up in the air, then blew right by him. This worked so well that I tried it again; Chad was so unnerved that it worked even better the second time. Pretty soon the score was even.
I was getting under his skin. I'd do a little stutter step, just a little movement, fake to the left, and he'd jump left, giving me space to drive right. With each score you could see he was getting more and more rattled.
I drove in and shot a layup, then hit my fadeaway. I was ahead now, and Chad was getting red-faced, short of breath. No more cocky repartee.
I was ahead, ten to nine, when I drove hard and then suddenly stopped short. Chad reeled back and fell on his ass. I took my time, got my feet set, and put up my shot—all net. I made a little pistol with my thumb and forefinger, blew off the smoke, and, with a nice big smile, said, "Smokin'."
Half backing up, half collapsing against the padded gym wall, Chad gasped, "Well, you surprised me, big guy. You've got more game than I thought." He took a deep gulp of air. "This was good. Lot of fun. But I'm going to kick your ass next time, buddy—I know your game now." He grinned, like he was only kidding, reached out and put a clammy, sweaty hand on my shoulder. "I owe you a Benjamin."
"Forget about it. I don't like playing for money anyway."
"No, really. I insist. Buy yourself a new tie or something."
"No way, Chad. Won't take it."
"I owe you—"
"You don't owe me anything, man." I thought for a moment. There's nothing people love to part with more than advice. "Except maybe a Nora tip or two."
His eyes lit up; I was playing on his field now. "Aw, she does that to all the newbies. It's her own form of hazing, doesn't mean anything more than that. It's nothing personal, believe me—I got the same treatment when I started here."