This story is a sequel to my stories , Fast Break and Footsteps (Ghost Towning) . You may want to read the preceding stories before reading this one. Fast Break and Footsteps (Ghost Towning) can be found on my on my website – mickeyminner.com
After their game against the San Diego Windbreakers, the Cougars boarded a bus that would take them to the airport for their flight to Los Angeles and the last game of a long road series.
“Losing sucks,” Pete muttered looking out the bus window at the endless stretch of houses and buildings bordering the freeway.
Sitting on the bench seat beside the gloomy point guard, Val agreed, “Yeah. I can't believe we blew a twelve point lead.”
“Got too confident,” Pete stated. “Stupid.”
Sitting behind the veteran players, Dimchek leaned forward to join the exchange. “Coach doesn't look too upset,” she observed looking to the front of the bus where Pat and Sherry sat in the seat behind the bus driver.
“Rookie, don't ever make that mistake,” Pete warned Dimchek. “Coach understands if we get beat but when we throw away a win… she is definitely not happy.”
Val nodded. “Only reason she hasn't blown a cork is we still have tomorrow's game with LA to play.”
Pete sighed. “Yeah, the plane ride home after that game is not going to be much fun.”
“Especially, if we lose to LA,” Val added.
Pat eyes were closed as her head rested against the window beside her.
Sherry nudged the head coach when the bus turned into the airport.
“How long until our plane leaves?” Pat asked without opening her eyes.
Sherry looked at the itinerary she was holding. “Forty minutes.”
“How long is the flight?”
“Less than an hour.”
Pat opened her eyes to look out the window. The sky to the west was just beginning to turn pink. “At least, we'll make the hotel before dark,” she said with a sigh.
“You okay?” Sherry hazarded the question knowing Pat probably wasn't.
“No,” Pat responded quietly then she looked over her shoulder for her other assistant coach. “Kelley, do we have a private room for our dinner at the hotel?” she asked in a voice loud enough for everyone on the bus to hear.
“Good. We'll have a team meeting then.”
“Is that a good idea?” Sherry whispered, not wanting players to hear her question the head coach.
“Yes, it's necessary,” Pat snapped glaring at her assistant. “We need to talk about what happened today,” she answered brusquely as the driver pulled the bus to a stop in front of their chartered plane. She stood and carefully moved past Sherry to stand in the bus aisle. “Listen up,” she addressed the players. “Get your stuff together; get off this bus and onto the plane. I don't want any screwing around. Understood?” she barked out the question.
“Understood, Coach,” the players shouted back.
“Still think she's not upset?” Pete asked Dimchek while they waited their turn to walk down the aisle and exit the bus.
Following the hotel's manager, Pat led the team into the banquet room set up exclusively for their evening meal. The players were unusually quiet; the rookies astutely taking cues from the veterans who were better attuned to their coach's moods.
“I hope this is acceptable,” the hotel manager said to Pat.
Looking about the room, Pat saw that a buffet had been arranged and that several tables had been pushed together to create a single long table with folding chairs placed along both sides. At the one end of the buffet sat a portable warm food table with an assortment of meat and vegetable dishes waiting under heat lamps. At the opposite end, a portable cold food table filled to overflowing with ice offered a variety of salads. Between the hot and cold offerings were platters of bread, pots of soup, condiments, and beverages of every type except sodas and alcohol. “This is fine. Thank you.”
The manager smiled and nodded. “Should you need anything—”
“Yes, there is one thing,” Pat informed the man. “Do you have a chalk board or white board that could be brought in here?”
“Of course. I shall have one brought in immediately.
“I'll leave you to enjoy your meal then.”
“All right,” Pat addressed her players before the manager had a chance to reach the room's exit. “Get your plates and get seated. We have a lot to talk about.” The head coach and assistant coaches took seats at one end of the long table as the players headed for the buffet tables.
Kelley glanced around the room. “These walls look pretty thin, Coach.”
Amused, Pat eyed her assistant. “You really think I plan to rip them apart here?” she asked her assistant.
Kelley shrugged. “You're mad enough.”
“We had a twelve point lead with less than four minutes to play… we handed San Diego that game. You bet I'm upset.” Slowly, Pat leaned back in the folding chair. “But give me some credit, Kelley… I have no intention of throwing a hissy fit for the amusement of the people in the dining room and lobby.”
Kelley released a held breath. “Whoooo,” she sighed.
“But I am going to discuss the game,” Pat assured her assistant then changed her attention to her other assistant. “You're being awfully quiet.”
“I'm ticked off at myself,” Sherry told the head coach. “I never should have attempted that last pass.”
“You're right,” Pat said. “It was a bonehead play… something I would expect from a rookie… not you.” She stood as a young man wearing a bellhop uniform entered the room pushing a large whiteboard. “You can leave it right there,” she told the bellhop. “Thank you.”
The young man smiled then retraced his steps and closed the door.
“Come on,” Kelley told Sherry as Pat positioned the board at the end of the long row of tables. “Let's get our plates.”
Sherry hesitated then stood and joined Kelley.
“Don't worry about Coach,” Kelley said handing Sherry a clean plate. “She'll calm down once she starts to talk with the players and she sees that they're as upset about blowing the game as she is.”
“You've obviously seen her like this before,” Sherry said placing slices of roast beef on her plate. “I don't remember anything like this during last season.”
“It doesn't happen often… but when we blow a game, she isn't happy.”
“I doubt anyone in this room is happy.”
“They better not be.”
“I wish she'd come over here and get something to eat.”
Kelley handed Sherry a second plate. “You better take her something otherwise she'll get so busy talking strategy she'll forget to eat.”
Sherry returned to the buffet tables after setting down two full plates on the table near Pat. She picked a couple of bottles of water off one table then headed for the pots of soup. Setting down the water bottles, she picked up a bowl to ladle soup into it.
“Let me help you.”
Sherry frowned recognizing the speaker's voice. “No, thank you,” she said filling the bowl.
“Aw, let me help,” Jackson insisted. “You can't carry all that yourself.”
Sherry set down the bowl then, picking up a second, she turned to face the player. “Are you here to get something for yourself, Jackson?”
“No... I'm here to give you a hand.”
“Then I suggest you get back to your own dinner,” Sherry told the player as she started to fill the second bowl with soup.
“I will… right after I carry these for you,” Jackson insisted reaching for the bottles of water.
Sherry slapped at the rookie's hands. “Get back to your seat,” she hissed.
Sherry relaxed hearing her lover's voice.
“No problem, Coach,” Jackson said turning to face the head coach. “Just offering to help.”
“Go sit down, Jackson,” Pat commanded. Ignoring the rookie who had yet to obey her instructions, she picked up the water bottles and one bowl of soup and followed Sherry, carrying the second bowl, away from the buffet.
“What is it with you and Sherry?” Latesha asked Jackson after she returned to her seat. “Are you really too stupid to know that she and Coach have something going?”
“I was just trying to help… it looked like she needed it. And Coach sure wasn't making the effort,” Jackson added.
“Oh, boy, rookie,” Latesha said cutting a piece of meatloaf with her fork. “You are in for a world of hurt.”
Twisting the cap off a bottle of water, Jackson glanced down the long table to the far end. “I had Sherry before,” Jackson casually informed the veteran. “And I'll have her again,” she added raising the bottle to her lips.
The fork Latesha had been holding fell to her plate with a loud clatter. “You want to run that past me again,” she said staring incredulously at the rookie.
“I think you heard me,” Jackson responded with a smirk.
“I heard you but I sure as hell don't believe you,” Latesha stated retrieving her fork and bite of meatloaf.
Pat picked half of a buttered biscuit off one of the plates Sherry had prepared. “Thanks for doing this,” she quietly told her lover.
Sherry smiled. “My pleasure.”
“Let's cut the chatter,” Pat raised her voice so everyone would hear then she popped the biscuit into her mouth. As she chewed, she looked down the table at her players. “Okay,” she started after swallowing. “Let's fill in the blanks,” she said pointing behind her where she had written The Good, The Bad , and The Ugly across the top of the white board.
“Crappy passing,” Sherry offered immediately.
Pat wrote ‘passing' beneath The Ugly . “Specify.”
“Forcing the ball into the key,” Sherry stated.
“Right! I expect my starting point guards to know better,” Pat scolded. “What else?”
“Not getting back on defense,” Val called out. “I didn't react fast enough when they stole the ball,” she provided the details as her coach added her comment to the board.
“What else?” For the next several minutes, Pat allowed the players to identify their mistakes and she wrote each neatly on the board in their appropriate column. When they were done, one heading had no entries below it. “Okay, that takes care of the bad and the ugly. Now what did we do right?”
“Ball movement,” Kelley said when no player spoke. “Except for the last few minutes, passing was tight.”
“It sure was,” Pat agreed as she wrote.
“Defense,” Terry said. “Well, except for the last few minutes,” she added glumly.
“Rebounding… we controlled the boards,” Dimchek said proudly.
After several minutes and as more players had offered their comments, the column under The Good went all the way down the board.
“Looks like we're out of room,” Pat announced putting the cap back on the marker she had been using. “So what have we learned here?” she asked placing the marker in the tray at the bottom of the board then turning to face her players.
“We did a lot more right than wrong,” Pete answered.
“That's right. But… at the end of the game, we still lost. And that's one very big wrong! It's unacceptable.” Pat paused to let the words register with the players. “It's too easy to lose when we aren't focused. We can't let up— not for a minute… not for a second… not for an instant.” Pat reached for a bottle of water on the table. “We have very few games left and it's going to be a tight race to the very end. We have to double our efforts. Anybody here think differently?”
“No, Coach,” came the shouted reply from all the players.
“Anybody here too tired to put out the effort?”
“Anybody here want to see the trophy go to some other team?”
“So what do we have to do?”
“Play harder,” Pete called out.
“Play smarter,” Val immediately added.
Terry stood pumping her fist in the air. “Play like Cougars.”
Pete, Val, and Latesha jumped to the feet raising their own fists. “Cougars, Cougars, Cougars,” they started to chant and were quickly joined by the rest of the players.
Smiling, Pat allowed the boisterous mantra to continue for a few minutes then she waved her hands to quiet the players. “I take it we're ready to put San Diego behind us and get ready to face LA.”
“Yes, Coach,” the players shouted in unison.
“Good. Now, sit and finish your dinner. There's still plenty of food over there.” Pat settled on the chair next to Sherry. “Let's hope the manager isn't getting too many complaints about the noise,” she muttered.
“Too bad if he is,” Sherry said lifting a forkful of salad to her mouth.
The Cougars were in the visitor locker room of the Los Angeles arena. While the players finished dressing, Pat conferred with her assistants. “I want to keep rotating players tonight,” she told Kelley who would be responsible for doing that when the head coach was in the game. “Let's keep LA running.”
Kelley nodded. “Okay.”
“Sherry, you and Pete have to push the ball up court.”
“Got it, Coach.”
Pat looked around the locker room. “Let's give them a few more minutes to get ready before we start,” she told her assistants.
Dressed in her Cougar uniform and warm-ups, Jackson was leaning on the wall a few feet from the home team's locker room. Hearing a door open, she pushed off the wall. “You're Montgomery… right?” she addressed the emerging player. “I heard you like to get to warm-ups early.”
“Do I know you?” Dawn asked pulling the door shut behind her.
Dawn ignored the offered hand. “I guess that would be a no,” she said continuing down the corridor.
“Hold on,” Jackson said falling into step with the other player. “I was kinda hoping we could chat for a few minutes.”
“You were kinda hoping wrong then,” Dawn said without breaking stride.
Jackson reached for Dawn's arm. “Just a couple of minutes… what's the harm?”
Dawn froze then looked down at the hand on her arm. Slowly, she shifted to face Jackson. “I have only two things to say to you,” she started very deliberately. “One… in case you haven't noticed, we're wearing opposing uniforms. And two… I'm going to break your arm if you don't remove your hand.”
“Touchy, touchy,” Jackson muttered releasing her hold on the Los Angeles player. “I just want to ask you a couple of questions. What's your problem?”
Dawn glared at Jackson. “About?”
“I heard you and Calvin had a thing going last year.”
“You heard wrong,” Dawn snapped turning away.
Jackson chased after Dawn. “Story I heard was Gallagher wormed her way into the picture.”
Dawn continued her purposeful strides down the corridor. “Wrong again.”
“And Gallagher is the reason you got traded.”
Dawn stopped then spun about. “Look, bitch… I don't know who you are or who you've been talking to… but even if any of it were true, what the hell business is it of yours?”
Jackson opened her mouth to answer.
“Don't bother,” Dawn growled cutting Jackson off. “I don't give a damn,” she said spinning back around. “Now, leave me the hell alone,” she barked trotting down the corridor toward the court.
Opening the locker room door, Kelley stuck her head out. “Dammit, Jackson … get your ass in here now. Coach is waiting.”
“Shit,” Jackson muttered under her breath and headed toward the angry coach.#
To Be Continued...
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