The characters and events depicted in this novella are entirely fictitious. Any similarity to names or incidents involving Houston Texans staff members are purely coincidental...more or less.
Chapter One – That Guy Is Poison
Anthony Hulder sat in stony silence in his office as he watched the Texans run onto the field for end of game handshakes. He let out a deep sigh as he stared at the television which cut away to a reporter chirping away during the postgame show. Or at least he assumed the reporter was chirping; he muted it the second the game ended. He didn’t need to hear what the reporter was saying, the final score told him everything he needed to know, everything he had seen for the last three exhausting hours.
“I didn’t think a team could put up 60 points these days,” Hulder muttered to himself as he leaned over his desk, his head cupped in his hands. “That one was rough,” he said to an empty office.
Hulder reached into his desk and pulled out a glass tumbler and a bottle when the intercom buzzed.
“Mr. Cardinal to see you, sir,” Hulder’s assistant said.
“Ugh, send him in.”
Buck Cardinal flung the door open and strode in.
Hulder pulled out the stopper in the bottle, “did you see the game today?”
“I did,” Cardinal said grimly.
Hulder poured a slug of whiskey into his tumbler. The amber liquid swirled around as it settled into the glass. “Drink?”
“Nope,” Cardinal said eagerly, “I never touch the stuff. Alcohol is the Devil’s water and I avoid all of Lucifer’s temptations.”
Hulder, his glass poised at his lips, slowly returned the glass to his desk, put the stopper back in the bottle, and returned the bottle and the half-filled glass to his desk drawer, “Right, I almost forgot,” he grumbled, “what’s on your mind?”
Cardinal took a step forward, “Nothing good, unfortunately. I just spoke with Mr. Glibb. He’s not very happy with the direction this team is going,” he said thoughtfully, “he’s thinking about making a change. A big one.”
Hulder sat up eyeing Cardinal, “What kind of change?”
“The kind that involves unemployment lines.”
Hulder pursed his lips and studied Cardinal’s face; his long, angular features gave the news an added sense of menace.
“He said,” Cardinal continued, “that he wants the team to make a playoff push this year and there will be consequences if the team doesn’t make the postseason.”
“Postseason?” Hulder asked, “Did he watch today’s game at all?”
“He says,” Cardinal continued as if Hulder hadn’t spoken, “They’re just not living up to their potential, that he thinks a shake-up would be just the thing to light a fire under the team.”
“They just lost by 35 points! What kind of shake-up can possibly fix that?”
“Hey, I’m just the messenger,” Cardinal said, his hands raised, “this is coming straight from Mr. Glibb.”
Hulder closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.
Cardinal turned and looked at the television, which showed the worst play of the day for the Texans.
“There is something that might save us all from the chopping block,” Cardinal said, “but it’s risky.”
Hulder eyed the whiskey drawer hungrily, then turned to Cardinal and said begrudgingly, “What did you have in mind?”
“As character coach for the Texans, I have it on good authority,” Cardinal said imperiously, “that one of the players has been causing problems in the locker room for the rest of the team, totally sapping team morale.”
“Who’s the player? I’ll have him cut the first thing tomorrow.”
“See that’s the problem,” Cardinal said, his face grimacing, “you can’t just cut him. He’s far too valuable an asset. It’s Jerome Arvis.”
“Arvis…” Hulder groaned.
“I’m afraid so. See, if you were to just cut him, it would be a disaster. But if you were to trade him, we could spin the move in a positive light.”
“No. Not a chance, he’s our best wide receiver! He’s invaluable to the team.”
“You don’t get it. He’s going to bring down the entire team with his immoral activities and his corrosive behavior. I’ve tried to help him, offered to pray with him for the good of the team, gave him some alternatives to his…lax morals,” Cardinal said in a sneer, “but nothing took with him. He’s just incorrigible.”
Hulder eyed Cardinal suspiciously, “Hang on. What kind of ‘lax morals’ are we talking here?”
Cardinal’s lips pursed, “Terrible things, things I can’t even bring myself to mention. Like, did you know he has children born to different women?”
“No,” Hulder said blandly.
“Or that he—” Cardinal looked around the room to make sure no one else heard him, “—swears in public?”
“How horrible,” Hulder replied blandly, his eyes in mid-roll.
“But worst is his attitude toward his teammates. He treats his teammates poorly by mocking them in the film room whenever they get to a play where his fellow receivers missed a catch.”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll take it under advisement. If you’ll excuse me,” Hulder said, eyeing Cardinal then the door hoping he’d take the hint.
“Suit yourself, but don’t say I didn’t try to help you when Mr. Glibb asks to see you in his office at the end of the season.”
Cardinal took three slow, deliberate steps toward the door.
“Wait,” Hulder said, almost painfully.
Cardinal turned to face Hulder, “Yes?”
“How certain are you that this Arvis thing is going to cause a serious problem?”
Cardinal chuckled, “Do you remember Salvatore Brunel with the Bills?”
Hulder’s face paled, “Yeah, everybody does after that documentary came out.”
“Terrible what he did to his wife and daughter. I was the character assessment coordinator for the Bills then. I told everyone around me that Brunel was a problem waiting to happen. Arvis has all the earmarks of another Brunel. Possibly worse,” Cardinal said, his head shaking somberly, “but there’s no reason for Arvis to give us the same problem Brunel did to Buffalo.”
Hulder whistled low, “Yikes. Okay, I’ll make some calls and see what we can get for Arvis. Give me a couple of weeks.”
“Weeks?” Cardinal asked, “The guy is poison, the sooner we get him off the roster, the better off the team will be. The better off our team culture will be.”
“These deals take time, Buck. If you had any experience in football or business negotiations, you might understand that.”
If Cardinal was insulted by that remark, he never showed it, “I trust you’ll do what’s in the best interest of the team.”
“Yeah, now please, I need to get to work,” Hulder said, finally reaching the limit of his patience.
“Of course. I look forward to seeing what kind of rabbits you pull out of your hat,” Cardinal said in an oily tone.
Cardinal spun around briskly and left Hulder’s office, a thin smile curling on his lips.
To Be Continued…