My First Line

In my old blog I kept a series going that focused on first lines. When I started the series my contention was that first lines didn’t really matter that much. By the end of the series I had determined I was quite wrong.

I’m still working on my first lines for my newest novel, tentatively titled “Sunset Perfect.”

In my first novel, the first line and the first chapter dealt with the murder of a main character. The second novel, there was a death of a minor character. The third novel, suicide. I’m worried that this novel, which starts with a fight, will be less than engaging.

One other aspect of this novel which is different than the others is that it’s written as an homage to the poor little foster kiddo, Anthony, who used to be a part of our family. I’m beginning to see that this is not such a good idea, not for the emotions it pulls up, but rather because I’m having a hard time making him intriguing.

Still, here’s Chapter 1 so far of Sunset Perfect. Sorry for the misspellings. And like I said, it’s a draft, still have a lot of fine tuning to do.

I remember Anthony most for what he did and  how he did it, not for who he was. A distinction without a difference? Maybe. I bet most people would say the same thing about Anthony. He changed my life, sure, but it was despite his personality rather than because of it. I’ve never met a less interesting man in my life which is going to make it very hard to present an engrossing story.

The way I met him was interesting. Infact it very nearly landed me in the hospital. Lot’s of things I did with Anthony that winter very nearly landed me in the many places I never wanted to go again, hospital, prison, morgue. Had things gone slightly different, had Anthony not been there,  . . . well that’s not fair. I might have been there if not for Anthony, but I certainly wouldn’t have gotten out of those jams without him.

The first time I saw Anthony I was walking toward the parking lot from the stadium via the tunnel, the  covered walkway that the football players and we folks who work for the team use to get to the parking lot. We could go around through the front entrance sure, but the tunnel cut the walking time by five mintues so why wouldn’t we use it. 

The first thing I noticed about Anthony was that he was short. Yes, it must be noted that when I saw him he was facing off against a professional defenseive lineman who I knew was five inches over six foot and even made me, no midget at over six foot, look short. Antony looked postiveily diminutive. He wasn’t acting it though. There he stood, that big ole defensive lineman bearing down on him, two of his football player buddies surrounding him, backing him up, a huge finger the size of a tree root, usually used to grab hold of passing running backs to drag them to the ground wagging in little anthony’s face, and what did Anthony do? Stood his ground. Never met a more stubborn person than Anthony. It’s fitting that the first time I saw him he was being hard headed and recalcitrant as a mule.

“Hey, hey, hey,” I said as I walked up on the four men. “What are you guys doing here. Bull? Is that you? What are you doing to this guy?”

I knew Bull. Hell, everyone knows Bull.  Justin “Bull” Romero. Not everyone who works at the stadium, no, everyone in the US. The man is a walking, living, legend in  his own time. He is in his seventh year of his career in the league and he was a veritable god, both on the field and off. He had made the pro-bowl six of those year, his rookie year being the only exception to that rule, he lead the league in sacks and passes blocked and was damn near close to leading in tackles too. Anyone who doesn’t know football intimately as most of us who work around here do, should know that what I’ve just listed is unheard of for one man. He was huge. A huge man with ham sized fists, biceps that were the size of whole chickens, he towered over us his close shorn head just a foot from the roof of the tunnel. He’s mean-joe Green mixed with Lawrence Taylor mixed with Tyrell Suggs; but bigger.

I’m no fucking petunia though. When I played I was almost two hundred fifty pounds and although I’ve lost a lot of that weight, I’m still six foot three inches. Plus, I’ve lifted weights all my life and still use the team’s gym despite the fact that I’m no longer a player or a coach. The team has never told me I couldn’t use the gym thanks I think to my alumnus status I suppose. So, I may not be as large as I once was, but I’m still a pretty big cat. Bull makes me look average.

 “Ralston? You better tell this little fuck who I am before I fucking kill him.”  The finger wagged toward me now and suddenly I realized that he thought I was taking sides and he had put me on the opposite side of the one that was smart to be on.

I was glad though that my name still carried some weight and that Bull knew who I was. We had met once or twice but I wasn’t really in his orbit. I was an old-timer. A former player, former coach, and now a “semi” retired gopher and helper for the team. Not good enough to be a coach anymore, no longer young enough to be a player, but with a history long and distinguished enough to make my name and my presence worth something. Wasn’t worth much, but something is better than nothing.

“He can’t go through. He doesn’t have and ID.” There was a pause within which all of our eyes were turned to this diminutive little man who was standing up to these three huge football giants. “None of them can, they all have to go around and check in at the front desk if they don’t have team ID’s.”

The voice was husky and deep and completely without bite or determination, and came from Antony. It was remarkable because it was so out of place. Any normal person would have raised their voice or at least it would have cracked or had an ounce of panic to it. Anthony’s voice, and this is something that I would find surprising for the rest of the time that I knew him, was laconic, bored, almost without any feeling at all.

“I’m going to kill you, you mother fucker if you don’t let us in.” It was one of the men behind Bull. Unlike Bull, who had a distinct southern Louisiana part Cajun twang to his oaths, Lamarcus Kinnel was all inner city Chicago street thug which made sense as that was exactly were he was born and raised. When he threatened to kill someone, that someone had better take the threat seriously. I had done the background check on kennel before the team had offered him a contract. I had not been surprised to find that Lamarcus’ past was so checkered it included a stay in the Joliet County jail where he had been charged then released for insufficient grounds, for attempted murder.

Both Kinnel and Jax, the other man behind Bull, also a linebacker, also huge compared to the little security guard, looked ready to kill. I looked back at Bull. He was seething. The three men could tear the little guy apart if they wanted to. I laughed. A short bark of a laugh and I tried to defuse the situation by smacking Bull on the shoulder. The deltoid muscle beneath the jersey shirt was as hard as iron and ready to be sprung.

“Fella,” I didn’t know Anthony’s name at that time, “This is Bull. This is the most famous player on the team. He doesn’t need an ID. Everyone know’s Bull. Hell, he’s most the reason we’re all here!” A bit of flattery I hoped might help smooth things with the giant who’s breath still huffed above me.

“Still,” that bored voice again. “He can’t come through without an ID. I’ve told him that he needs to go around.”

Things happened so fast at that moment that it wasn’t till later that I was able to piece it all together. Apparently the word “around” was like a starter’s pistol to Bull, well, not a starter’s pistol as much as a bell ringing to signify the start of a boxing match because Bull’s fist lashed out at lightning speed at the gate guard and I thought the little guy was done for. He was facing off against one of the most well known and most devastating defensive linemen of our moment and he was a full foot and a half shorter and probably two hundred pounds lighter than Bull. But before I could adjust my eyes to the speed of Bull’s attack, Antony had already pivoted around his flying fist and executed a leg sweep that dropped Bull to the ground.

That’s when things became a whirl. Bull, used to fighting on the ground brought Anthony down to the ground with him and the three of us who were left still standing dropped down to try and save him. Atleast that’s what I was doing. The only thing in my mind was the idea of Anthony becoming human hamburger at the hands of a huge, over exercised, behemoth who was trained not to hold his temper. For all I knew Kinnel and Jax were going after the little guy to get their own piece of revenge. I heard several grunts and curses and someones fist hit me two or three times in the face, and I believe that an elbow and maybe a knee did the same but by then I couldn’t be sure because I was so dazed. There could have been dozens of punches and hits for all I knew.

A car horn blared like a claxon and we heard and engine scream and a screech of tires. We all stopped as one as a shiney black Mercedes stopped just inches from us and I heard the voice of one of the few men in the world who could stop a charging bull stepped out the car and yelled at us to “Stop,” and “Get back all of you.”

I felt the three players untangle themselves from the pile and sensed the little security guard doing the same and going to the other side of the tunnel to keep some space. I stayed on the ground not feeling either inclined nor stable enough to stand up. Instead I rolled over on my knees and put my fingers to the bridge of my nose to stop the blood that was pouring from it.

“Ralston? Are you going to be okay?”

“Yes, Sir,” I said to our team owner, Monroe  Alexander. The driver of the car.

“Stay there,” he said although he must have seen that I had no inclination to go anywhere at all unless it was back to my bed or to the hospital. “You three go around to the front of the building and quit causing problems.

I cringed inside suspecting that telling Bull to go do the very thing that he had been fighting about before might surely lead to another fight, but instead I heard footsteps receding down the tunnel back toward the parking lot, undistinguishable curses, laughter and the normal sounds that guys make after a fight diminishing as the three players bowed to their paymaster’s wishes. I did hear a couple of phrases like “Fuck Ralston” and “We’ll get another chance” which I thought would probably just drift away with time. Still, I thought it was funny that I hadn’t been taking sides, I was just trying to stop a fight. Hell, if anything I feel like I had been on Bull’s side. The last thing the team needed was a controversy with their best player, or worse an arrest for assault and battery.

“You going to make it?” It was Monroe again.

This time I stood up but kept the pressure on my nose. “I think so, Sir. I’m fine.”

My nose took that moment to gush some more.

“Nope,” he said matter of factly. “Let’s get you to the training room.” Together the three of us walked toward the locker rooms, the owner of the team who had more money than god, the security guard who had started it all, and me, the ex-player, ex-coach, drunk who had just come by to big up my pay check.

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