It’s the offseason, y’all, and one’s mind turns lightly to thoughts of
spring finding whatever content we can write about that’s vaguely football-flavored.
So from now until I either run out of ideas or I finish, whichever comes first, I will be resuming the heartwarming novella that literally handfuls of people have
forgotten even existed been clamoring for.
But since it’s been a while, here is a recap of the first four chapters to set up the new chapter coming up next week.
Enjoy. Or don’t. But I’d prefer if you did.
This is a serialized novella about an unlikely hero and a very likely villain.
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.
Chapter Two — They Did WHAT?!
“Or what about if we put him in a spacesuit? That way we get to see his face while he says the prices at Clippit’s Market are ‘out of this world?’”
The art director looked around the room looking for support for her idea but all she saw were blank faces.
“That’s one direction we could go in,” said the creative director tactfully.
Andy Petrovic, his eyes glued to his computer, deleted the “out of this world line” while listening to the creative director’s remarks.
“I didn’t see anyone else coming up with anything,” the art director replied huffily, “at least I put something out there.”
This triggered another round of arguments and recriminations about who’s pulling their weight within the team. Andy kept watching his computer, waiting for the group to finally decide on a direction they could all agree on. The arguing had long been a fixture of his tenure at Angstrom and Havilland Advertising.
Andy typed into the word document, “I hate this job so much,” then deleted it immediately hoping nobody saw him.
They didn’t, they were too engrossed in their argument to notice him.
Andy’s mind wandered as they quarreled.
“I have an English degree from Texas and a master’s degree in literature from Texas Tech. How did I end up here listening to a bunch of egomaniacs who can’t all pull in the same direction?”
“Andy? You there,” asked the creative director.
Andy shook out of his reverie, “Yeah, I’m here.”
“Good, maybe you can join us if you’re not too busy.”
Andy worked to swallow the words he wanted to spit at the creative director. They lodged in his throat as he croaked out, “I’m all ears.”
“Here’s what we should do. It’s early morning and Jerome Arvis comes down the stairs and into the kitchen wearing a robe, fluffy bunny slippers, and holding his teddy bear Bobo. He wipes the sleep out of his eyes and sees that he’s not in his kitchen, he’s standing in the middle of a field of lettuce—”
“Why lettuce,” asked the art director, “Lettuce is boring, what about an orange grove instead?”
“What about a henhouse,” Andy asked, “and Arvis is able to choose eggs for his breakfast right out of the hens’ nests?”
“And how do you propose we pay for that,” the media buyer asked nastily, “it’s a lot cheaper to shoot him out in a field.”
“But the eggs are easier to connect with the scene you’re setting. He’s coming down for breakfast, not rabbit food,” Andy replied.
“No, he’s right,” the creative director said, “it’d be too expensive to build a set that looked like a henhouse for one shot, and we can’t use a real one because we’ll get letters about using live animals. We set it in a field, Arvis takes in a deep breath and says—”
At that moment, an intern scurried in and turned on the television.
“Did you forget to DVR your soaps again, Jake,” the creative director said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Y’all are gonna want to see this,” he blurted out.
Jake turned the TV to a cable sports channel where the first thing everyone saw was the “BREAKING NEWS” banner emblazoned in bright red.
The entire room stared at the TV, waiting to understand why this was so urgent.
“Sports? Why are we watching sports right now?”
Jake pointed at the TV and said “Listen!”
The room grew silent.
The anchor, a middle aged man in the early stages of male pattern baldness and desperately trying to fight it, spoke in tones reminiscent of someone giving a eulogy.
“We’ve got breaking news right now coming out of Houston. As we mentioned earlier, the Houston Texans have announced they are trading long time wide receiver Jerome Arvis to the Lions—”
Nobody spoke. Nobody dared to speak. It was too hard to think, let alone speak.
The media buyer was the first to find his voice, “They did WHAT?!”
All eyes turned to the buyer, their brains all caught in varying stages of confusion.
Andy, for the first time that day, took his eyes off the computer and looked in frozen horror at the TV along with the rest of the creative team, waiting in dread to learn the full details.
“Again, the Texans have traded Jerome Arvis to Detroit for Lionel Harris, a second round pick, and a conditional fifth rounder next year.”
Andy, grabbed the remote from the intern and changed the channel, “This has to be a joke, right? It has to be.”
He landed on a sports talk show where the host who had never so much as held a football, let alone played it professionally, said “Do you know what the Texans are doing with this move? Because I sure don’t, Willie.”
Willie, for once, couldn’t argue with the insufferable other host, “I...I’ve got nothing for you man. This is ridiculous. Lionel Harris? He hasn’t been good in three years, and ain’t finished a full season in five years now.”
“This is just baffling, and you have to be asking yourself this question if you’re a Houston Texans fan: what on Earth is Cletus Glibb thinking with this move?”
The creative director grabbed the remote from Andy’s hand and turned the TV off.
“I guess that’s one less thing for us to worry about,” said the creative director, trying to find some good news in any of this, “Let’s take a break for lunch while I get in touch with our account manager for Clippit’s and find out how they want to handle this from here.”
With that, the team got up and left the conference room they’d been perched in for the last four hours. After a bit of chitchat, the room emptied leaving only Andy sitting and looking at the blank television.
His mind whirled with what Arvis’ trade meant not just to his employers but his favorite team. He closed the screen on his laptop, revealing a Houston Texans laptop protector.
“Why? Why would they get rid of the second best player on the team for a known has-been and scrap draft picks? They couldn’t even get a first rounder or two for him? Did something happen between him and another teammate? Or between him and, I don’t know, the equipment manager?”
Every question he asked was met with a brick wall his brain could not overcome. None of it made any sense. Andy remained motionless, blinking helplessly.
“Why?” Andy asked, meekly.
Chapter Three — I Can’t Lose
Buck Cardinal slithered briskly down the hall where he was met with a petite woman in professional dress sitting behind a massive round oak desk. He glanced down at her briefly, “Is he busy, Ms. Johnston?”
“Office of Cletus Glibb, please hold,” Ms. Johnston said before pressing a pair of buttons and repeating herself to another line. The phone was lit up like a Christmas tree, making urgent “I will not hold a minute longer” beeps. Ms. Johnston looked at her totally blank schedule and replied “as busy as he ever is,” without ever looking up at him.
“Thanks. I’ll let myself in,” Cardinal said. Before she could object, several more calls came in. Cardinal sped past her and pushed open the ornate wooden double doors that led into Glibb’s office.
The back wall of Cletus Glibb’s office was floor-to-ceiling glass offering a spectacular view of the gridiron from the 50 yard line. The side walls were littered with Texans memorabilia from over the last 20 years: framed, signed jerseys, fathead wall stickers, footballs from important moments in Houston Texans history, all three of them. In front of Glibb’s desk were a pair of plush faux-leather chairs decked out in team colors. Behind the desk was a stern, almost intimidating, leather executive chair. The only thing missing behind the desk was Cletus Glibb himself.
Cardinal scanned the room and found Glibb, lying on the floor with a Switch controller in his hand, a large glass of chocolate milk (his favorite) at his side, and his favorite food, Totino’s pizza rolls, in front of him on a silver tray. Glibb’s eyes were transfixed to the TV where he, or rather his character, was hurriedly running around on the screen.
“Mr. Glibb, sir,” Cardinal said gently. Glibb reached for his chocolate milk and took a swig, leaving a milk mustache on his actual mustache.
“I’m busy,” Glibb said petulantly, continuing to maneuver his character on TV.
Cardinal fell silent.
“I love this game. You know what the best part about it is?” Glibb asked as he began to harvest parsnips from his in-game farm.
Cardinal sighed inaudibly, “What’s that, sir?”
“No matter what I do in game, no matter how badly I screw up, it is impossible for me to lose. I can only win. Have you tried Stardew Valley, yet, Bucky?”
Cardinal grit his teeth, “No, I haven’t had a chance. Between molding the team into the team culture we want to project, advising Mr. Hulder in the front office, and my ministry/jam and jelly distributorship, I don’t have time for video games.”
“Darn shame,” Glibb said, “you’d really enjoy it.”
“I’m sure I would, sir. But I do need your attention on a situation that’s come up.”
Glibb looked painfully at the screen, “Can it wait? I’m just about to harvest my cauliflowers and those are my real moneymakers.”
“I’m afraid it can’t, sir,” Cardinal said grimly.
Glibb sighed, paused the game, picked up his pizza rolls and chocolate milk and got behind his desk. His suit and tie were wrinkled beyond wrinkled, the chocolate milk mustache remained, coating the whiskers on his ruddy face. “Okay, what is it?”
“I don’t know if you’re aware of this, Mr. Glibb, but your general manager just traded Jerome Arvis to the Lions.”
Glibb looked puzzled at this news, “That’s bad, right?”
Cardinal nodded solemnly, “It is. He was very popular with the fans and especially in the locker room. As the team’s character coach, I can tell you with absolute certainty that this move will not go over well with anybody. We have to get ahead of this right away.”
“But...but why would he trade this Arvis guy if he was such a great player,” Glibb asked before popping another pizza roll into his mouth.
“I couldn’t tell you for sure sir, but I have heard rumor that Mr. Hulder had taken a personal dislike to Arvis, if you get my meaning,” Cardinal said, walking closer to Glibb’s desk.
Glibb looked confused, like a dog trying to eat a caramel, “Um, not...really.”
Cardinal suppressed a sigh, “He seemed to be under the impression that Arvis was a bad influence, that he didn’t want Arvis’ ‘baby mamas’ coming around to see him all the time. And that’s not including the things he said that I don’t even feel comfortable repeating.”
“That’s terrible! I’m going to have him fired,” Glibb said reaching for his desk phone.
Cardinal raised a finger, “I would advise against that, sir. At least not right now.”
“I can’t have someone here who views his players that way. It’d be bad for morale. Wouldn’t it,” Glibb asked hesitantly.
“You’re absolutely right sir. And he can’t be allowed to stay as general manager after something like this, especially for how little the team got back in return.”
“Then I’m firing him.”
“I wouldn’t,” Cardinal said.
“Well why not,” Glibb asked, getting annoyed.
“Because if you fire him now, immediately after making such a controversial trade, it’s going to look weak. To the other teams, to the media, to the fans. Everybody is going to think the Houston Texans are a team in complete disarray. That’s going to lead other teams to circle over us like the vultures they are. Morale will completely plummet because nobody will know where they stand after this season, the team’s performance on the field will suffer, we will lose out on key free agents, our best players will flee to other teams, and then you’re looking at the big “R”: rebuild. Do you want that to happen, sir?”
Glibb eyed the TV longingly, his mind filled with thoughts of cauliflowers, “N-no, I guess not.”
Cardinal put his hands on Glibb’s desk and leaned over him. His thin, wiry frame cast a long, ominous shadow over Glibb and his desk. “But if you were to wait a while, until, say, after the end of the season, when we’ve had a chance to make some inquiries about a replacement for Mr. Hulder, we won’t have to deal with the press making the team out to be a poorly run outfit. It would cast you in a far better light, and you can look like the good guy for getting rid of someone who so clearly doesn’t deserve the job he has. It’s a total win/win/win/win/win for everybody involved.”
“Except Hulder, though,” Glibb said.
“Well, no plan is perfect,” Cardinal glibly.
“Very well, I’ll let him try and dig his way out of this hole. But I need some kind of constraint on him to make sure he doesn’t pull a stunt like this again. I don’t suppose I could ask you to—”
“—to act as your eyes and ears on Hulder and make sure he doesn’t do anything without your approval? I’d be honored, sir,” Cardinal said, possibly setting a land speed record for sentence uttering.
“Good. Good. Is there anything else,” Glibb asked.
“One last thing, sir. We need to schedule a press conference to discuss the Arvis trade with the media and get our take out there before this entirely spins out of control. You may have to take part as well,” Cardinal said trying to break the news gently to Glibb.
“Aw man, I’m going to have to put on another suit? Can’t we just tape me saying something beforehand?”
“Sadly no, they’re expecting you to give your blessing to the trade, which you’ll have to do, remember.”
Glibb sighed miserably, “Is that it,” Glibb asked, hoping the answer was no.
“Not at this time, sir. I’ll go attend to my duties so you can...um...attend to yours.”
Glibb jumped out of his chair and plopped back onto the floor in front of the TV.
Cardinal turned, left the office and strode briskly back to his own office. He stopped at his secretary’s desk.
“Any messages while I was away,” Cardinal asked, not bothering to look at her.
“Good. Call the PR department and tell them we need to schedule a press conference for Wednesday to talk about how excited we are to have Lionel Harris on the team. Make sure Hulder and Glibb are both there. You may have to help him tie his tie for him again. Also, get me Mendoza from the Chronicle, Sorenson from the Post, and Kravitz from the Observer. An ‘unnamed source high in the Texans organization’ has some things he wants them to know about Hulder before the conference.”
Chapter Four — The Press Conference
The Texans’ conference room was abuzz with activity. Reporters from print and TV media, local and national, filled the room, making chit chat as they waited for the main event to begin. Among them was 27-year old Sara Torres, clutching a tape recorder in one hand with her thumb poised on the play button, trying hard to block the sounds of her more senior colleagues having a laugh before the conference started.
“Arvis trade...why Harris...”
An elbow to her side broke her out of her reverie.
“Sorry ‘bout that, Sara,” said a tall, slender man in his late 40s who would be graying at the temples if it weren’t for his unnaturally black hair.
“It’s okay, Sam.”
“You nervous for your first press conference?”
Sara grudgingly showed him half a smile.
“Don’t sweat it, kid. These things are a breeze. You ask a few questions, they ignore them, then we all head to the buffet afterwards before going and writing the exact same story. Nothing to it.”
A PR representative came out first, in a full suit with a Texans pin attached to his lapel.
“Oh, time to get started. Good luck Torres,” Sam said, before hurrying to the front row carrying his notepad.
“Thank you all for coming today,” the PR flack said, “We’re going to start with a message from Mr. Glibb and Mr. Hulder about the latest roster moves by the team, followed by a few of your questions and, time permitting, a couple of parting remarks from the owner and general manager.”
Cletus Glibb and Anthony Hulder walked into the room to the sounds of cameras clicking and clicking pens. They sat down at the desk, with a Texans helmet strategically placed in the middle.
Glibb, wearing his least wrinkled suit and hair that could conceivably look like he hadn’t just gotten out of bed, spoke first.
“This really is a great day to be a fan of the Houston Texans. as we show that we’re not afraid of making the big moves in order to bring a championship to the city of Houston,” Glibb said in his low country drawl, his eyes firmly glued to the paper. “We know that this move may not make sense to people right away, but we ask all Texans fans to trust that we know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We want to build a team culture that our fans can be proud of, a team that can win week in and week out, and to build a farm that will harvest large cash crops like starf—”
The journalists in the room murmured in collective confusion.
“Sorry,” Glibb said, “that was a different goal sheet I had. But we do want to build a team that will win championships.” He covered his microphone, “that’s what they want to hear, right?”
Hulder sat stone faced as he watched the reporters feverishly taking notes.
“Lionel Harris is a phenomenal talent,” Glibb continued, scanning the page, “a great individual, and a potential cornerstone to build upon for years to come.”
Hulder cast his gaze at Glibb, his face remaining firmly facing forward.
“We want what you want and we are 100% committed to that, uh...thing. Now, with that out of the way, let’s take a few questions.”
Hulder closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.
The PR flack pointed to a man in the front row who promptly stood up.
“Hey guys, Sam Mendoza for the Houston Chronicle, this question is for Anthony; there’s been word going around from the organization that you were the sole architect of this trade, can you tell me what led you to make this deal at this time? Thank you.”
Mendoza sat back down.
“Sure thing, we are in win now mode and so we took a look at the roster and felt that we needed to improve the depth on the roster and a couple of positions. So we decided the best thing to do for the team would be to get talent back and a lot of draft picks to shore up that depth next year.”
Mendoza responded, “So you’re saying this trade had nothing to do with your personal animus with Jerome Arvis? Because my source says, quote, ‘he’s tired of all the drama around Arvis and his baby mamas being a distraction to the team.’ This isn’t why you traded the best player on the team?”
Hulder’s eyes widened at Mendoza’s accusation, “That’s ridiculous. I would never say anything like that about any of our players. Who they decide to associate with is their business. This was a business decision for the good of the team and nothing more.”
“Next,” the flack said.
Another man in the front row stood up, “Eli Sorenson from the Post, good morning guys. Following up on the previous question, anonymous reports have filtered down indicating that you said Arvis was a ‘cancer in the locker room that needed to be cut to save the rest of the team.’ Do you think you’ve taken care of the problem in the locker room with this move or will additional moves follow this until the ‘cancer’ is cured?”
Hulder stared slack-jawed at the reporter, then turned and saw Buck Cardinal standing off to the side, just inside the door.
Torres followed Hulder’s gaze until she spotted the character coach who smiled at Hulder as if he had just pulled a winning ace.
“Next question,” the flack said.
Torres leaped up out of her seat and waved her hand feverishly like it was sixth grade math.
The flack pointed reluctantly at her instead of Kravitz.
Cardinal’s smile dropped as Torres stood up and brushed her hair off her shoulder.
“Thank you, good morning, Sara Torres with the Houston Daily News. This question is for Mr. Glibb and Mr. Hulder. Most reports have claimed that this trade was primarily ordered by Mr. Hulder, but I’m curious what impact did Buck Cardinal have on both making this trade happen and influencing what the team got back for Jerome Arvis?”
Mendoza, Sorenson, Kravitz, and the entire press pool looked at her like she’d just asked if they had ever been kidnapped by aliens.
Cardinal waved to catch the flack’s attention and angrily pointed at his wrist.
“Sorry, that’s all the time we have for today, Mr. Glibb and Mr. Hulder have tight schedules to keep. Thank you for coming today.”
Glibb jumped out of his chair, his tie coming unclipped from his collar, and bolted from the room. Hulder stared daggers at Cardinal who quietly slipped out of the room before catching the attention of the other reporters.
Mendoza walked over to Sara who had finished writing in her notes about the sudden ending to the press conference.
“Nice work, kid, now we don’t have to wait to go to the post-conference buffet. You’ve got potential.”
“I’ve been doing this for four years now,” she said pointedly.
“Still, be careful not to make too many enemies on Kirby. Or who knows what might happen to you.”
“What? They’ll kill me?”
“Worse,” he said, “you’ll lose access.”
To Be Continued...
See you next week.