Home > Block Shot (Hoops #2)(11)

Block Shot (Hoops #2)(11)
Author: Kennedy Ryan

I’ve been doing much better without the demands of a heavy college course load. Eating more regularly and paying attention to what I eat, down five pounds. I’m still tuning out the drone of Mitch’s voice and looking for string cheese in the oversized bag under my desk when Cal’s booming voice startles me.

I jerk up, banging my head on the desk above. I slide out, rubbing the sore spot and blinking back tears.

“You okay?” Cal demands, his gaze zeroing in on my tears.

“Yeah. Just, um, hit my head.”

Out of habit, I go to push hair behind my ear, forgetting that it’s up today. I have no idea what to do with my hands right now, so they just hang in the air for a few seconds before I drop them.

I’m such a goober, and by the look Cal is giving me, he knows it.

“Yeah, well, I need you,” he says brusquely and starts walking away. “Conference room. Now, Morales.”

Mitch and I exchange wide-eyed looks.

“What’d you do to piss him off?” Mitch asks, barely suppressed glee brimming from his eyes.

“I have no idea.” I scurry after Cal, mentally running through my latest assignments. I thought I’d thoroughly completed every task.

Cal, wearing an impatient look, stands in front of the closed conference room door.

“You speak a lot of languages, right?” he asks abruptly.

“Uh, not a lot. Just Spanish, Russian, some Italian and Mandarin Chinese.” A nervous laugh trips and falls from my mouth. “Oh, and English. I speak English.”

“I need your Spanish.” He looks over his shoulder at the closed conference room door. “Got Alonzo Vidale in there.”

“Oh.” My stomach turns over at the prospect of helping with such a huge potential client.

“Apparently he doesn’t speak much English.”

“Really?” I pinch my brows together. “From what I recall, his family was from Argentina’s middle class. It would be somewhat unusual for him not to speak any English.”

“No idea,” Cal says with a shrug. “But he says he needs someone to translate for him.”

“Of course.” I tug at the neckline of my dress. I wish I’d worn something nicer today.

The first thing I think when I see Alonzo Vidale is that photos don’t do him justice. His dark hair is scooped back from his face in a tight ponytail at the base of his neck, but a few silky strands escape and fall over dark, soulful eyes.

The second thing I notice is an ill-disguised sorrow that he wears like ashes on his head. There’s a droop to his broad shoulders and the wide, full lips look like they’ve never known a smile. I think of my family—Mama, Papa, my sister Camilla and her daughter Anna. The devastation I would feel if I lost them all in one day, it’s unimaginable, but that’s what this man endured just a month ago.

He has the long, sensitive fingers of a musician. His hands look more like he plays the piano than basketball, and I scour my memory for details of his background. He hasn’t been playing basketball long by American standards. Most of our ballers started on playgrounds, rose through AAU ranks, played in college, at least the obligatory year, and then, after pouring years of their lives into the sport, only a fraction make it to the NBA. From what I recall, Alonzo discovered his talent much later. He came on America’s radar when he played for Argentina’s team in the last Olympics. As one of the few possible stars emerging from Argentina, everyone has been calling him the next Manu Ginóbili.

He glances up from the conference room table, looking from Cal to me, eyes narrowed. I’m surprised he is alone, no handlers or anyone accompanying him, but usually at this stage before an agent is selected, an athlete only has family. The magnitude of his loss weighs on me again, and even though I know when he stands he’ll be six-six, he looks incredibly vulnerable seated at the huge conference room table alone.

“Uh, this is Banner Morales,” Cal says, pulling out a chair at the table for me to sit. “She will be . . .”

He flounders, uncustomary for Cal, and looks to me for help.

“I have no idea how much he understands,” he finishes with a shrug.

“I’m guessing enough to realize we’re discussing him while he’s in the room,” I say, offering an apologetic smile to Alonzo. “Hola. Buenos días. ¿Cómo estás?”

His eyes crinkle slightly at the corners when I offer the greeting.

“Hola, Señorita Morales,” he replies, dipping his head in my direction.

I look to Cal for cues of what he wants me to say.

“Um, tell him that we first want to say we’ve been impressed by the footage we’ve seen of him,” Cal says. “Including his performance in the Olympics and his workouts.”

I hesitate, torn between translating to the letter and at least priming the pump a little.

“We first want to say,” I start in Spanish, but falter when I meet the shadows in those dark eyes.

His brows lift, inquiring, waiting.

“We first want to say,” I begin again, “that we are so very sorry for your recent loss.”

He flicks a speculative glance from me to Cal and back to me.

“I cannot imagine what you’ve experienced over the last month,” I press forward in a rush. “And you have our deepest sympathy.”

A breath of silence follows my statement before he responds.

“Gracias.”

I dive in before Cal questions why I’m still going and convey the initial words he asked me to say.

It’s not perfect, and a word or two may have been lost here and there, but Cal trots out all the reasons Bagley is the firm to represent him, and I translate. Alonzo asks pointed, intelligent questions. He may be alone, but he’s not naïve. After half an hour of the back and forth, with Alonzo asking questions through me and Cal offering the right answers through me, I’m not sure if we’re any closer to signing.

“I need to ask you a question,” Alonzo says, still in Spanish, leveling his probing dark stare on me.

I turn to Cal to interpret.

“He wants to ask—”

“No, Banner,” Alonzo interrupts. “You. I want to ask you a question.”

I slide a careful glance to Cal, whose eyes are fixed on my lips, waiting for the English equivalent of whatever Alonzo is saying.

“Okay,” I answer still in Spanish. “Of course. What is your question?”

“What’s he saying?” Cal demands.

“This man, he talks the good talk,” Alonzo says. “But is he a good man? You tell me the truth.”

I have no idea what makes him think I would give anything other than an answer that paints Cal in a great light. I prepare my response, but it dissolves on the tip of my tongue when I meet Alonzo’s solemn stare. This man has been through so much already. I read that he never left the hospital but stayed there hoping for even one surviving family member. And one by one, they all died. I can’t imagine the transition into America, into a complex ecosystem like the NBA, will be easy.

Survival of the fittest.

Do what you have to do to be the last one standing.

If Mitch were sitting in this seat, he’d already have answered. He’d have already told Alonzo unequivocally that Cal is a good man. I barely know Cal, but I’m pretty sure he’s a member of The Pride, and from my experience, I wouldn’t trust anyone in that secret society. Maybe my advisor is right. Maybe I don’t have the ruthless streak to survive this game because when faced with the moment of truth, I cannot tell a lie.

“I honestly don’t know, Alonzo,” I say. “There are few men I trust with my life and money, which is what you are doing. So is he a good man? I’m not sure, but will he make good deals? Absolutely.”

The quiet builds in the room while Cal and I wait for Alonzo’s response.

“That was an awful lot,” Cal says suspiciously. “What did you say to him?”

Before I can answer, Alonzo responds.

“I will sign with Bagley,” he says in Spanish.

“Oh my God!” I turn a wide smile to Cal. “He says he will sign with Bagley.”

“Yes.” Cal rubs his hands together. “We just need you to—”

“Con una condición,” Alonzo interrupts.

“Um, on one condition,” I say.

“I’ll sign with Bagley,” he repeats.

“He’ll sign with Bagley,” I translate.

“If Banner Morales is my agent.”

“If Banner Morales . . .” My eyes saucer and my mouth drops open. “Oh, shit.”

Alonzo grins, and for the first time, the clouds break in his somber eyes.

“Oh, shit,” he replies in heavily accented English, chuckling and sitting back in his chair. “That I understand.”

“What is it?” Cal asks sharply. “Did I hear your name?”

“Um, yeah.” I lick my lips nervously and force myself to face Cal’s curious demand head on. “He says he’ll sign with Bagley on the condition that I’m his agent.”

“What the hell?” Cal leans toward me, anger in the lines of his face and his taut body. “What did you say to him, Morales?”

“Just what you said,” I fib. I did take a few liberties in the beginning, and I was honest when all rights I should have lied, but that’s all.

“Tell him that you are a fucking intern.” Cal squashes the word like gum under his shoe. “Who has not taken the agent test and isn’t qualified to represent a professional athlete. Tell him that you know nothing about this business and he would deeply regret trusting a wet-behind-the-ears novice with a future as promising and complex as his.”

I bite my lip, preparing myself to tell Alonzo what Cal said verbatim, no matter how ridiculous it makes me look.

“That is my condition. No Banner, no deal.” Alonzo responds before I can . . . in English!

Cal and I gape at his perfect, if heavily accented, English words. When neither of us have managed a response, Alonzo stands and starts for the door.

   
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