The Stranger Page 3

Melanie was small and blond and perky and blinked as though someone had just slapped her across the face. Gaston liked to touch her ass a lot in public, not so much to show affection, or even lust, as to illustrate that she was his property. He leaned back now and tried to weigh his words carefully. “We have a good marriage, yes, but—”

“Well, that should deduct at least half a point off your own son’s score, right? So that knocks Bob Junior down to, let me see here, a six-point-three. The B team. I mean, if we are going to raise Jimmy’s score because his parents are having problems, shouldn’t we also lower your son’s because you guys are so gosh-darn perfect?”

One of the other assistant coaches said, “Adam, are you okay?”

Adam snapped his head toward the voice. “Fine.”

Gaston started flexing his fists.

“Corinne made it all up. She was never pregnant.”

Adam met the bigger man’s eye and held it. Bring it, big boy, Adam thought. Bring it tonight of all nights. Gaston was the kind of big and muscular guy you knew was all show. Over Gaston’s shoulder, Adam could see that Tripp Evans was looking on, surprise on his face.

“This isn’t a courtroom,” Gaston said, flashing his teeth. “You’re out of line.”

Adam hadn’t seen the inside of a courtroom in four months, but he didn’t bother to correct him. He lifted the sheets in the air. “The evaluations are here for a reason, Bob.”

“And so are we,” Gaston said, running his hand through his black mane. “As coaches. As guys who’ve watched these kids for years. We make the final call. I, as a head coach, make the final call. Jimmy has a good attitude. That matters too. We aren’t computers. We use all the tools at our disposal to select the most deserving kids.” He spread his giant hands, trying to win Adam back into the fold. “And come on, we are talking about the last kid on the B team. It’s not really that big a deal.”

“I bet it’s a big deal to Logan.”

“I’m the head coach. The final call is mine.”

The room was starting to break up. Guys were leaving. Adam opened his mouth to say more, but what was the point? He wouldn’t win this argument, and what was he making it for anyway? He didn’t even know who the hell Logan was. It was a distraction from the mess the stranger had left behind. Nothing more. He knew that. He got up from the chair.

“Where are you going?” Gaston asked, chin stuck out long enough to invite a punch.

“Ryan is on the A team, right?”


That was why Adam was there—to advocate, if need be, for his son. Done. The rest was flotsam. “Have a good night, guys.”

Adam made his way back to the bar. He nodded at Len Gilman, the police chief in town, who liked to work behind the bar because it kept down the DUIs. Len nodded back and slid Adam a bottle of Bud. Adam twisted off the cap with a little too much gusto. Tripp Evans sidled up to him. Len slid him a Bud too. Tripp held it up and clinked bottles with Adam. The two men drank in silence while the meeting broke up. Guys called out their good-byes. Gaston rose dramatically—he was big on dramatically—and shot a glare at Adam. Adam lifted the bottle toward him in a “cheers” response. Gaston stormed out.

“Making friends?” Tripp asked.

“I’m a people person,” Adam said.

“You know he’s the VP of the board, right?”

“I must remember to genuflect next time I see him,” Adam said.

“I’m president.”

“In that case, I better get some kneepads.”

Tripp nodded, liking that line. “Bob’s going through a lot right now.”

“Bob’s an ass waffle.”

“Well, yes. Do you know why I stay on as president?”

“Helps you score chicks?”

“Yes, that. And because if I resign, Bob’s next in line.”

“Shiver.” Adam started to put down his beer. “I better go.”

“He’s out of work.”


“Bob. Lost his job over a year ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Adam said. “But that’s no excuse.”

“I didn’t say it was. I just wanted you to know.”

“Got it.”

“So,” Tripp Evans continued, “Bob has this headhunter helping him find a job—a big-time, very important headhunter.”

Adam put down the beer. “And?”

“So this big-time headhunter is trying to find Bob a new job.”

“So you said.”

“So the headhunter’s name is Jim Hoch.”

Adam stopped. “As in Jimmy Hoch’s father?”

Tripp said nothing.

“That’s why he wants the kid on the team?”

“What, you think Bob cares that the parents are divorced?”

Adam just shook his head. “And you’re okay with it?”

Tripp shrugged. “Nothing here is pure. You get a parent involved in their own kids’ sports, well, you know it’s like a mother lion around a cub. Sometimes they pick a kid because he lives next door. Sometimes they pick a kid because he’s got a hot mom who dresses provocatively at the games. . . .”

“You know that from personal experience?”

“Guilty. And sometimes they pick a kid because his daddy can help them get a job. Seems a better reason than most.”

“Man, you’re so cynical for an ad exec.”

Tripp smiled. “Yeah, I know. But it’s like we always talk about. How far would you go to protect your family? You’d never hurt anyone; I’d never hurt anyone. But if someone threatens your family, if it means saving your child . . .”

“We’d kill?”

“Look around you, my friend.” Tripp spread his arms. “This town, these schools, these programs, these kids, these families—I sometimes sit back and can’t believe how lucky we all are. We’re living the dream, you know.”

Adam did know. Sort of. He had gone from underpaid public defender to overpaid eminent domain attorney in order to pay for the dream. He wondered whether it was worth it. “And if Logan has to pay the price?”

“Since when is life fair? Look, I had these clients from a major car company. Yeah, you know the name. And yeah, you read in the paper recently how they covered up a problem with their steering columns. A lot of people got hurt or killed. These car guys, they’re really nice. Normal. So how do they let it happen? How do they work out some cost-benefit crap and let people die?”

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