Story:The Deal

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The Deal
Written by <Tazel>


Story by Tazel Sixpaws and Stevie Maxwell, Copyright 2015, All characters are copyright to their creators, The FBA is copyright to Mitchell Redding


Friday, March 6th, 6:58 PM.

In a small subdivision of Austin, a reasonable house stood. Reasonable. Not fancy. Not showy. Decent size, decent neighborhood, though the added security of an iron gate and an electronic surveillance system indicated someone did not want to be disturbed.

It certainly didn’t look the part of a professional athlete’s domicile, especially a basketball player. Those buildings were usually much more ‘blingful’, if such a word existed. But this house looked like just about every other house in the area. Nothing special about it.

The coyote got out of his car on the street side, put on his bolo tie with the 'H' prominently displayed, put on his black blazer jacket, grabbed his briefcase and approached the gate. There was a small intercom there. He pushed the call button and waited patiently. A crisp male voice with a light Kansan twang answered.

“Yes?”

“Mr. Jeff Hunter, from Athletic Talent Hunters, here to see Mr. Buckner.”

“Right on time. Come in.”

The visitor listened for the click of the gate, indicating a remote unlock. He pushed open the portal and walked down the cobblestone pathway to the front door. He took mental note of the surroundings. His potential client did not see much need for grandiosity when it came to home and hearth. That actually was a plus. Those who flaunt, typically get the taunt.

Climbing the small porch steps, Jeff knocked on the door. It too, clicked to unlock, and swung open. In the hallway light, he could see the outline of the large ears and solid shoulders of the koala, clothed in a knit polo and khaki slacks – what one might expect on ‘casual Friday’ for any office. “A pleasure, Mr. Hunter. Thank you for coming out to meet me here,” started Travis, adjusting his glasses and reaching his hand out to the coyote. "I prefer face to face initial meetings. And I see you dressed for Texas tie-wise, as well." quipped the koala with a light smile.

The hand was shaken as the potential agent smiled. “Pleasure’s mine, Mr. Buckner. And thank you for seeing me.” It was a practiced reply, two professional individuals making opening remarks, like lawyers at a trial, to gauge each other. "I happen to mirror your preference on meetings, as well," Jeff added, to put a personal flair on the reply.

He quickly stepped in, taking another mental note of the interior. Like the exterior, there was no interior primping. There were some pieces of décor, but they were subdued. Fake flowers in a glass vase on a table in the hallway. Minimalist lighting. It was approaching spartan in its flow, and it gave the entrance a rather serious flavor. But knowing the player who owned the house, this did belie his character. The only thing deviating from the perspective was the definite sounds of a fast-tempo free-jazz instrumental, the notes floating out of a nearby room. John Trolcrane, if Jeff's ears weren't deceiving him.

Travis walked briskly, taking a turn into a room on the first floor. In contrast to the hallway, this room was warmer. Literally. A fireplace was lit up, casting shadows in a slightly-more lit room with more rich furniture. This was a comfort room, the koala’s den, as evidenced by the shelves of books, awards, the framed recognition documents, diplomas, and the like. The koala's FBA awards were prominently displayed on the mantle above the fireplace, with the Dunk Contest trophy taking center stage. The jazz music was louder, and its source – a very high-end 7.1 surround system – was evident, as well as a large, wall mounted LCD television on a way next to a mahogany wood clock, ticking away.

Travis walked towards the stereo and turned it off. “Can I offer you something from the bar?” he asked with a modest smile. The room seemed to make him appear much different – the smile seemed much more personable than the one he delivered in the starkness of the hallway. The power of the environment to change the perception of action was very powerful, and Travis knew it very well.

“No thank you, I’m fine. Perhaps later?” replied Jeff as he sat down on the nearby loveseat, putting his briefcase on the coffee table and opening it. Travis peered at the orderly insides, and smiled a bit out of view of the agent. Clean, organized, professional. He could definitely appreciate that.

“Alright,” he replied, “Let me get myself a drink, and we can talk.” With that, Travis walked to the bar at the back of the room and poured right from the bottle with a bit of ice. Two years, and he still had his father’s drinking habits of a straight gin. Two years, everyone still telling him he was wrong to do that.

Two years, and he didn’t much care about others’ opinions of his habits.

Travis took a seat in an armchair off to the side of the coffee table as the coyote arranged papers, and put them down on the table. “Let me get right to the point,” Jeff started, looking at the younger ballplayer with an equal amount of seriousness. Either he knew to match his client, or this was his normal demeanor. Travis was pleased either way, though he didn’t let it show. You never give a tell in poker, nor in possible representation discussions.

“Aside from last year’s flare-up with that vole reporter, you’ve been excellent with PR, a solid performer, and one of the Lone Stars’ … well, stars. Being selected as an alternate for the FBFPA is also a huge feather in your cap. But with the explosion of social media around the FBA and others apparently gunning for you, you need someone to watch your back. Cover you for the screen, as it were.” Jeff was showing off his own understanding of the game lingo, at least. Travis knew he had played for the Tucson Demons a long time ago, and more recently the Firestorm, before he retired to be an agent.

It was showing.

He raised his eyebrow over his glasses at Hunter's last comment. "You're referring to Croix?" Travis waved dismissively. "He's a non-issue, as far as I'm concerned. A spoiled brat who buys his way out of trouble and has daddy issues. It'll come back to bite him. And I hope to be there when he finally crumbles." It was a cold reply, but one that Jeff noted was driven by a personal vendetta. Travis took a sip of his gin, giving Jeff the opening.

"And the Tallahassee coach."

Travis stopped mid-sip. "Tetreault? What about her?"

"Your online tete-a-tete with her about players contesting coach decisions wasn't winning any points," Jeff said, matter-of-factly. "A player arguing with a coach, even one that is not THEIR coach, is never, EVER a good sign. Even if it was for the right reasons, and the right thing to do. In social media, that's character assassination."

The koala's nose wrinkled in annoyance, his glasses sliding forward a bit. "What would you have suggested? Let him think everything was hunky-dory with him sabotaging two games in a row to 'rest his starters' while top-tier teams steamrolled us? And putting a still-hurt vet in against a low tier team, and have him rupture his shoulder? We have a game against Huntsville tomorrow - we could have really used Mitchell on the roster!"

Jeff shook his head. "I would have done what you did after the fact. Talked to Billcheck. But in private. Outside of Tweeter. Airing the dirty laundry opens you up for attacks you don't need, and makes for difficult team relations. Even with a risky, ill-fated choice such as that one."

Travis narrowed his eyes at the criticism, drilling his gaze into the coyote. Jeff sat stoically, like a rock in a garden, unblinking back at the koala. He knew Travis was gauging him. Every word, he seemed to analyze like a criminal defense attorney looking over transcripts of court cases. The legal analogies were quite apt, given the seriousness of the discussion.

It would be a matter of who flinched, first.

Travis scratched his ear and sat back in his armchair, his two right thumbs idly stroking the leather there. "I suppose you are right about that," he admitted, with a small sideways pull of his muzzle into a light frown. The coyote nodded, inwardly letting out a sigh of relief. First point went to Athletic Talent Hunters. "I was frustrated. We've been hemorrhaging points. York didn't belong as a starter. And those games were vital to keeping us in playoff contention."

Jeff leaned back a bit, satisfied he had weathered his potential client's intimidation attempt. "But you, Redding, Knight - you did need the rest, too. Mitchell's knees aren't doing well - Billcheck wasn't totally off," he noted.

"He could have picked a better time to do so. Against Williamsburg, for example. And certainly with the Firestorm!"

"The Williamsburg game was rather close, I believe, choice notwithstanding."

Travis frowned. "Too close. And Billcheck still played Redding against Lorain, even when the trainers hadn't cleared him! Regardless of my wrong choice of venue, I don't like the way the team is headed, if decisions like that are becoming S.O.P." He cleared his throat, and reclaimed his drink, calming down a bit. With his other hand, he gestured to the briefcase, and the stack of pages. "I take it those are the contracts you talked about on the phone with me?"

"They are." Jeff nodded, and handed the document to Travis. "I can come back in a day or two and give you a chance to..."

Travis held up his hand to interrupt Jeff. "Give me five minutes." And adjusted his glasses, and began perusing the first page.

"Five minutes? Five minutes for wh.."

  • flip* The first page was turned, with Travis quickly scanning the second page. Jeff furrowed his brow. "Wait a minute. You're telling me you read through all tha..."
  • Flip* Third. *Flip* Fourth. *Flip* Fifth. *Flip*

Jeff blinked, then understood, smiling. "How long have you been a speed reader?" he asked, curious.

"Since college," came an almost automatic reply, a practiced one Travis apparently had to give without thinking, as his eyes were busy darting from paragraph to paragraph. More pages fell by the wayside as he completed reading the entire contract. It took less than the five minutes, but he had put the stack back neatly in the coyote's briefcase and regarded Jeff. A small smile crept into his muzzle, showing a bit of his buck teeth. "It's very concise. I like that. You don't beat around the bush and try to hide earmarks in circuitous language, which is a definite plus. And confidentiality is absolutely essential. I won't air your dirty laundry, and you don't air mine. I can get behind that." The smile faded as he gestured to the stack. "However, there are some issues of salary representation, social media involvement and endorsement deals we need to discuss. Also, you know I'm heavily into charity work - that needs to continue. I didn't see any details in the second section or on the projection page. Finally, the wording on the commission percentages is a bit vague. We'll need to thoroughly define them before moving forward."

Jeff let out a low whistle. "You picked up on all that, that quickly?" This round seemed to go to Travis.

The prideful smile returned. "As I said, been doing that since college. Besides, I know business lingo and contract verbiage." Travis sat back in his chair, and picked up his drink. "But what I didn't glean from the papers, Mr. Hunter, is why you wish to represent me. Or why I should consider you." The koala took a slow sip, his eyes not leaving the coyote's face.

No smile now. Pure business.

"I..” attempted Jeff before he stopped and cleared his throat. “Actually, no, you already have the skills and certainly the qualifications to transition into sports agency right now. Were the circumstances any different I’d be here in the hopes of recruiting you as a potential partner for my firm.”

Travis arched his eyebrow, dissecting the ego stroke in his mind. The coyote paused to let the compliment take hold, then took a quick breath before laying out all his cards on the table. “Let me be perfectly clear: I am here seeking more than just to represent you. There are only so many other furs that can act as your eyes and ears and voice when you’re not around, but as a former player in this league I have experience that no other premiere agency can offer you. Not only can I assist in developing your presence off the court, but I can also be a resource toward your development on the court as well."

“Coaches and trainers can only do so much, but basketball is a team sport -- you have to also rely on other players. Current teammates certainly have the most impact, but even the lowliest roleplayer on the greatest squads of all time contributes to the club’s overall success." Jeff paused for a moment, reading Travis' reaction. Having not received one, he continued. "I don’t claim to have any special formula for making you into a superstar overnight, nor am I going to attempt to find one and give it to you without your explicit instructions. But I do know that your time is best spent managing your athletic prowess and not external distractions, and I only wish to give you that freedom if you’ll allow me to handle your non-sporting business.” Jeff had kept his gaze on Travis’ eyes the whole time, hoping to read any emotion during his entire spiel.

After an eternity of silence, Travis spoke. "And if that non-sporting business requires me to take a less lucrative contract more in line with my personal goals, which you are not to share with anyone under any circumstances?"

The severity of the counter-question made Jeff furrow his brow, but he was not about to back down. "The commission terms were intentionally vague for this reason," he replied. “You are the one in charge of your financial well-being, not me. Any contract terms that I would negotiate on your behalf come from your evaluation of what your skills are worth. Again, I would just be here for advice and reference, not for the potential cut of the contract.” Jeff sat up straight, his fingers laced against each other on his lap, his face the very paragon of confidence in light of the challenge.

Travis nodded to the words, the markings of a smile back on his muzzle. It seemed Jeff had made the right answer, and not been fazed about getting less money through Travis's financial choices. "I see," he said, simply, his fingers steepled against each other, giving a diabolical grin with narrowed eyes, as if Jeff had fallen into a trap he had laid. He looked up at the wooden pendulum clock above his bookcase. It was still relatively early in the evening. "Very well, Mr. Hunter... I believe if you have time tonight, we can iron out those idiosyncrasies I mentioned."

Jeff let out another internal sigh of relief. He had won over a very demanding client. "You still got it, Hunter." he told himself, to help buoy himself even more. Travis continued during Jeff's internal compliment. "I do intend to be well reimbursed for what I bring to the league. And don't worry - I intend to pay you well for your ability and hard work... but most importantly, your discretion." He leaned in a bit, his voice dropping in volume as if he were trying to whisper a secret. "What we talk about in terms of my non-sporting business is not for anyone else's ears but yours. That includes your partners in your firm. And the re-draft of the contract will state that in ironclad terms." He stood up from his chair, and loomed over where Jeff had sat. "Now, if you can work on revisions tonight or tomorrow morning, we can review and sign at lunch. Is this agreeable?" he asked, his paw extended in a handshake gesture.

Jeff paused. One might think the koala was leveraging a deal to buy out a conglomerate; while the coyote had not often been on the side of being dictated terms, it was a spot with which he always felt an uncomfortable familiarity. But Jeff could identify a sharp customer, one that knew it was more than how much of a contract could be negotiated. It was more than Tweeter management. And he knew why confidentiality was so important to the forward. There was more to Travis Buckner than what the Lone Stars publicists and the evening news covering charity events would reveal. More than that slimy vole reporter could have revealed. Things that Travis would make sure never saw the light of day, but that his partner would need to know, so spin could be appropriately applied.

In those few seconds between Travis' question and Jeff having to answer, the epiphany rang in the coyote's ears. Travis wasn't looking for an agent. He was looking for a marketer, like himself. Marketing to other teams. Marketing to the fans. The whole world. When people thought of the FBA, Travis' name should be one of the top ones in mind. It didn't matter if he wasn't the best athlete in the game - skills could be taught, after all. Jeff was quite aware of that. That's what trainers and coaches are for.

But image - THAT was priceless, irrevocable, and more valuable to Travis than any tangible item. You can do anything, change anything, if the image is kept spotless and shining. And he needed to ensure Jeff Hunter would completely safeguard his, without the pangs of conscience of 'doing the right thing' getting in the way. when it came down to it. Travis would do anything to maintain his image of the good guy, as long as it was within the rules set by the organization.

Jeff briefly wondered if someone like LaTour wouldn't be a better fit for Travis. The two of them seemed like they were cut from the same cloth. The specificity of the details the koala was asking for was beyond what a normal FBA client would typically demand. But that level of control also meant Hunter wouldn't have issues with their clients like Corker or Blake did. There wouldn't be any direct damage control for Travis; he had learned since last year how to control emotions, and how to present to the world.

How to do anything, change anything.

The odd-shaped hand hovered in between the ex- and current players. The coyote clasped hands and shook. "Deal." Jeff said, smiling. "Now, I think I'll have that drink. Scotch, neat, if it's still available? We have a toast to make."

Travis chuckled and nodded. "Absolutely." He got up, served up the drink and got himself a refill on his gin. He brought both glasses over, giving one to Jeff, and holding the other up in a gesture. "Glad to have you on board, Mr. Hunter. Here's to the development of the next big thing in the FBA since Halley Summers," he offered, pride radiating from him.

Jeff grinned, raising his glass up. "To Travis Buckner," he agreed. The glasses clinked, drowning out the jazz for a moment, reverberating in the room and floating down the stark hallway. The two took a sip of their respective drinks, and Travis smiled, the most sincere smile of the night.

"Mr. Hunter, I think this will be very lucrative for both of us. I do look forward to lunch tomorrow, and your suggestions for future management. Including, I believe, my two year contract is up - I will need you to contact Mr. Louis about signings. I think at least a match of Marcus Knight's offer is called for, if not more. While he's Tweeting about his wife and kid, I'm still working on team solidarity. That should make me a GM's best friend." He paused momentarily, his voice dropping in volume slightly. "Remember though - money is not the true focus here. And if my path takes me to another team - as you've said, so be it. Especially if that team has a better chance of winning the playoffs. Being superstar level is actually part of the game plan, after all."

Jeff stood up, nodding and handing his empty glass back to Travis. He had one more card to play. The Hunter Trumper. "Alright, I'll draw up some prospectus for tomorrow's lunch meeting. But before I go... just one thing, Mr. Buckner?" he asked, in much the way the detective Columburro on TV would have done.

Travis paused. "Yes?" he asked, quizzically. The nostalgia was lost on the marsupial. Apparently it was before his time.

The coyote cleared his throat. "I know you need to call all the shots concerning which direction to go with your finances and 'game plan', but trust me when I say - you want to let me handle the specifics. I work best when I'm not micromanaged by my clients. And I want to institute a safeword."

This made the koala laugh in surprise. "A safeword? What kind of a relationship do you think this IS?" he asked, half joking, half shocked.

Jeff was not laughing. "A safeword," he continued. "A word that I would use as a last resort, but when I do use it in a direct message or phone call to you, that you would completely defer an action or activity to me. No argument, no debate, no further communications from you unless I released it."

"And why would I agree to such a request? Could I not just fire you?"

"You could, but I'm relying on your professionalism to let me have the freedom to do MY job when, for whatever reason, emotions are running high and you put yourself in an even more precarious position. As I said, it would be an extreme last resort. I just need to know I can count on you to trust me in any truly dark times." Jeff paused a moment to let the words sink in. "You would ask the same, I think, were our positions reversed - a manner of ensuring the control you need to do the best job you can."

Travis' eyes darted behind his eyeglasses, mentally reviewing the situations in which this might be abused. Having found none initially - and you could be sure he'd peruse those documents again after the rewrite to ensure fairness in the written-in clause - he nodded. "Alright. What word?"

"You choose."

The koala stroked his chin in thought. And looked up. "Habitat for Herbivores."

Jeff chuckled. "Well that's not a word, but that would do. Any reason for that? A charity you worked for?"

"Just one with which my old college roommate affiliated himself. No reason to use it nowadays. That one is just not my style - I'm not a master craftsman. I'm very sure it won't come up in our common conversations."

"Indeed. Alright then. Let's go over those other 'idiosyncrasies', and I'll rewrite the contract for tomorrow." Jeff snapped his fingers, and brought out his smartphone, pulling up the calendar application. "Oh, by the way, where do you want to meet for lunch tomorrow?"

Travis flipped his gaze towards one of the framed pictures of him standing with the owner of 'The Salt Lick'. Unbeknownst to his few friends, he had become a silent partner in the excellent restaurant, ensuring a business tax write-off and a guaranteed welcoming center for as long as he was an 'ambassador' of the Texas Lone Stars. Plus, extra income. Not that he needed it, but it never hurt to have a backup plan. Or two. Or five.

"Do you like barbecue?" the koala asked, raising his eyebrows expectantly.

Jeff grinned. "What carnivore doesn't?"

"Excellent! You'll be my guest at the Salt Lick tomorrow. But for now, let's get down to business, yes? We have some strategies to map out, you and I."

The agent nodded, and the two hunkered down to work out the contract language, with the flickering light of the fireplace illuminating their silhouettes against the far wall of the only descript room in the otherwise nondescript house in an uneventful neighborhood in Austin, TX.

Where a legacy was hoping to be born.


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