Checkdown - A Battle Red Blog Mystery (Chapter Two)

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 Two: A Blogger Named Scott Brooks

The locker room fell silent, the absurdly loud screech of Slippy McNulty blasting on the radio notwithstanding. Players looked at one another as they murmured that none of them had seen their starting quarterback.

Coach Verdieri grunted and stomped back into his office and slammed the door behind him. The players could see him lift the phone to his ear and mash buttons on an unseen phone. The murmur grew into a quiet collective grumble as they waited for word on Nash's whereabouts.

"I hope it's nothing serious," said a wide receiver to nobody in particular.

One of the other linemen grunted bitterly, "'Serious?' He's probably got a case of beer flu and he's so plastered he couldn't find his way out of his own house."

"I don't buy it. He wouldn't. Not today, he wouldn't do that. Would he?"

"How many games did he almost miss this season," the lineman asked, "four, five games?" He threaded his arms through his shoulder pads. "I'm just surprised it took him this long to miss a start."

The wide receiver shrugged and turned to his locker, "What a douchebag. Can't believe he'd screw us over like this; especially today of all days."

The lineman got up and grabbed his jersey off of one of the hooks in his locker. "I wouldn't worry much if I were you, rook. This little stunt of his will probably get him cut during the offseason and we ain't gotta put up with his horsecrap after that."

Verdieri slammed his fist down on his desk and shouted, "Then don't come back until you find him!" He took several deep breaths, gently hit the "off" button, and threw the receiver across the room.

Everyone in the locker room froze in place. Their eyes locked onto the head coach. Verdieri turned and looked through the window into the locker room. His players, now keenly aware that he could see them gawking, jerked suddenly in a swift, sudden flurry of activity hoping to avoiding the wrath of their coach.

Verdieri walked stiffly out of his office, his body quivering with fury. The muscles in his face were clenched tightly as his teeth ground away at some sunflower seeds he had popped into his mouth in a futile effort to calm himself. He stood silently in the middle of the locker room; his players, all big, burly men who were intimidating in their own right, consciously avoided catching his gaze. They couldn't remember the last time, or any time for that matter, they had seen Verdieri come unglued like this.

"Turn it off," he said calmly to one of the coaches, who promptly turned off the radio.

Only the crowd noise filtered into the locker room.

"So," Verdieri said, spitting husks of sunflower seed onto the floor. "It looks like we'll be doing this without Nash today, gentlemen."

Silence. Nobody dared make a sound.

"But that's okay, that's okay. Because..." his voice trailed off. He balled up his fist, swung it in the air, and dropped it to his side where he released it again. "Because there's more to this team than Eliot Nash."

The players nodded in agreement, the linemen in particular.

"We are one win away from going to the damn Super Bowl and nobody, not the Nashville Satyrs, not the referees, not even Eliot-friggin'-Nash is going to keep us from going out there and coming away with the win!"

A handful of players stood up, shouting in support.

"We're going to win this game! If we don't have Nash, then it's..."

The players answered in unison, "Next man up!"

"Right!" Verdieri turned to one of the players. "Yount, you up for the challenge?"

Ashton Yount, the third string quarterback, looked dumbfounded at his coach while rotating his left shoulder carefully.

"Yount!"

Yount shook his head quickly, returning to reality. "Sir!"

"You ready to lead this team, Yount?"

Yount scanned the room. His teammates, people he had only known for a scant nine months, waited for him to say something, anything. He opened his mouth but no sound came out. The words he wanted to say were trapped somewhere near his duodenum.

Julius Helforth ambled up next to him. He was old for a football player, let alone for a quarterback; many of the younger guys on the team joked that he threw fade routes to Julius Caesar during the Gallic Wars, though none of them could prove it conclusively. He had a kindly expression to his face and his arm was in a dark blue sling. With his free hand he slapped Yount's shoulder pads reassuringly, almost shattering the young quarterback where he stood.

"You've got this, kid. The whole team's behind you."

Yount took a deep breath and exhaled sharply. "I'm ready, Coach."

The team swarmed around their new starting quarterback and slapped Yount on his crown of his helmet. He wondered if this was how a concussion felt.

"Good. Now let's get out there and kick some Satyr ass!"

The team nearly ran Yount over as they stampeded out of the locker room on their way toward the gridiron. Yount and Helforth were the last players remaining in the locker room. Yount saw the locker room swirling around him. He tore off his helmet, hunched over the oversized garbage can, and jettisoned his breakfast and, Yount suspected, his spleen.

"Nervous?" Helforth asked bemusedly.

Yount nodded weakly, feeling about 15 pounds lighter.

"It'll pass. Probably caught wind of D'Onofrio's socks. Let's go, we got a conference to win."

**********

Claire stood at the base of the stairs. "You kids have five minutes to be ready or I'm leaving you here," she shouted. She could never be sure if the herd of buffalo upstairs ever heard her amid the tromp, tromp, tromping sounds, the excessive gigggling, and occasional crying fit that traveled throughout the house.

"Matt, Charlie, Rachel, I'm not kidding," she shouted again.

A small head poked out from behind the wall, "My name's not Rachel," the girl shrieked, "It's 'Zima.'"

Claire rolled her eyes, "Zima, get dressed and then get your brothers. Now."

The head vanished behind the wall. Claire rubbed at her temples, making a mental note to warn her husband about leaving his empties in view of the children...again.

"Mom," a high-pitched voice squeaked.

"Yes, Matt?"

His head darted out. She could see he was nowhere near ready to leave, he looked like a grenade went off on top of his head.

"Do I have to wear pants?"

"Yes," she groaned, wondering why she wanted children again.

Matt groaned and disappeared from view.

"Two minutes," Claire shouted, "if you're not down here by then, you don't get to have any candy at the movie!"

"Hey, honey?" Scott asked.

Claire turned to face her husband, and instantly regretted it. Scott wore a frayed "Battle Red" Brian Cushing jersey over a plain white T-shirt. His face was meticulously painted in Texans colors from the top of his forehead to the base of his neck. He looked like an unholy acid-induced combination of Toro and Gene Simmons. Claire put a palm to her face, paying special attention to cover her eyes.

"What...is...that?"

"It's my game face. Why?"

Claire sighed. "Nothing," she said, wondering if the movie theater served alcohol. "Don't let the kids see you in that. Last time, Charlie couldn't sleep for three days afterward."

"Oh. Right," he said, remembering Charlie's constant kicking in the middle of the night.

Claire looked back upstairs, "Charlie, Matt, Rach--I mean Zima, 30 seconds!"

Scott tilted his head, "Zima?"

"I'll explain later. Now, go, don't let the kids see you."

Scott kissed his wife quickly and walked briskly into the den. Claire wiped her husband's paint off her lips just in the nick of time. With seconds to spare, the herd of buffalo had migrated downstairs and stood in a line in front of her. Matt's head still looked like a tornado victim, Charlie's shirt was inside out, and 'Zima' had discovered her mother's makeup, but, unfortunately, not her mother's ability to apply it.

"Close enough. Say goodbye to Dad."

"Goodbye, Daddy," the kids shouted in unison.

Scott couldn't hear them leave. Between blasting "Bulls On Parade" and the stereophonic sound of his 65" television, a 747 landing could have landed in his backyard and he wouldn't hear it. Scott stood in the center of the den, five feet away from Jim Nantz' and Phil Simms' overgrown smiling faces, and spread his arms out wide. He brought them together with a clap drowned out by the music and the talking heads. He raised one leg high into the air and crashed it down on the thick carpet. In his mind, he saw in himself the mighty sumo stomping on the ground to drive evil spirits from his den and, by some miracle, from his team. Since Scott was 5'10" and roughly 1/3 the size of the average sumo, he looked ridiculous, but he didn't care, it was his ritual.

He turned off "Bulls on Parade," sat down on the couch, and opened his laptop. He grabbed a beer from the fridge next to his couch and popped it open as he signed in to Battle Red Blog.

Scott had expected the open thread to have several hundred comments on it, but it was surprisingly empty. Instead, most of the comments were in the story below, whose headline read:

Nash A No-Show. Yount Slated To Start For AFCCG.

The comment section was what Scott would have expected from such Earth-shattering news: the fanbase in a state of utter panic.

That's it. We're done. Good luck guys, we'll see you next year.

The pessimists would then be countered by the Pollyannas of the group:

This is the same system that Yount played at Rainier State. I want to see what our "quarterback of the future" can do.

In between the warring factions, posters would spout their theories about what happened to Eliot Nash. These theories ranged from the sinister:

Nash was kidnapped by the Satyrs because they know he'll pick them apart!

To the benign:

I think Verdieri got sick of Nash's shit and benched him, so he didn't even bother to show up.

To the absurd:

Elvis and his merry band of aliens brainwashed him and now he's operating a donut shop in Coeur d'Alene.

That was one of the things Scott loved about being a moderator on BRB. He could always count on the readers to be thoroughly entertaining.

The game kicked off and the Texans' offense took the field. Scott held his breath before Yount's first ever snap as a professional quarterback. Yount grabbed the ball and dropped back five steps. Yount could hear the raw, visceral scream of a defensive end hellbent on making him part of the field and launched the ball. It landed right in the arms of a Satyrs corner, who took it in for a touchdown. This same corner, a hideous midget of a man with day-glo orange hair, then did a cartwheel in the end zone before following it up with an Irish jig.

One of the moderators posted:

I've never wanted to place land mines in an end zone so badly in my life.

Other than the pick-six he threw to start the game, Yount performed admirably throughout. There were occasional moments where he looked like his arm was literally dead. But with a stat line of 19/26 for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns, Scott, among other Texans fans, chalked it up to rookie growing pains.

The game was a close one, far closer than anyone had anticipated with a rookie quarterback under center. With a mere :11 left on the game clock, Yount marched the Texans 70 yards up the field and closed out the game with a magnificent touchdown to a wily veteran receiver, placing the ball right between the 8 and 0 on his jersey.

Scott leaped off of his couch, knocking over his TV tray, his Coors Light (because by this time he had run out of actual beer), and his laptop, and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Super Bowl!"

There's something about a catharsis which makes the world around a person look and feel better. Colors are brighter, the air smells sweeter, beer tastes 100 times better (again, unless it's Coors Light), and the world is simply a better place. For Scott Brooks, he found himself immersed in that better world the following morning as he walked in to work.

His colleagues were smiling and pleasant, far more than should be expected of any Monday morning, and the crowded elevator he rode to his office felt less like a sardine tin. Professional-looking men and women even looked more relaxed around each other now that their beloved Texans were in the biggest game of the year.

Scott walked into what he laughably called his office, which was little more than an airless broom closet with a breathtaking view of beige cubicle walls. He sat down in his chair and turned on his long-obsolete computer. He knew his plate would be full that day, especially because one of the contracts he was scheduled to review would have to be done before the day's end. So he went online to check his mail, look at funny pictures of cats, and look for any early breakdown of the Super Bowl he could find.

The day ground past and the excited chatter Scott heard earlier in the day was gradually replaced by an echoing silence. At least until around 11 a.m. when people in the hall resumed chattering. It was a different kind of chatter this time around. It wasn't as excited and optimistic as this morning, it was more subdued; more shocked and saddening.

Scott felt his eyelids become more leaden as he kept trying to read the same sentence of the contract. He thought this would make a good time to take a break and check his mail. He opened up his BRB email account first. "47 messages," he exclaimed. It wasn't uncommon for so many emails to be in his box, but never this early. He opened the first message which was dated 10 minutes ago:

This is a joke, right?! There's no way this is real.

There was a link underneath to a story from the Houston "Comicle." Scott had always been leery of reading stories from the local newspaper. Jack McClanahan was about as reliable a reporter as leeches were as a cure for cancer. He reluctantly clicked the link which opened a new page on his computer.

The headline was unmistakable:

Texans Star Quarterback Eliot Nash Found Dead

TO BE CONTINUED...

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