Out loud in Le Freaky Pub, Eddie Holtz said, "What the hell am I doing here?"
The girl bartender smiled and said, "Pardonez-moi?"
Eddie made a motion with his hands, like he was waving off a shot. "No problemo," he said.
This close to the end of his scouting trip, Eddie figured it was all right to start going with his own universal phrases, screw Langenscheidt's.
It was weird, though, having to come halfway across the goddamn world to see Earthwind. When they'd both still been in the NBA ten years ago, before Eddie blew out his knee, all he'd had to do to watch Earthwind play was put on SportsCenter on ESPN. If the Knicks had a game that night, the highlights were always about him, the way they were always about Jordan when he was still playing, at least before Earthwind tried to put the gross national product of Bogota up his nose. Now Eddie had to come to Monte Carlo to see if Lavernius (Earthwind) Morton, playing for Olympique Antibes in France's First Division Men's League, had enough left for the New York Knights to bring him back for one more shot.
"You still any good?" Eddie had asked over the phone when he'd called from Paris.
"Only thing sweeter than myself over here is le poo-say," Earthwind said. "Myself has done exactly what all those jive counselors told me: replace one jones with another."
"So you replaced dope with what?" Eddie said.
Earthwind whooped and said, "Some of dem mada-mo-selles, baby."
The basketball arena was part of the big soccer stadium that Eddie thought could have been called Meadowlands on the Med. The night before, he could actually hear the cheers from the soccer game as he sat on his balcony with the big boy martini he'd fixed himself from his minibar. He knew there used to be a First Division team in Monte Carlo but didn't remember if it was still there. Eddie did know that Earthwind had missed the last couple of games for Antibes, which bothered the shit out of him, considering the guy's rap sheet with the coke and crack and even heroin, which Eddie'd always thought of as the main event. So this was Eddie's last chance to get a look at him in person before he flew back to New York to give his report to Michael De la Cruz, the Knights' owner.
And if Earthwind was washed up, Eddie was going to have to tell the boss the truth: After having been to Spain and Italy and up and down France, he wasn't even coming home with a decent roll of film.
Oh, there'd been a couple of guys in Spain who might be able to give the Knights ten minutes a game. And there was a Russian kid playing for Bologna named Arvy Daskylmilosevic, who in addition to having the world's longest last name could occasionally shoot threes as if they were layups. But as little as De la Cruz knew about basketball--even though he'd managed to convince himself it was he and Dr. Naismith back at the beginning, cutting the hole in the peach basket--Eddie knew he couldn't bullshit him with those guys.
Eddie couldn't even do that with himself, not when it came to basketball.
"I'd like you to come back with somebody who can win us some games," he'd told Eddie. "But not as much as someone who could sell us some goddamn tickets."
So Earthwind Morton, who was supposed to be clean finally, was pretty much the whole ballgame. He was the one De la Cruz wanted. People love comeback stories, he'd told Eddie. The sportswriters can write the same stories they've already done about the other junkies, and the fans will eat it up.
He'd gone through the same rap on the phone the other night, getting all revved up like he could, like he was still pitching tech stocks. Eddie'd finally said, "I'm not as worried about what the fans are going to eat as I am with my man Earth."
Reprinted from Full Court Press by Mike Lupica by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001, Mike Lupica. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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