Story:A Tale of Two Captains
A Tale of Two Captains
Written by TriangleDelta
This story was written when I was still green to the league. In the midst of trying to dig up information on the MANY major characters featured in this story, I failed to research others as well as I ought to have. As a result, some characters are not portrayed as they ought to be. I apologize for this.
October 30, 2013: 10:48 AM
Rabbit Valley Pavilion II
San Jose, CA
“I give you the last, but certainly not least, addition to the Thrust’s roster for the 2013-2014 season, Shane Rufus!”
There was a flurry of flashing lights and shouted questions. Devon half-lidded his eyes, keeping the polite smile plastered to his face. He followed the gaze of everybody else in the room to look at the red wolf as he stepped onto the stage and into view. He wasn’t the biggest fur up on the stage, not by a long shot. The red wolf dominated all of the attention, though. Even the small clinking of the chain around his neck somehow managed to be heard above the shouting. He walked with a confident swagger that only came from years of experience being in front of cameras. The wolf raised a hand in greeting to the reporters, and the flashes and yelled questions intensified.
Throughout it all, Devon couldn’t help thinking how strange Shane Rufus looked in a purple Thrust jersey. No doubt the reporters would be making the same remark in all of their reports that night.
Devon let his eyes wander away from the imposing wolf, glancing instead back to Anjij up at the podium. The Eskimo dog let the soft roar of questions go on for a few moments longer before finally raising a hand. Devon was a bit behind her, so he couldn’t see her face. He knew that she was wearing that half-hidden smile, though. She’d wanted some star power back on the Thrust. It looked like Shane was delivering.
As the noise finally started dying down, Anjij leaned forward to the mic again. “There you have it, your 2013-2014 San Jose Thrust! But now, to move on to other matters. Specifically, our big news for this press conference: who will be the captain for the Thrust in the coming season?”
At that, all of the voices in the room went quiet. Devon felt his long ringed tail flick a bit behind him as he looked down at all of those reporters. They were all staring up at Anjij fixedly, many of them holding recorders and mics up towards the podium. Occasionally, though, their eyes would dart away, glancing to the tall cougar standing next to Devon. The cacomistle risked a glance over and up at his team mate; Parker Davids dwarfed him. The big cougar had that same practiced smile on his face that Devon was using; entirely neutral and pleasant.
Anjij went on. “First and foremost we would like to thank Parker Davids for his fantastic captaining last season. He is a great role model and ambassador.” The Eskimo dog paused, and waited for a few polite smatterings of applause from the reporters. Peter nodded graciously to them. It was all a show. The reporters could feel a scoop coming. They were leaning forward, and more than a few of them were already grinning and nodding to each other, making small gestures towards Shane. Anjij continued, ignoring the speculating glances. “However, the times they are a-changing, so we can now formally announce that the new captain of the Thrust for the 2013-2014 season…”
The cameras and mics turned slightly, all of them focusing on Shane. Devon swallowed a lump in his throat, feeling his fur beginning to prick up on end.
“…is Devon Kellendyne! Congratulations to Double Down!”
All was quiet for a few long, awful seconds. A few trigger-happy reporters snapped pictures of Shane, having not quite registered what they’d just heard. Devon could hear his own breathing in his ears, and for that one second, his feet were rooted to the ground. He felt like he was a rookie again, blundering around on the court during his first pro game.
Abruptly, a big hand clapped against his back. The cacomistle almost stumbled, but a moment later Peter had thrown his big, muscled arm around Devon’s shoulders. The cougar’s rich baritone voice rang out in a cheer.
Most of the rest of the team assembled on the stage joined in, applauding and cheering for the cacomistle. The reporters followed suit, albeit with a bit less enthusiasm. Amidst the noise, Peter leaned down, and whispered into Devon’s ear.
“Go on. You’ve earned this. Show them.”
With that, the cougar gave Devon a small shove over towards the podium. The cacomistle’s feet were suddenly no longer stuck to the floor, and then he was walking purposefully forward. The applause and cheering immediately quieted as Anjij welcomed him to the podium, stepping aside to let him get at the mic.
Devon looked out at the reporters; the sea of eyes and cameras and microphones pointed at him. He swallowed, then spoke. “Thank you, Miss Qimmiq. It’s an honour to be here speaking to all of you, and an even greater honour to be the captain on a team with so much skill and experience. We had a great season last year, and I can’t credit Peter and coach Kabat enough for how much I’ve learned. There have been a lot of big changes and power shifts during the off-season. That said, I feel confident that we’re ready for them. We’ve got some of the best talent in the league on this team. I can’t wait to get out on the court and show everybody what we can do together.”
Devon was just turning away to give the podium back to Anjij when a single voice called out over the silence. “Wouldn’t Rufus have made a better choice for captain?”
A soft rumble ran through all the reporters, a few of them even nodding to each other in assent. Anjij had stepped forward, the normally calm dog’s hackles rising as she glared out into the crowd, trying to figure out who’d spoken. Devon was frozen, half turned away from the mic. His ears flicked as he picked up occasional bits of conversation between reporters.
After a long few moments, the cacomistle turned back to the mic. Anjij shot him a look, but he raised a hand, nodding to her. He cleared his throat, and then spoke. “Shane and I haven’t had much of a chance to talk yet. That said, he’s unarguably one of the best in the league. He was the MVP last year for a reason.” He was stalling for time as he thought furiously. He had spent lots of time considering it over the past few nights. Shane had more experience than Devon; he put up better numbers, he was respected throughout the league, he had been a captain for years. What reason could Kabat and Anjij have had for making Devon the captain over Shane?
There was a roughly-calloused hand on Devon’s shoulder. The cacomistle turned, surprised, and started when he found Shane standing right behind him. The scarred and tattooed wolf met the smaller fur’s eyes, then nodded over towards the microphone. Devon gulped, but stepped out of the way, letting the red wolf approach the podium.
Shane didn’t pause as he leaned down to the microphone. “If there’s anybody that should be leading this team other than me, it’s Devon.” The wolf paused, giving everybody a chance to think about what he’d just said. Devon, standing just behind and next to the wolf, felt his tail lash a bit. The wolf went on, and Devon could hear the smirk in his voice. “Maybe I can learn something from my new captain.”
With that, the wolf turned away from the podium and faced Devon. The cacomistle was staring at him. Devon knew that the red wolf was mocking him. Some small voice in the back of his head was telling him that Shane was right to. Devon set his gaze, though, and didn’t back down under Fang’s slightly mocking grin.
Rufus held out a hand to Devon. Devon picked up on the cue, and took the hand.
Cameras flashed as the two guards shook. Nobody but Shane and Devon noticed that the motion was stiff, and that both of their arms were flexing as they squeezed each other’s hand.
October 30, 2013: 1:06 PM
Imperial Thai Cafe
San Jose, CA
“‘Maybe I can learn something from my new captain!’” Rob pounded on the table, roaring with laughter. All of the other patrons in the restaurant turned to stare at the jungle wolf and the three others sitting at his table. Shane, sitting across from Rob, just ignored them; he’d long since gotten used to people staring since he’d joined the FBA. “Did you see the look on the kid’s face? Don’t know whether he wanted to wet himself or jump you!”
Shane kept quiet and let Rob laugh. He knew it was pointless trying to interrupt the big jungle wolf whenever he got going. Instead, the red wolf focused on his food, and occasionally looked over at the other two people seated at their table. Next to Rob was Jimmy Mavis, a towering and heavily-built mule. He was a long time member of the Thrust, and it was him that had suggested that they come here to eat. After the press conference, the big mule had approached Shane and invited him to lunch. All of the waitresses at the restaurant had greeted him by name, and a few of the patrons had clearly recognized him, too. Shane didn’t know terribly much about Jimmy; the mule had a reputation as being the muscle on the Thrust, but very little else.
Across from Jimmy and next to Shane, Redawn Fenwatcher sat, keeping much more quiet than she normally did. The red panda looked tiny next to the other three sitting at the table, but Shane had long since learned not to underestimate her. Redawn was well-known in the league for her fiery attitude and more-than-occasional sharp tongue. She and Shane had been involved in a relationship since late the previous season, and having her signed to the Thrust had been one of Shane’s conditions for leaving Montana. She was eying the two wolves, tapping her fingers along the tabletop. Shane felt more than a bit nervous about her silence, but he tried to push it away as Rob finally quieted down.
“Well the reporters wanted a story. You think I gave them one?”
“Wouldn’t be surprised if it was already showing up on all the online editions.” Jimmy said this. He was stroking his big muzzle thoughtfully, clearly thinking about his next words. “I might be careful if I were you, though.”
“What, you think DK’s going to pick a fight with Fang?” Rob snorted, shaking his head. “I’d pay to watch that.”
“That’s not what I meant. Devon… let’s say that Kabat likes Devon. Even before DK took over leadership from Peter last year, Kabat clearly gave him preferential treatment.” Jimmy paused to take a bite of his curry and to let his words sink in for the others. He swallowed, and then kept speaking. “If you decide to give DK trouble, then you’re going to have Coach Kabat to deal with, too.”
They all lapsed into silence after that, picking at their food. Shane had finally met with Dimi Kabat just a few days ago. The grey squirrel had a sharp, direct way about him that Shane had immediately liked. That said, the coach had also seemed to get even sharper when discussing Shane’s position on the team. Not only was Shane not going to be captain, he was also going to be playing as shooting guard so that Devon could hold onto his coveted point guard position. The way the squirrel had said it had almost been like a challenge, or a test. Shane was finally starting to see why that might have been.
Kabat was smart. He’d known that Shane wouldn’t be alright with taking a backseat to Devon. He wanted to keep his personal favourite out in the spotlight as much as possible, and who knows? Maybe he was even trying to use Shane’s reputation to fuel that.
“Jimmy.” The mule looked up at Shane, raising an eyebrow. “You played with Kellendyne last year. What do you think of him?”
“Devon…” Jimmy stopped. “We wouldn’t have made it as far as we did in the playoffs last year without Devon. He’s a natural leader, and he’s a damn good point guard. Hell, in a few years, he might just be one of the best in the league.” He stopped again, and his forehead creased.
It was Redawn who prompted him, her voice a bit tight. “But?”
“But that was last year. Just look at our roster. We’ve brought on a lot of new people. Last year, our play style was all about technique and speed. It was great; it worked for us. But think about some of the people we’ve brought on. You and Rob. Sickstra, Zhidkov. We’ve got a lot of muscle on our team now. And, well… you’re Shane Rufus. You’re Fang. You’re one of the most aggressive players in the league. We all know that you’re faster than him, you shoot better than him, and when there isn’t an opening for you to take, you make one. I like DK and I respect him as a leader. If I had to pick between you and him, though?” The big mule shrugged. “It wouldn’t be a difficult choice, and I don’t think he’d have any right to be insulted.”
“How about the others on the team? The ones that played with DK last year.” Shane had pushed his half-finished meal away from himself now, and he was leaning back in his chair.
“You aren’t going to make much headway with Peter or Chip.” The mule ticked off on his fingers, referring to the Thrust’s former captain, and their chipmunk shooting guard. “Peter’s loyal to a fault, and Chip and DK have always gotten along well. Then there’s Donell.” Donell Macon was the Thrust’s big tiger and main centre. “He could go either way. I mean, his playing style definitely goes well with DK, but I think he would follow you if he thought you could carry us to the playoffs. Then Joey and Leo…” Joey Juloni and Leo Brovell were two of the Thrust’s backup guards, a leopard and a pitbull respectively. “That… would depend. I know they’ve both been looking at our roster this year and seeing a lot of guards and swings. Maybe if they thought they could get more playtime, they’d follow you, but it might be difficult.”
Shane looked over to Rob and Redawn again. Both of them were watching him, waiting for him to speak. The red wolf mulled things over a bit more, before finally nodding.
“Last year the Thrust’s captain and the Thrust’s leader weren’t the same fur. I don’t see why we can’t have the same arrangement this year. If Dimi wants, DK can be the figurehead. Doesn’t mean I have to listen to him, or that other people can’t listen to me.” The red wolf’s muzzle broke into a grin, then, and he muttered, “All we need now is the proper way to show the rest of the team who’s in charge.”
“You’ve got a plan?” Rob was looking increasingly excited, his ears coming forward as he waited.
“Our first preseason game’s against Dakota.” At this, both Jimmy and Rob’s smiles widened. Shane felt Redawn stiffening next to him, but he went on. “We show the rest of the team that if I’m in charge, we can even beat last year’s champs.”
Redawn spoke, her voice slightly colder than Shane was expecting. “You may be forgetting, but the Bikers are still a strong team. We can’t just plan to beat them and assume it’s going to happen.”
“Can’t we, though?” Rob was speaking now, tapping a hand on the table in excitement. When the others looked at him, he just shrugged. “Alright, the Bikers are good. If they’re all playing in peak condition, we’ll have trouble with them. That said, we all know that there are ways of getting to them.”
“Meaning?” Reddawn was sitting up straighter in her seat now, the small red panda somehow managing to look intimidating alongside the three other much bigger furs.
“Nothing bad! I’m not talking hurting them or anything like that. That said, there are a few players on their team whose… temperaments are easy to sway. If we start getting them angry or scared…”
“Scared.” Rob’s grin took on a disturbingly predatory edge. “I wouldn’t mind getting a crack at messing with the deer that took out Fang.”
“Leave Dylan out of this.” Redawn’s eyes were narrowed on Rob. “He’s been through enough.”
“He nearly fucking killed Shane.”
“He’s made up for it.”
“And since when did you care?”
“Dylan and I had our differences, but we’re past that now.”
Rob and Redawn looked like they were ready to keep on going, but Shane cut them off with a growl. When they looked over at him, he spoke. “Even if we don’t do it, there are going to be other players out there that try to use what happened last year against Dylan.”
“It doesn’t mean that we have to.”
“We’ll use it.” Redawn’s eyes narrowed at Shane’s declaration, and Rob’s lit up before the red wolf went on. “Rob, you keep back from Redfield.”
“I love you man, but you’re an asshole.” Rob sat up straighter in his seat, and looked as though he was about to yell into the red wolf’s face. He hesitated, though, considering. At length, he shrugged, nodded, then muttered,
Shane looked over at Jimmy. “Think you can do it? Throw him off, but don’t take it too far.”
The big mule nodded. “Shouldn’t be too difficult.”
“Alright. So there’s the plan. We put as many of the Bikers off of their game as possible, and try to get the ball to me. Rob, Jimmy, you’re our two power forwards. One of you should be on the court at all times. Red, you’re backing DK up as point guard. Try to get the ball to me whenever you can.”
“Are we going to be acting as though you’re our point guard, then?” Jimmy looked curious.
“Yeah. We need to show DK and Kabat who’s really in control out there. Sound good to everybody?”
The others all nodded, though Redawn looked very hesitant about it. Shane knew he’d be hearing about this later, but he just said, “Okay. We’ll crush the Bikers. Let’s eat.”
The rest of their meal was pleasant enough. Shane could feel Redawn squirming in her seat next to him, though. It wasn’t until the four of them had paid and left, and he and the red panda were walking through the parking lot that she spoke.
“You know that they’re still my team, right?” Her voice was quieter than normal.
“The Bikers. I still have lots of friends on that team. They taught me a lot.”
The red wolf sighed, then rolled his eyes. “You want to beat them as much as I do.”
She hesitated at that, then inclined her head. “Maybe I do. I don’t want to see any of them get hurt, though.”
“I’m not going to let things get out of hand.”
“Are you sure?” She stopped, crossing her arms as she looked up at him. “How do you know Rob and Jimmy will listen to you?”
Shane snorted at that. “Didn’t you hear them in there? How many times did they call me Fang? They worship the ground I walk on. They’ll listen.”
“Really? It sounded to me like the two of them were the ones talking you into doing what they wanted.”
He blinked, and his thoughts flew back to the conversation. He hesitated as he remembered how it went. Finally, he coughed, and muttered, “They’ll listen to me.”
“Sorry if I’m less than confident about you testing that against my old teammates. How’d you put it again? We’ll ‘crush’ them?”
Shane growled, deep in his throat. “Did you forget? You aren’t a Biker anymore. You’re with the Thrust.”
Redawn raised an eyebrow at that. When she next spoke, her voice was very low. “Last I checked, your Twitter still said that you’re point guard for the Howlers. You planning on fixing that anytime soon?”
The two of them were quiet after that, each one glaring at the other. Shane wasn’t sure how this conversation had fallen out of his control, but at some point it had.
After what felt like an eternity, the wolf muttered, “Do you have any idea how much you’re turning me on right now?”
The panda’s glare cracked, and she shook her head as she grinned at him. “Down boy. Save it for later.”
The two of them turned and kept walking. Their conversation became lighter and more playful. All the while, though, Shane had those nagging doubts at the back of his mind.
October 31, 2013: 4:56 PM
Rabbit Valley Pavilion II
San Jose, CA
“Well at least FUMB’s on your side.”
Devon sighed in annoyance and replied to Peter. “FUMB’s always on everybody’s side. They’re too afraid of a team’s owner getting angry at them.”
“Yeah, but they’re the most respected magazine!”
“And every single other magazine, website, and network is busy asking if Kabat was drinking when he decided on the new captain.”
Peter opened his mouth, then hesitated. Devon watched the cougar, waiting with his hands on his hips for a reply. Finally, the taller fur sighed and shook his head. “Alright. Things are going to be rough.”
The two of them lapsed into a tense silence after that. Devon knew that his tail was rigid and bristling behind him as he shoved his workout clothes roughly back into his locker. Normally he did his best to hold in his frustration, but the past few days had been rough.
Devon hadn’t been the only one to notice the none-too-subtle implied insult in what Shane had said. The media had picked up on it almost immediately, and more than a few sports reels that night had featured the footage of the two of them shaking hands, with commentators speculating on a power struggle in San Jose. Fortunately, most of the headlines and feature stories were focused on power shifts in the leagues and on other teams; still, it was grating on Devon’s nerves.
Finally, as the two of them finished packing up their things, Peter spoke. “Look. Kabat’s dealt you a tough hand. The best I can do right now is talk to you about where you stand.”
Devon sighed and sat down on the bench. “Fine. Where I stand. Shane’s faster and stronger than me. He shoots and passes better than me. He’s got almost a decade of experience on me. Not to mention, everybody is excited for his big comeback, and they’re still looking at me as the ‘replacement Mitchell.’”
“Alright. At this point, we have to assume that Shane’s looking to show you up. Have you talked to Kabat about it?”
Devon nodded slowly, his thoughts going back to his conversation with the squirrel. His tall ears flicked, and then he spoke very hesitantly. “He knows Shane’s going to be difficult, but he seems to think that I can handle it.”
“And how does that make you feel?”
“It kind of wobbles between confidence and wanting to throw up.” The cacomistle’s tail flicked. He took a deep breath, and then spoke. “I mean… you saw him at practice today. The things he was doing… I can’t outplay Shane, Peter. I just can’t. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
Neither of them spoke for a time, both of them lost in their thoughts. Devon didn’t feel uncomfortable with Peter’s silent presence. He’d always gotten along well with the tall cougar. Even the announcement that Devon would be replacing Peter as captain hadn’t hurt their friendship.
At last, Peter spoke. “Alright. Well maybe you don’t have to outplay him. You just need to be a better leader.”
“How do you mean?”
“Everybody knows that Shane’s a stronger player than you. Kabat does, too. If he’s decided to make you captain, then that means he’s chosen you for some reason other than your playing skill. Chip, Donell, Jimmy, Joey, Leo and I all know from last year that you’re a strong leader. They should trust you. I know that I do.”
Devon nodded very slowly at the cougar’s words, lost in his own thoughts. Their ride in the playoffs the previous season, brief as it was, had made Devon feel electric. He considered for a few more moments, and then finally spoke. “Alright. But we both know that Rob and Redawn are going to side with Shane if he decides to make things difficult for me.”
“Don’t worry about Rob or Redawn. In fact, don’t worry about anybody else at all. The best thing that you can do is show Shane that you’re a leader. Earn his respect, and the others will follow you.”
The two of them were quiet for a few moments longer. The spell was finally broken when Devon stood up. Peter nodded, and the two of them headed out of the locker room. They were quiet until they stepped outside, into the sunlight. As the two of them were about to part, Devon spoke. “Well. At the very least we’ve got a good first test.”
Peter stopped, and smiled over at the cacomistle. “Dakota?”
Devon returned the cougar’s grin, his tail twitching behind him in excitement. “You know they’re still calling me the Thrust’s replacement for Mitchell. A little bit of a preseason showdown might help with that.”
Peter snorted. “Now there’s the Double Down from last season.”
November 1, 2013: 6:48 PM
“Alright, we’ve got a pretty packed stadium for a preseason game.” Dimi Kabat’s voice was sharp, and managed to be clear through his occasionally strong accent. The grey squirrel cast his critical gaze over the entire team, sizing each one of them up in turn. “I don’t need to tell you how big of a test this game is going to be. We’re going up against last season’s champions. They’ve made some changes, but their starting line up is almost unchanged. Mitchell, Malone, Redfield, Quvianuq and Wayans make a formidable line up. If we want to win this, all of us need to be at the top of our games.”
The squirrel paused, letting his words sink in. The entire team could feel the next few words coming; they knew that Kabat had more to say. Hell, there was a lot more that had to be said. Small glances were being cast about, most of them falling on Shane. The red wolf had his eyes trained on Kabat, and his muzzle was drawn into a tight line. Redawn, sitting next to him, was getting almost as many looks. The small red panda was trying to mimic Shane’s cool composure, but her long tail gave it away. It was almost tying itself into knots behind her; nobody could tell if it was from nerves or excitement. Everybody was thinking about that fateful game last season, when Dylan Redfield, power forward for the Bikers, had gored Shane. The rumours about Redawn’s rage against the deer after the incident were legendary.
The few other looks were going to the other former member of the Bikers on their team. Sitting slightly off from the other members of the team, David Hodge had his arms crossed. The big wolf was leaning back, and he was doing his best to ignore the looks coming to him. He’d spent most of the previous season as the starting centre for the Bikers. As such, he’d played alongside the Bikers’ starters more than anybody else on the team.
When Kabat spoke again, everybody’s attention snapped back to him. “Now. I know that many people on this team have history with the Bikers. I respect that. However, I must ask one thing: don’t let that history cloud your judgement tonight. All that matters is what’s happening right here, right now. We are a team. We, together, are the San Jose Thrust. The people sitting here tonight are your teammates. We win or lose off of each other’s backs tonight, and for the rest of the season. Let’s go out there and show the entire league that we’re here to win this year.”
Everybody nodded, and there were a few smatterings of murmured agreement. If Dimi was disappointed by the lack of strong response, he didn’t show it. Instead, he just nodded, and led the way out. Devon got up with the rest, and tried to keep his back straight and his gaze set as he followed his coach towards the court. He could already hear the announcer’s booming voice echoing in the stadium, working the crowd up in preparation for the game. The cacomistle made sure his breathing was steady, and he stood ready and waiting for their cue to head out onto the court.
He looked over to Dimi, standing just next to him. The grey squirrel’s eyes were on him. Seeing that he had the cacomistle’s attention, Dimi leaned in, and spoke just loud enough for him to hear.
Devon actually snorted at that before he caught himself. He responded, just as quietly. “Yeah. I’m nervous.”
“Easier said than done, coach.”
Dimi paused at that, those tall ears of his flicking. “You trust me, yes?”
“Of course I do.”
“And you trust my judgement.”
“Well then don’t be nervous.” Dimi’s voice was sharp, but his tone oddly comforting. “I trust you. You can lead this team.”
With that, Dimi turned away from Devon and faced the rest of the team, arranged behind the two of them. The squirrel spoke, his voice loud enough for the rest to hear. “I’m off to the bench. Make me proud. Remember: when you step out there, the Dakota crowd is going to boo you. They’re doing it because they’re afraid that all of you are going to show up their team in their shiny new stadium.” A few chuckles rang out through the team at that. The squirrel went on, undaunted. “In Thrust we trust.”
With that, he turned, and walked away from them, heading down the hallway that would lead him to the away team’s bench. Devon took a deep breath or two, steadying himself as he watched the coach walking away. Then, he turned back to the rest of the team. All of their eyes were on him.
For half a second, Devon felt his stomach doing a backflip. It was worse than his first pro game. At least during his first game, nobody had been watching him. Now, everybody’s eyes would be on him. They’d be watching his every move for even the slightest mistake, waiting to talk about how stupid of an idea it had been to make him ca-
“Alright.” His own voice was speaking. “I think Kabat’s said just about everything that needs to be said. We’ve got a lot of talented players on this team. Just from our practices, I know that we’re stronger than we ever were last year. We’ve got everything we need to win tonight. Let’s—”
“We know.” Everybody stiffened at that, and heads whipped around to stare at Shane. The red wolf’s arms were crossed, and the look on his face was equal parts condescending and bored. Rob was standing just behind him, the jungle wolf smirking openly. Shane went on once he was sure he had everybody’s attention. “Look, we appreciate the motivational speech, cap, but we know. We’re better than the Bikers. Let’s tear them apart.”
Devon cleared his throat. He knew that the rest of the team was waiting for him to speak. “I don’t know if ‘tearing them apart’ is what we’re going for, here. We—”
“Oh give it a rest.” It was Rob speaking this time. Devon blinked, stung by the rebuke. The jungle kept going. “We’ve got Fang on our team. Who’re we going to listen to? A cacomistle who’s got less playing experience than most of the people on the team, or last year’s MVP, who’s been a captain for longer than DK’s been playing?”
Nobody spoke for a few moments. Devon stared at the two wolves, trying to think of something to say. He couldn’t, though. Everything Rob had said was what he’d been thinking for the past few weeks. He could feel everybody’s eyes going back and forth between him and Shane.
He was saved from having to respond when, suddenly, the voice on the loudspeaker jumped up in volume. He could just make out the words, leading into introducing the Thrust. Devon took a deep breath, and muttered, “We’ll finish this conversation later. For now, let’s—”
Shane was already stepping forward. He brushed by Devon without a word, cutting him off by bumping his shoulder. The red wolf started heading towards the doors. “Let’s go.”
Rob and Redawn were already following Shane, stepping by Devon. Rob’s grin was still plastered across his muzzle as he stared the cacomistle down, but Redawn at least kept her head slightly down. Much to Devon’s shock, Jimmy followed after the pair, keeping his gaze straight ahead without looking at the cacomistle.
Devon stared after them, his heart hammering in his chest. Then, his eyes narrowed, and he glanced over his shoulder at the rest of the team. They were all watching him and the retreating quartet, none of them sure how to react.
“Well, let’s head out.”
Devon stepped forward, walking quickly. He overtook Jimmy, Redawn and Rob easily, and just as Shane was about to step out from under the shelter of the stands to the court, the cacomistle stepped up alongside him. The red wolf flashed a look down at him, raising an eyebrow. Devon met the look evenly, and hissed out through clenched teeth, “Shall we?”
The look on Shane’s face shifted, until he had a small, predatory smile on his muzzle. “You sure you want to fight me on this?”
Devon held his glare. He could feel the rest of the team gathering up behind them, and he knew that all of them could see the aggression etched across both of their bodies.
The voice on the loudspeaker called out, “The San Jose Thrust!”
Devon and Shane both turned away from each other at the same moment, and they stepped out onto the court, into the lights. Voices exploded with cheers and applause as the team filed out. There was some of the normal jeering that was always reserved for the visiting team, but Devon ignored it, as he’d long since learned to do. He raised a hand in greeting to the audience, knowing that the rest of his team was doing the same around him.
It wasn’t until Devon’s eyes adjusted to the bright lights shining down on them that he noticed something odd about the audience. Most of them were wearing the black and white of the Dakota Bikers, and Devon could pick out a few pockets of purple Thrust jerseys amongst them. What was strange was the number of dark, navy blue jerseys out in the audience; in fact, they easily rivalled the amount of purple.
Devon’s head made the mental connection that dark blue was the colour of the Montana Howlers at around the same time that he noticed how many of the jerseys bore a white ‘8’ emblazoned on the front. The cacomistle felt his heart sinking in his chest as he looked over sharply at Shane.
The red wolf had stepped into the middle of the court, and was pumping one fist into the air while the other plucked at the 8 on the front of his own jersey. While the rest of the cheering died down, there was a definite, audible chant coming up from all those wearing the Montana jerseys.
“Fang! Fang! Fang! Fang!”
The chant grew in strength, feet stomping and hands clapping in time to it. Shane, at centre court, threw both of his arms into the air, like a conductor guiding his orchestra on, goading them to new heights.
Amidst the chanting and the clapping and the cheering for Fang, Devon felt somebody step up behind him. He didn’t look as Jimmy leaned over, and muttered into his ear, “Might want to give this one to Shane, Devon.”
The cacomistle’s tail lashed sharply behind him once, and he spoke just loud enough for the mule to hear over the crowd. “I thought you’d be on my side for this.”
The mule snorted. “Come on, DK. This one isn’t about sides. Look, Shane lives for this. He hasn’t been able to play in front of a crowd for months. Sure, he’s been a bit of an ass about it, but just give him this game. This means more to him than I think you know.”
Devon blinked at that, and he looked over at Shane again. He hadn’t actually thought about it from that angle. Jimmy pulled away from behind him as the chanting finally started dying down. Devon hesitated, but then he joined in with some of the residual clapping.
Once the clapping had finally fully died, the announcer called out the Bikers. They came out to great applause, and soon the two teams approached centre court.
Everything fell into that supernatural quiet that preceded tipoff. Donell, the tall, bulky tiger, stepped forward to the centre line for the Thrust. Daniel Quivanuq, a hulking polar bear, stepped forward to meet him for the Bikers. The two towering furs stared each other down, waiting for the ball to go up into the air.
The other members of the two teams spread out, preparing. Just next to Donell and Quvianuq, Jimmy was sticking close to Jack Wayans, a black lab that almost managed to match the big mule for size. Sammy Sickstra, the Thrust’s cougar small forward, was off on the other side of the two centres, keeping himself in the open. Dylan Redfield, Sammy’s counterpart on the Bikers, was similarly off and out of the way; it seemed that the red deer and the cougar had mutually decided to keep clear of each other for the tipoff.
Directly back from centre court, Shane was standing crouched low. He was directly between Devon and centrecourt, waiting and ready. On the opposite side of the court, Ryan Malone and Mitchell Redding were arranged identically to the red wolf and the cacomistle. Ryan, a kangaroo, was watching his team’s movements carefully, his eyes darting around to check on everybody. Mitchell, the famous rabbit point guard, and former captain of the Thrust, was as calm as he always was at the start of a game.
Devon finished his quick survey of both teams, and realized that he could hear his heart pounding in his ears. The cacomistle shook his head, and looked straight ahead, locking his eyes on Donell’s back. They could do this. He just had to focus.
The ball went up into the air, and the tiger and the polar bear jumped.
Donell’s paw hooked deftly around the ball, and sent it back. Devon narrowed his eyes, and prepared to grab it.
Abruptly, Shane jumped. The red wolf caught the pass that had been meant for Devon, and then he bolted. Devon could barely keep track of him. The red wolf was past centre court before anybody even had time to react. The crowd let out a delayed roar, and the players started moving, the Thrust pressing forward to back Shane up, and the Bikers moving to try and cut him off.
Shane was already well past most of them by that point, though. Ryan came forward hard, the kangaroo keeping low. Shane didn’t slow down; the ball hammered along the polished floorboards, and his feet cut to the side. Ryan moved to step with him, but Shane turned, passing the ball deftly to his other hand. He stepped around the kangaroo, blocking him with his back.
The wolf slipped by, but Ryan was already following, the kangaroo having caught his balance quickly. Shane kept up his breakneck pace, staying just a step ahead of the kangaroo while closing with Mitchell.
The rabbit came forward. He just had to hold Shane up for a second, then Ryan would catch up. The red wolf was good, but he wouldn’t be able to get around both Mitchell and Ryan at the same time. Mitchell stepped forward, placing himself directly between Shane and the net.
The wolf came in and feinted left before stepping hard to the right. Mitchell tried to follow, but the wolf proved faster. He stepped past Mitchell, leaving the rabbit stumbling and off balance from the short exchange. Mitchell turned, hoping he could still catch the wolf.
Shane was too fast, though. He took one more step towards the net, and then jumped.
There was silence throughout the stadium as the wolf went up into the air, and his arms swung around. The ball slammed through the hoop, and Shane’s fingers slapped against it.
For a breath or two, the only sound was the bouncing of the ball as it hit the ground, and the thump as Shane landed.
Applause thundered through the stadium, and cheers echoed.
Both teams recovered quickly from their surprise, and soon the Bikers were coming forward with the ball. Devon moved up, trying to get into position to guard Mitchell. Shane, on his way back over from the Biker’s net, leaned over as he passed the cacomistle.
“How was that, captain? Was I doing that right?”
Devon’s ears flicked back flat against his head, but he didn’t have time to respond. He moved forward, keeping his eyes on Mitchell as the rabbit rushed towards him. This was Shane’s game. He was going to let the wolf have this one. Just this one.
He and Mitchell met, and Devon shoved Shane out of his head as he watched the rabbit and moved to keep himself in the other point guard’s way.
“Excited to be back in the game?”
Dylan flicked his eyes over to Jimmy, then looked back over at where Devon was dribbling and looking to pass. “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Glad to hear it. Lots of players wouldn’t have been able to come back from something like that.”
Dylan tensed as Devon turned and passed the ball over to Sammy Sickstra. There was a flurry of activity that ultimately ended with the ball bouncing off of the backboard. Dylan moved quickly, and then the ball was in his hands. The deer turned, and was off down towards the other end of the court. He could hear and feel Jimmy behind him, trying to catch him.
The deer was already in the clear, though. He closed with the hoop, and threw. It was an easy shot, and Dylan made it.
The game went on for a short while longer, and Dylan quickly forgot about his short exchange with Jimmy. After Shane’s initial rush, the Thrust had slowed down. The Bikers were slowly but surely gaining momentum, and soon Dylan was settling into that normal rhythm that he was used to in a game.
The Bikers were on the defence the next time Jimmy got close to him. The big mule spoke quickly out of the corner of his mouth, surprising Dylan at first.
“So how’d the Montana crowd treat you last night?”
Dylan blinked, then snorted. “Well, there wasn’t much love lost.”
“Guess it’s to be expected after what happened last time you played there.”
“Yeah,” the deer muttered, and he stiffened slightly. “Look, let’s focus on the game.”
Things started moving again, and Jimmy was drawn away from Dylan. The deer tried to shake off the exchange and get his head back into the game. He couldn’t help his eyes flicking up to the stands, though, and staring at the dark blue Montana Howlers jerseys.
When Coach Kabat called for Rob to switch out and give Jimmy a break, the jungle wolf stepped purposefully forward, striding across the court with well-practiced ease. He and Jimmy had discussed their plans before the game. Jimmy would get Redfield uncomfortable, distracting him to the point where he wouldn’t be able to play properly.
Neither of them were sure how well that strategy would work, though. They were depending on Dylan still feeling guilty for what had happened to Shane, or, failing that, for him to still feel a bit nervous about getting lynched for what had happened. If they were lucky, that would be enough to put the normally reliable deer off his game.
Failing that, though… well, there were far more reliable ways to trigger certain members of the Bikers.
Rob made a direct path towards the Bikers’ side of the court as his team went on the offense. He made a point of sticking a bit further out from the net than he normally would, and this put him within very easy speaking distance of Ryan Malone, the Bikers’ kangaroo shooting guard.
“You and Mitchell sure seem to be getting all buddy buddy.”
If the kangaroo was surprised by Rob’s words, he didn’t show it. He just kept his eyes focused on Devon, who was carrying the ball, and Mitchell, who was guarding him. He didn’t even look at Rob as he replied.
“Not sure what you mean.”
“You kidding? Last year this time, you were going on a tear about him stealing your thunder in Dakota.”
Devon tossed the ball. It went over to Shane, who dribbled back and forth in front of Redfield before passing across to Sammy. The cougar turned and moved to shoot, but Quvianuk was already looming in front of him. Sammy looked, but found nobody to pass to. He made a desperate shot, but it bounced off of the backboard and was scooped up by Wayans. Wayans sent the ball to Mitchell, and the two teams took off down the court, back towards the Thrust’s end.
Rob kept pace with Ryan across the court, speaking all the while. “I mean, two seasons ago you were the Bikers. Now…”
“Maybe you’re forgetting who won MVP for the finals last year?”
Their back and forth was cut short as Mitchell passed directly to Ryan this time. The kangaroo stepped quickly around Rob, and raised the ball in his hands. Rob started turning, and then purposefully misplaced his feet, forcing himself to stumble sideways. He bumped against Ryan, throwing the kangaroo off as the ball left his hands.
One of the refs blew a whistle, and Ryan turned to glare at Rob, already yelling out, “What in the—”
“Sorry, sorry! I tripped!”
“Like hell you tripped!
“It was a long off-season! Don’t know where I’m putting my paws!”
The ref stepped over, holding the ball out to Ryan. The kangaroo snatched it, then stalked over to the free throw line, muttering to himself.
Rob wasn’t surprised when he saw Kabat waving him over from the bench. He jogged over, sharing a knowing look with Jimmy as the mule passed him. Ryan Malone was known for his temper. All it would take were a few more small interactions like that.
For the rest of the first half, Jimmy and Rob kept up their constant harassment of Dylan and Ryan. The mule and the jungle wolf were constantly on the other two players, heckling and purposefully tripping them up. They were very careful to make everything look like an accident, so there was nothing that the refs could really call them on.
At the same time, both players made a point of giving preference to passing to Shane over Devon. It occasionally led to confusion on the court, as their other teammates would expect to be paying attention to Devon for incoming passes and plays.
When halftime was called, none of the Thrust were surprised to find their coach in a foul mood. They were trailing fifteen points behind the Bikers, and Kabat assured them that if they kept playing the way they were, the gap would only stretch wider. He paced around the locker room, yelling more than speaking. The grey squirrel gave every member of the team that had had playtime a solid dressing down, efficiently and sharply pointing out every mistake they’d made thus far in the game.
Finally, after he’d finished criticizing Donell for underestimating Quvianuq’s speed, the squirrel stopped and took a long, deep breath. The team was completely silent. They knew he wasn’t finished.
“Lastly. Our two power forwards.” The squirrel turned, settling his eyes firmly on Rob and Jimmy. The two furs met his gaze, neither of them blinking. “I’m not sure whether you’re both drunk, or somebody slipped something into your waterbottles before we started. Regardless, watch where you’re stepping. I’ll pull both of you if I feel that I have to. Now everybody, get back out there and play like a team, for Christ sake.”
Ryan was already fuming when he and Rob met up again. They had their conversation in small snippets as they moved across the court, but both he and the jungle wolf were able to keep perfect track.
“What kind of a game are you playing?” The kangaroo wasn’t even looking at Rob; his eyes were fixed on Mitchell as the rabbit looked for an opening to pass.
“We’re just emphasizing our strongest assets.”
“Being an ass to your captain and losing, more like it.”
The two of them stopped as Quivanuq got the ball, and the polar bear sent it up easily for a basket. The teams cut across the court again, and Rob specifically placed himself so that Ryan would be blocking him.
“What, you feeling bad for DK?”
“Feeling bad for your team. You’re playing like idiots.”
“Aw, well I’m sorry to hear that. I wouldn’t worry about it for long, though.”
They were interrupted as Sickstra managed to lean around Wayans and land a basket. The wolf and the kangaroo pair met up back on the Thrust’s end again, and Rob kept speaking as though they’d never been interrupted.
“If the Thrust’s history repeats, DK’ll probably be over with you guys soon.”
Mitchell threw the ball, and Ryan caught it easily. He feinted left, and then cut around Rob on the right. As he started rising to shoot, Rob let out one last jab.
“Since you’re already so nice to him, I’m sure you won’t have any trouble with Kellendyne stealing your spotlight, too.”
Ryan’s forehead stitched, and he shot. Even as the ball was leaving his hands, though, he knew he’d put too much strength behind it. It bounced off of the backboard, and Donell managed to snatch it up.
Rob kept pace with the kangaroo for the first few steps as they started heading back to the far end of the court. The jungle wolf’s voice grated on the kangaroo’s nerves as he spoke. “MVP of the finals, huh? Having trouble seeing it.”
Ryan took up his position on the other side, watching the Thrust coming forward. It looked like Rob was finally going to leave him alone for now, and he appreciated it. He kept his eyes on Devon as the cacomistle brought the ball forward, and Mitchell met him.
It was about halfway through the third quarter when things started changing.
Devon had been doing his best to keep his head up throughout the game, playing as he normally did and ignoring the significantly louder cheers whenever Shane touched the ball. It bit at him every time that his teammates passed to Shane instead of him, but he had to just push through it. At the very least, Donell, Chip, and Peter were still treating him like the captain and pointguard. The others, though…
It was a strange game. The Thrust were struggling, and it was plain to see why. The entire team was divided, and all of them were playing poorly as a result. Even Shane and Devon were having trouble; neither was entirely sure when somebody was going to pass to them, or who they were supposed to be guarding on the defence. Devon had noticed a few of the Bikers casting confused glances at the two of them, particularly Mitchell on the one or two occasions when both he and Shane had moved to guard him at once.
Partway through the third quarter, though, Devon and Shane’s awkward dodging around each other started taking a back seat. It wasn’t just the Thrust that were off; the Bikers were starting to slip as well.
It began with Dylan Redfield. The deer started out playing with all the skill and physical dominance that he was known for. He managed to play perfectly off of Mitchell, helping to make openings and catch the Thrust’s defence off-guard. As the game wound on, though, his movements got more jerky, less certain; he was second guessing himself. Shots that Dylan normally would have had no trouble with bounced off of the backboard again and again.
Even more dramatic was Ryan Malone. As the game went on, the kangaroo was getting more and more aggressive. Shane, Rob and Jimmy kept managing to get themselves in his way, throwing off his shots. A number of personal fouls had been called, but they weren’t helping to calm the kangaroo’s temper. The frustration was pushing him, and as the game went on, he was taking bigger chances. In all fairness, his aggression helped get him in place to break up several of the Thrust’s plays, and for a while that was all.
As Ryan kept missing his shots, though, Shane was hitting his stride. Every time the red wolf touched the ball, it found its way into the basket. Dylan’s hesitance and Ryan’s aggression only made it easier for Shane to dominate the game, and the red wolf was taking full advantage of it.
Towards the end of the third quarter, a chant started rising from the stands. At first, Devon didn’t notice it; he was too busy trying to follow everything happening in the game. It had already reached a strong, steady rhythm when the cacomistle finally clued in, and he felt his tail lashing behind him.
“The Ruf, the Ruf, the Ruf is on fire!”
The game continued, and every time that the red wolf managed to land a basket, the chanting started up again, louder each time. Devon managed to ignore it, but he could see that the chant was starting to affect some of the other players on the court. Dylan, who’d already looked harried, was visibly uncomfortable each time that the chanting started up.
Ryan’s actions were getting more aggressive, and the kangaroo was starting to take risks. It pushed him to make some truly impressive defensive plays, but at the same time, he started bumping into other players occasionally. All the while, Shane was getting more aggressive on the offensive, making similar mistakes. Between Shane, Ryan, Rob, and Jimmy, the refs’ whistles were blowing almost constantly.
A few minutes into the fourth quarter, Jimmy finally fouled out. The big mule had stumbled into Dylan while the deer was lining up a shot. Jimmy, as always, took the foul in stride, nodding at the ref’s call and finally making his way off the court and over to the bench. Devon watched him walking away, and he didn’t miss the look that passed between Jimmy and Rob as the jungle wolf came out to take his position.
The two teams took up their positions as Dylan got ready to make his free throws. Devon took the opportunity to look around, and tally things up in his head. Shane, Ryan, and Rob all sat at five personal fouls; one more for any of them would result in them being fouled out of the game. All three of them were visibly agitated; their eyes were flicking around, waiting for the game to start again.
Devon finally looked over at Dylan, and couldn’t help feeling bad. It wasn’t the first time that the deer had gone up to the free throw line that game. He’d been a victim of more than a few of the personal fouls that night. In fact… Devon’s forehead creased as he thought back across the game, thinking of who had been where. Jimmy had been around Dylan an awful lot that night. In fact, if he remembered right, most of Jimmy’s personal fouls had occurred while bumping into the deer. While he was thinking about it, Rob had been keeping an unusually close guard on Ryan…
Slowly, Devon’s mouth set itself into a thin, grim line. Oh. So that’s what was going on.
Dylan made his shots, missing the first to a round of reassuring applause from the Dakota fans and jeers from the fans wearing Howlers jerseys. After he made the second free throw, play was rejoined. There were a few quick back and forths that ultimately ended when Ryan ran into Rob, incurring his sixth and final personal foul. The kangaroo was almost vibrating with aggression as the ref walked over, and one or two of his teammates stepped over to make sure he didn’t boil over.
As the kangaroo was walked off of the court, Devon heard one of the refs blowing their whistle. He looked, and saw that the Bikers had called a time out. The two teams were already filing towards their benches.
The cacomistle took a very long, deep breath. Then, he turned sharply on his heel to face his own bench. Most of the rest of the team was already gathered there in a circle, waiting for the few remaining players to show up. Coach Dimi had his eyes on Devon, waiting for him to approach. The cacomistle lowered his head, and then strode towards them. He pushed his way into the centre of the circle, and then stepped straight up to Shane. The red wolf was surprised by the cacomistle’s sudden appearance, but set his gaze.
“What the hell are you doing?” Devon snapped, not giving Dimi the chance to speak.
“Last I checked, I was winning you the game.”
“You’re showboating and making us look like a bunch of… of fucking goons!” The fur along Devon’s tail was bristling. He could barely speak.
“Look, captain, if you’re angry because I’m stealing your spotlight, then I’m sorry. Maybe you should try picking up your game a bit.”
“I’m angry because you’re acting like a child and deliberately splitting the team.” Devon turned his glare away from Shane, and met the eyes of the rest of his teammates, one at a time. He lingered the longest on Rob and Jimmy, not faltering at the jungle wolf’s grin or the mule’s stone face. The cacomistle used the seconds to gather his breath, and then kept speaking. “Is this what we want to be known for? As the team that doesn’t work together and that can only win by bullying its opponents?”
Jimmy cleared his throat, then spoke. “Well it’s working—”
“Your opinion stopped mattering to me when you intentionally fouled out while guilt-tripping Redfield.” The mule’s straight face cracked the slightest bit at the cacomistle’s harsh words. He stared at the much smaller fur, stunned. Devon held his gaze for a few seconds, and then turned back towards Shane.
“We’ve got five minutes left to show that we aren’t just a bunch of schoolyard bullies. Coach?” Devon turned his gaze over towards Dimi. The grey squirrel was standing back from the circle of players, his arms crossed, his face unreadable. He nodded the slightest bit, acknowledging Devon. “I want Rob off the court, and Peter to take his place.” Rob’s grin flickered, but otherwise he didn’t react.
The squirrel nodded again, very slowly, and then said, “And what about Shane, captain?”
Devon looked over to the red wolf. Shane met his gaze, his cocky condescension gone. He wasn’t just looking down on Devon, anymore. No, now he looked like he was actually trying to stare him down, his hackles rising.
“I want Shane. Let’s get back out there. Shane, a moment.”
Everybody nodded, and they broke. Once the others had gone out onto the court or returned to the bench, Devon stepped up closer to the red wolf. Shane was still wearing all of that aggression openly on his face, and he didn’t say a word.
Devon didn’t back down. He stood up as straight as he could, and then spoke just loud enough for the wolf to hear him. “I’m giving you a chance. Show me that you can be more than just a bully.”
The two of them turned away from each other, and then headed back to their positions on the court. Donell, Sammy, and Peter all cast looks back at the two guards, but their attention was drawn back forward as the Bikers, too, returned to the court.
Donell and Daniel squared off again, both of them preparing for the tip off.
The ball went up…
Donell just managed to scoop it away from the big polar bear. The tiger sent it over towards Peter, and the cougar instinctively passed it back towards Devon.
Shane swooped between the cougar and the cacomistle, grabbed the ball, and then took off towards the net. He only got a few steps before Wayans came out in front of him.
Devon was already running out to the side, unguarded. Shane glanced around for somebody to pass to, and his eyes fell on the cacomistle. Devon raised his hands, predicting the pass.
Shane turned away, and instead stepped forward, trying to get by the black Labrador. Wayans came in low, and scooped the ball away from the wolf. He took off down the court.
Devon sighed audibly, watching as Shane turned to intercept the lab. The cacomistle moved to follow, but he didn’t put much effort into it. He could already see that Shane was running too fast and getting too aggressive. The wolf wouldn’t be able to stop his momentum. A moment later, he heard the whistle blow, and he rolled his eyes as the call went out.
Personal foul on Shane Rufus.
Devon didn’t even watch the ensuing argument between Shane and the ref. Instead he just looked over to the bench. Dimi was watching him, the squirrel’s arms crossed and his face unreadable. The cacomistle simply nodded over to where Chip was sitting on the bench, and the squirrel nodded, leaning over to tap the chipmunk on the shoulder.
Once Shane had left the court and Chip had taken his place, everybody got into position, waiting for Wayans to take his free throws. As the lab got himself ready, a voice spoke just next to Devon.
“Everything alright?” Mitchell had his eyes fixed on Wayans. Devon didn’t let his concentration break; he just looked at the rabbit from the corner of his eyes.
“Yeah. We’re finishing this clean.”
Wayans went up onto the balls of his feet, and he shot.
November 2, 2013: 9:30 AM
San Jose, CA
Dimi stepped into Anjij’s office. The Eskimo dog was seated at her desk, leaning back with her fingers steepled. Dimi took a seat, and waited for her to begin.
“I assume you’re here to discuss last night’s game.”
Anjij paused, tapping her fingers.
“Well, frankly Ms Qimmiq, last night’s game was a farce.” Dimi leaned forward, and his big ears perked up. “Twenty-six personal fouls. Twenty-six! And several players report that Shane, Rob, and Jimmy were deliberately antagonizing the other side.”
“And yet,” Anjij interrupted, “Fang scored 47 points.”
“If I may speak plainly, Shane made an ass of himself. He divided the team and provoked teammates and opponents alike. We’re lucky that nobody was hurt last night.”
“So you suggest?”
“I suggest putting Shane into deep reserve until he gets his act straight. If he still hasn’t calmed down, then maybe the Thrust isn’t the team for him.”
Anjij nodded slowly, calmly. Then, very softly, “Our season ticket sales went through the roof this morning. Marketing thinks we’ll outsell the last season we had with Redding as captain. All of our Dakota and Montana games for the season are already almost sold out.”
There was silence as Anjij waited for Dimi’s response. The grey squirrel was motionless. At length, he spoke.
“You’re saying that I should turn a blind eye to his behaviour because of ticket sales.”
“Dimi, we need this. The Thrust barely turned a profit last year. I respect your opinions, and I agree that Fang’s behaviour on the court last night was unsportsmanlike at best, but frankly, we need him. I’ve already upset a lot of fans by allowing you to appoint Kellendyne as captain—”
“Devon earned that.”
“Last year! He earned it last year. I appreciate his leadership and all he brings to the team, but putting Kellendyne on a poster isn’t going to sell out a game, and it wasn’t him who got 47 points last night.”
“Ticket sales and showboating don’t make a captain.”
“And a good attitude and decent leadership skills aren’t going to fund a professional sports franchise.”
The two of them stopped, both of them glaring at each other. Dimi wasn’t sure when, but at some point he’d stood up from his chair. Anjij’s hackles were raised, and thick fur bunching the collar of her suit.
At length, Dimi spoke. “So where does that leave us?”
Anjij didn’t respond at first. She waited a few breaths until she’d gotten her temper under control, and then answered. “Dimi, I respect your opinions. You know that. I can’t let you pull Shane off of our starting line just because he’s being difficult. I do agree that there needs to be a clear leader on the team, though, so…” The Eskimo dog glanced away, hesitating.
“Say what you want to say.”
“Maybe you need to take a hard look at Devon and Shane, and decide which one is really leading this team.”
There was silence in the office. Dimi’s face was unreadable. “Shane and Devon will both be sitting out the rest of the preseason to give our less experienced players a chance to play.”
“I respect that.”
“Will that be all?”
“Yes. I trust you, Dimi.”
“Thank you, Anjij.”
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