Checkdown - A Battle Red Blog Mystery

The following is, from start to finish, a work of complete fiction. Any resemblance to persons alive and/or dead are purely coincidental, so please don't sue me (because I own nothing of value); unless, of course, it's a reference to someone here on BRB, in which case REALLY don't sue me.

Chapter One: It's Good To Be The QB

It was a cold January night in the city of Houston. The town was electric in anticipation of hosting the Texans' first AFC Championship Game. Fans from all walks of life wore some combination of battle red, steel blue, and liberty white on their person the whole week prior to the game. The only acceptable subject of conversation was how the Texans would fare against their longtime nemesis on the gridiron on Sunday. Football fever had swept through the city and every man, woman, and child was caught up in it.

Everyone, that is, except Eliot Nash, the Texans' starting quarterback.

His teammates would spend their time working away in the weight room, studying hours of tape as if it were the Zapruder film, searching for any weaknesses they could find. Nash couldn't be bothered by such trivial things. For him, it was just another Saturday night; like countless others he'd had before. And Nash would spend this Saturday night the way he would any other.

Nash drove up in a large black SUV which reflected the lights from the club like a mirror as he pulled up to the curb. He got out of the car and held his keys out by the chain as a valet hurried over to grab it. Nash reached out and grabbed the valet and pulled him close, "Take good care of my baby now, you hear me?" He pulled out what looked like a hundred dollar bill and slapped it hard into the valet's chest. "Thank you, sir," the valet uttered, trying to draw a breath.

As Nash came around the side of his car, the line of people, stretching around the corner and into the murky night shouted, clamoring for his attention. "Hello, ladies," Nash said, checking out the women waiting in line to get into the club. He strutted over to the bouncer, a black leather clad man who looked like he could have beaten out the entire offensive line in a sumo contest, and extended his hand. The bouncer gave a quick fist bump as he unhooked the velvet rope, over the complaints of people who had been waiting hours in line to get access.

The club was called "Trample," and the name certainly lived up to what lay behind the double doors. As he entered, the first thing Nash could see was the expansive dance floor packed with a teeming mass of humanity grinding and grooving to the pulsing beats dropped by the DJ off the far left corner of the floor. Nash could feel the heat radiating from the bodies on the floor, and the swarm of people sitting and chatting amiably at the tables surrounding it. The club was lit, in an academic sense, with black lights. Its walls were black splattered with green, yellow, and orange fluorescent paint.

Nash stood in front of the dance floor, threw his arms out to either side, and yelled, "QB-One is in the house!" His proclamation was met with raucous cheers throughout the club. Even if he didn't feel the need to make his presence known, his 6'4" frame decked out in a gray pinstripe suit and a bold, blood-red shirt would have made him stand out anywhere this side of Mars. As the cheers died down, the club manager came over quickly to greet the star quarterback. After a complicated handshake, he led Nash through the club.

"Hey Nash, who's gonna win tomorrow?"

"Who do you think's gonna win? Texans, not even close," Nash said, prompting another round of cheers.

"Yo, Cue Ball," said one club-goer wearing the colors of a Tennessee jersey, "Hardison's gonna eat your lunch tomorrow!"

"He's gonna need to eat more than that to get as fat as your mama," Nash said, without breaking his stride.

The manager took Nash up a narrow stairway and into his private lounge where he could see the entire club. He looked out over the balcony, the way a ruler would survey his kingdom, before settling into a deep, heavily-padded leather chair. Nash looked around and thought, "The only thing missing is someone fanning me with a palm frond."

A couple of minutes later, a waitress in a tight-fitting dress came up and gave Nash his customary Cuba Libre and summoned the lounge bouncer over to the balcony. He whispered in the bouncer's ear, slipped him a hundred-dollar bill and pointed out at the dance floor. The bouncer vanished briefly as several very attractive women filtered into Nash's private lounge followed by a waitress carrying a very large, very expensive-looking bottle of champagne. The waitress poured the champagne into flutes and passed them to Nash's new guests.

"Make yourselves comfortable, ladies," Nash said. His eyes drifted over to a woman wearing a blue silk dress that left very little to the imagination. He caught a glimpse of her emerald eyes, barely hidden by her long blonde hair as she bent down to pick up one of the filled flutes. She was a slim woman with delicate, bordering on fragile, features which gave her an air of innocence. She looked vaguely familiar to Nash, but he couldn't place where he'd seen her before. He felt flushed as a sense of panic swept over him. Had she been one of his previous interludes and he couldn't remember her? He kept remembering in the back of his head the name...was it "Juliette" or "Joanne," or something like that, he thought. He remembered it started with a "J," but anything more than that felt like he was digging out the ocean with a fork; coming up empty.

She flashed a smile, the devastating kind of smile that could get a man into a lot of trouble if he weren't careful, as she sauntered up to Nash.

"Hello, Mr. Nash," the blonde said, her voice as smooth as a fine whiskey.

"'Mr. Nash?'" Nash said, feigning offense. "My dad's not here, is he?"

The blonde giggled softly, the giggles almost drowned out by the throbbing music coming from below. "Then what should I call you?"

Nash grinned, "Girl, looking that fine, you can call me whatever you want. Just not Mr. Nash."

The blonde sat close, very close, to Nash as the other ladies invited to the lounge started dancing by themselves in the lounge, flutes in their hands. As the evening wore on, the blonde got closer and closer to Nash until she was almost in his lap. Just as he was about to suggest that they leave, he could hear arguing coming from the bottom of the stairs.

"Excuse me one second, baby," he said, dislodging the blonde in the process. He looked over the edge and saw the VIP guard calmly telling the would-be intruder to leave. The other man, a short, portly man with a buzz cut and light brown eyes that were deeply sunken in his face, was waving his arms and shouting angrily. Nash could even see the vein bulging out of his neck.

Damn it, not him. Not now, Nash thought. While he wasn't in the mood for this particular intruder, he knew that sending him away was asking for much bigger trouble.

He sighed heavily and whistled as loudly as he could to the guard, gesturing to let the man in. The man grabbed the lapels of his shirt, pulled quickly, and stepped past the stoic, impassive guard, sneering at him as he went by. Nash could hear the heavy fump, fump, fump, as his unexpected, and uninvited, guest bounded up the stairs.

Nash turned quickly and scanned the room, looking for a way to avoid the heavy-set man coming up the stairs. The fumps grew louder and closer until he could see the top of his head poking up from the stairwell. Nash glanced over at the blonde, pulled her close, and said, "You wanna get out of here?"

The blonde bit her lip gently as she chuckled, "I thought you'd never ask." Nash grabbed the girl's arm and made a break for the stairs, hoping the pair of them could get past the stranger if they went fast enough. It was too late. The portly man wore a black buttoned-down shirt and black slacks. Nash could see a bulge on the side of his hip, tucked under the shirt and inside his pants leg, leaving little doubt in Nash's mind that he meant business. Escape would have to wait.

"Carlos," Nash said, feigning enthusiasm. "How's things? We was just about to leave."

Carlos patted the bulge on the side of his hip, "No. You weren't."

"Not since you're here, no," Nash said, thinking quickly. "Now that you are here though, it's a party!"

"You mocking me? You think you're being funny, cabrón?"

"N-not at all, man," Nash said uneasily, "I meant every word. In fact, I was just about to call down for some more girls to come up, wasn't I, um...what'd you say your name was again?"

The blonde looked coldly at Nash, "Julia."

"Right. Wasn't I, Julia?"

Carlos interrupted before she could answer, "I don't want no damn party. You and me, we got some business to settle. So no party and no floozies, get me?" He looked over at the bartender, "Oye! Gimme a double Patron silver, eh?"

The bartender nodded earnestly and poured his tequila, and Carlos plodded over to the bar to grab it from him.

Nash looked down from the balcony to the bouncer and rubbed his hand in a circular motion on the wall below. The bouncer vanished into the crowd.

"Hey, listen up," Nash shouted to the clubbers downstairs. "The first 100 people up the stairs get free drinks in the lounge! I'm buying!"

The crowd applauded wildly and within seconds a stampede of thirsty patrons bum-rushed the stairwell and leaped up the stairs.

Nash turned to Julia, grabbed her by the arm, and said into her ear, "Run!"

As Carlos turned, he saw a flood of people spill into the lounge and the light, such as it was, reflecting off the back of a bald, white head and a blonde rushing like salmon against the stream. He struggled through the dense tangle of people, trying to get to the entrance, but by then Nash and Julia were long gone. Carlos charged over to the balcony and he could see them shuffling their way through the crowd, the way Arian Foster could slip through the line of scrimmage. That was the last he saw of them.

Nash and Julia hustled outside, the biting cold causing them to shiver almost instantly. Nash looked back nervously, hoping that Carlos couldn't get through all those people. Where is that damn valet? Nash thought nervously, He should be here by now.

As if on cue, the valet pulled up in Nash's SUV, got out carefully, and slowly closed the driver's side door. He walked around to hand Nash his key, which proved unnecessary, as Nash had sprinted around the hood and snatched the keys out of the valet's hands. He pressed the fob to unlock the doors and Julia hurried in. Seconds later, Nash started up the car and peeled out on to the street.

The valet muttered under his breath, "'Take care of my baby,' he says," and shook his head.

**********

Like many NFL coaches, Tom Verdieri liked to arrive at the stadium in the wee hours of the morning. He believed that the quiet and calm inside the stadium made it a perfect place to work on new plays for his playbook, go over scouting reports, and maybe squeeze in a quick workout before the players arrived. The tranquility of Reliant Stadium, over the course of nine hours, was replaced by a madhouse of screaming fans, the faint smell of sweat mingled with gunpowder from fireworks that were set off outside, and the screech of heavy metal being blared in the locker room just outside.

Verdieri looked at the clock on his desk. It was almost time to lead the team out onto the field for warm-ups. He got up, took one last slurp of black coffee, and ambled into the locker room. Verdieri was a muscular man who wore a sweatshirt in a psychedelic mish-mash of Texans colors and a faded pair of blue jeans speckled with coffee stains. His eyes, a dull brown reminiscent of the aromatic waters of the Houston Ship Channel, were accentuated with large bags underneath them; a byproduct of the early hours he kept. He had a flat-top buzz cut, a throwback to the mullet he sported during his playing days, that had been battlefighting, and unfortunately losing, against a quickly receding hair line.

"Ready to win a championship?" Verdieri asked excitedly, putting his lucky hat on his head.

There was a cacophony of shouts to the affirmative.

"Then let's get out there and--" he looked around the room quizzically. His eyes fell onto the quarterback's locker, still untouched from the last game they played at home.

"Where is Nash?"

TO BE CONTINUED...

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