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Home > The Bleachers(3)

The Bleachers(3)
Author: John Grisham

"Did you hate Rake that night?"

"No, I loved him then."

"It changed every day."

"For most of us."

"Does it hurt now?"

"Not anymore. After I got married, we bought season tickets, joined the booster club, the usual stuff that everybody else does. Over time, I forgot about being a hero and became just another fan."

"You come to all the games?"

Paul pointed down to the left. "Sure. The bank owns a whole block of seats."

"You need a whole block with your family."

"Mona is very fertile."

"Evidently. How does she look?"

"She looks pregnant."

"I mean, you know, is she in shape?"

"Other words, is she fat?"

"That's it."

"No, she exercises two hours a day and eats only lettuce. She looks great and she'll want you over for dinner tonight."

"For lettuce?"

"For whatever you want. Can I call her?"

"No, not yet. Let's just talk."

There was no talk for a long time. They watched a pickup truck roll to a stop near the gate. The driver was a heavyset man with faded jeans, a denim cap, a thick beard, and a limp. He walked around the end zone and down the track and as he stepped up to the bleachers he noticed Neely and Curry sitting higher, watching every move he made. He nodded at them, climbed a few rows, then sat and gazed at the field, very still and very alone.

"That's Orley Short," Paul said, finally putting a name with a face. "Late seventies."

"I remember him," Neely said. "Slowest linebacker in history."

"And the meanest. All-conference, I think. Played one year at a juco then quit to cut timber for the rest of his life."

"Rake loved the loggers, didn't he?"

"Didn't we all? Four loggers on defense and a conference title was automatic."

Another pickup stopped near the first, another hefty gentleman in overalls and denim lumbered his way to the bleachers where he greeted Orley Short and sat beside him. Their meeting did not appear to be planned.

"Can't place him," Paul said, struggling to identify the second man and frustrated that he could not. In three and a half decades Rake had coached hundreds of boys from Messina and the county. Most of them had never left. Rake's players knew each other. They were members of a small fraternity whose membership was forever closed.

"You should get back more often," Paul said when it was time to talk again.

"Why?"

"Folks would like to see you."

"Maybe I don't want to see them."

"Why not?"

"I don't know."

"You think people here still hold a grudge because you didn't win the Heisman?"

"No."

"They'll remember you all right, but you're history. You're still their all-American, but that was a long time ago. Walk in Renfrow's Cafe and Maggie still has that huge photo of you above the cash register. I go there for breakfast every Thursday and sooner or later two old-timers will start debating who was the greatest Messina quarterback, Neely Crenshaw or Wally Webb. Webb started for four years, won forty-six in a row, never lost, etc... etc. But Crenshaw played against black kids and the game was faster and tougher. Crenshaw signed with Tech but Webb was too small for the big-time. They'll argue forever. They still love you, Neely."

"Thanks, but I'll skip it."

"Whatever."

"It was another life."

"Come on, give it up. Enjoy the memories."

"I can't. Rake's back there."

"Then why are you here?"

"I don't know."

A telephone buzzed from somewhere deep in Paul's nice dark suit. He found it and said, "Curry." A pause. "I'm at the field, with Crenshaw." A pause. "Yep, he's here. I swear. Okay." Paul slapped the phone shut and tucked it into a pocket.

"That was Silo," he said. "I told him you might be coming."

Neely smiled and shook his head at the thought of Silo Mooney. "I haven't seen him since we graduated."

"He didn't graduate, if you recall."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot."

"Had that little problem with the police. Schedule Four controlled substances. His father kicked him out of the house a month before we graduated."

"Now I remember."

Chapter Three

"He lived in Rake's basement for a few weeks, then joined the Army."

"What's he doing now?"

"Well, let's say he's in the midst of a very colorful career. He left the Army with a dishonorable discharge, bounced around for a few years offshore on the rigs, got tired of honest work, and came back to Messina where he peddled drugs until he got shot at."

"I assume the bullet missed."

"By an inch, and Silo tried to go straight. I loaned him five thousand dollars to buy the old Franklin's Shoe Store and he set himself up as an entrepreneur. He cut the prices of his shoes while at the same time doubling his employees wages, and went broke within a year. He sold cemetery lots, then used cars, then mobile homes. I lost track of him for a while. One day he walked into the bank and paid back everything he owed, in cash, said he'd finally struck gold."

"In Messina?"

"Yep. Somehow he swindled old man Joslin out of his junkyard, east of town. He fixed up a warehouse, and in the front half he runs a legitimate body shop. A cash cow. In the back half he runs a chop shop, specializing in stolen pickups. A real cash cow."

"He didn't tell you this."

"No, he didn't mention the chop shop. But I do his banking, and secrets are hard to keep around here. He's got some deal with a gang of thieves in the Carolinas whereby they ship him stolen trucks. He breaks them down and moves the parts. It's all cash, and evidently there's plenty of it."

"The cops?"

"Not yet, but everybody who deals with him is very careful. I expect the FBI to walk in any day with a subpoena, so I'm ready."

"Sounds just like Silo," Neely said.

"He's a mess. Drinks heavily, lots of women, throws cash around everywhere. Looks ten years older."

"Why am I not surprised? Does he still fight?"

"All the time. Be careful what you say about Rake. Nobody loves him like Silo. He'll come after you."

"Don't worry."

As the center on offense and the noseguard on defense, Silo Mooney owned the middle of every field he played on. He was just under six feet tall with a physique that resembled, well, a silo: everything was thick-chest, waist, legs, arms. With Neely and Paul, he started for three years. Unlike the other two, Silo averaged three personal fouls in every game. Once he had four, one in each quarter. Twice he got ejected for kicking opposing linemen in the crotch. He lived for the sight of blood on the poor boy lined up against him. "Got that sumbitch bleedin' now," he would growl in the huddle, usually late in the first half. "He won't finish the game."

"Go ahead and kill him," Neely would say, egging on a mad dog. One less defensive lineman made Neely's job much easier.

No Messina player had ever been cursed by Coach Rake with as much frequency and enthusiasm as Silo Mooney. No one had deserved it as much. No one craved the verbal abuse as much as Silo.

At the north end of the bleachers, down where the rowdies from the county once raised so much hell, an older man moved quietly up to the top row and sat down. He was too far away to be recognized, and he certainly wanted to be alone. He gazed at the field, and was soon lost in his own memories.

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