Tuesday Morning – Los Angeles
Walker woke early Tuesday morning. His body clock was still set to Eastern Time. It was 4 a.m. in Los Angeles when he hit the shower.
He was glad he remembered to buy some Dr Pepper on his run to get the cell phone last night. The cold drink with its caffeine helped him wake up in the morning. He had started drinking Dr Pepper when he was in college, He didn’t like coffee and he had burned out on Coca-Cola when he was a sophomore. He drank a Dr Pepper every day he was not out of the country for the last 35 years. He turned on the water in the shower and let it get hot. While he waited, he grabbed the television remote and turned it on – ESPN was already running promos about the return of Marcus Witherow.
“We will have a special one-hour report on the surprising return of Marcus Witherow – eight o’clock right coast, 5 a.m. left coast,” the talking head informed anyone stupid enough to be watching that early on the west coast.
Walker also looked at the paper – the L.A. Times – that was delivered to his room. He expected to see his story on the Sports Page, but there he was, little picture and all, just above the fold on the front page. They had used his column with another story with some background information written by the reporter that was at the press conference at the airport.
You would have thought the President had died with the play the story received.
Walker’s column was full of specific information about the strange disappearance of Witherow. He didn’t use his sources by name – no one knew he was actually on the inside of the story. Walker used the old cop out line “a source close to the story who didn’t want to be named said,” to protect his sources – Marcus, Pam and Jimmy Rae. Walker didn’t like reporting this way but his hands were tied on this one. Although he didn’t like the way he had to report the events, he did have information the other news sources didn’t have. Newspaper and television people around the country scratched their heads wondering how Walker got the scoop that no one else knew anything about.
Phrases in his column like: Attacked by a single gunman; swimming underwater for 100 yards to escape; attempt to point fix of the Bulls-Celtic semi-final game; driven by an unknown benefactor from Chicago to Charleston; rescued by street hoods who just happened to be basketball fans; recovered in a crack house; and chased by police in Indiana got the attention of people all over the country.
The attempt to point fix comment caught the NBA commissioner in New York by surprise. Later that day he would issue a statement that the league would look into possible irregularities in Witherow’s games.
The Chicago Police and FBI took notice of the swimming underwater for 100 yards to escape comment and re-directed their investigation. How Witherow had escaped now started to make some sense.
The mysterious benefactor could not be found. The Chicago Police would now make some checks in downtown areas of known crack houses.
Walker’s story had created a hornet’s nest almost as large as the disappearance story last Friday.
After his shower, Walker had breakfast and called Jimmy Rae and Pam. Jimmy Rae did not answer his phone and that worried Walker. He called his house and talked to Pam. She said that Jimmy Rae was at the farmhouse, but she could not imagine why he wouldn’t answer.
. . .
About 9 a.m., Shorty and Davenport drove up to the farmhouse, unaware Jimmy Rae was watching from the marsh. Jimmy Rae decided to try to get some information from the meeting, so he made his way to the open window he used before. The car stopped out front and the two entered the house– Shorty first and then Davenport – while Jimmy Rae moved in closer. Vic stopped and turned around as if he thought he was being followed. Vic looked right at Jimmy Rae in the grass, but didn’t know what he was seeing. Davenport closed the door and Jimmy Rae quietly got into position at the window.
Inside, Shorty was talking to the group.
“Me and Vic are leaving for Chicago for the third game Wednesday morning early. L.T., you and Mae will stay here until we get back. Vic will bring y’all some more food, new clothes and supplies later today. He’s also bringing a TV with a satellite dish, so y’all can watch the game tonight, if you want to.”
“That’s mighty white of you Shorty,” Mae threw a sarcastic barb at Smitherman. “After all, he’s just my son and he’s just making you rich.” Mae was getting fed up with being stuck at the farmhouse.
“Shut up Mae,” Shorty snapped. “We’ve come too far in this to let your dumb ass wreck it now.”
“I will call you,” he nodded toward L.T., “from Chicago to make sure everything is all right,” Shorty continued with the plan.
“Whatever you do, don’t let anyone know that you are here and keep an eye on her,” he said pointing at the pouting Mae on the couch.
Jimmy Rae listened intently from the window and heard everything that was said. “Bingo,” he said to himself and grinned. They’re gonna make this too easy.”
After hearing what he needed, Jimmy Rae slithered back into the grass and moved away from the house back to his camp. He called Walker when he was far away from the house so not to be heard.
“Walker. It’s me,” Jimmy Rae started the conversation. “I got some good news.”
“Where have you been? I was worried about you.”
“Shorty and Davenport came to the house and I couldn’t talk. They are leaving for Chicago tomorrow morning. They are leaving that kid, L.T., and Mae at the house. I think that’s when we make our move,” Jimmy Rae told Walker of the plan he overheard.
“Are you sure you can handle it alone?” Walker asked.
“Like taking candy from a baby,” Jimmy assured him.
. . .
Now that the word was out about Witherow, the Bulls game day shoot around practice session Tuesday afternoon turned into a media circus. Coach Tom Haslam was delighted to have his star back, but he could hardly walk around the edges of the court at the Staple Center without stepping on media or bumping into all the TV cameras that were there. Extra security had to be called in just to keep the onlookers off the court. When Witherow came walking in from the dressing room flanked by the two Marshals, all the reporters and cameramen raced to ask him questions.
Witherow would only say “No comment” to each question or just shake his head no.
Seeing that his star was in trouble, Coach Haslam ordered security to clear the arena and decided to close the practice to the media. This decision was not well received by the reporters and cameramen. Without the extra security that was already there, practice would have never happened that day. It took nearly 45 minutes to get everyone out of the arena.
The practice lasted only 30 minutes after the reporters were cleared out. Witherow looked sluggish at first, but he seemed to regain his form after running some sprints and getting warmed up.
“Are you going to be O.K. tonight?” Haslam asked the best player he had ever coached.
“I think so, Coach. I’m just sorry that it all came to this.”
“Don’t worry about that, Marcus. Let’s just try to forget it and play ball tonight. Lord knows we could have used you the first game. It got pretty ugly out there.”
“I’m sorry I let the team down, Coach. It won’t happen again.”
. . .
Walker didn’t see Witherow again that day until the pre-game warm-ups. Security personnel, reporters and cameras followed his every move after he came out of the locker room. At one point, Witherow walked to one end of the court to sit on the floor and stretch his hamstrings. He was surrounded with about 100 people as he stretched. It got so bad that the game security again had to force all reporters away from courtside during the warm-ups.
The fans at the Lakers home arena weren’t missing any chances to ridicule the star that was now tarnished. One fan dressed as a convict for the game, wearing a white and black striped prison suit. Another held a sign that said “Who are you betting on tonight, Witherow?”
When the Bulls left the court at the end of pre-game warm-ups, fans threw cups and tried to pour drinks on Witherow as he walked into the tunnel that led away from the court. It became worse as the Bulls returned at the start of the game. When the starting lineups were announced, a rousing chorus of boos and jeers rained down.
Early in the game, Witherow was out of sync. He seemed tired and he picked up two quick fouls. Dantley removed him midway through the first quarter of the game. The Lakers bolted to a 14-point lead.
Witherow returned at the start of the second quarter and got his stride back. He made a jump shot the first time he touched the ball and followed that with a rebound dunk high above the rim a few minutes later. The Bulls trimmed the deficit to 9 points at the half, 49-40.
. . .
Shorty Smitherman watched the game on his high definition wide-screen TV, drinking beer and smoking cigars. At halftime, he got a call from a number in Las Vegas.
“Shorty, Bernie here. Are you watching the game? What do you think about our boy?”
“He’s starting to look better. I think he was nervous in the beginning,” Shorty countered.
“The line for Thursday’s game will probably be the Bulls 1-to-3 point favorite,” Bernie said. “It will make it tough to shave with that small margin and still win the game. The Bulls will probably have to lose for us to win the bet. Will your boy lose the game for us?”
“I will talk to him and his momma tomorrow. Don’t worry Bernie. He’ll come through for us,” Shorty assured him. “I’ll call you Wednesday night after I get to Chicago.”
“I’ll place the bets Thursday morning,” Bernie continued. “Just remember, Shorty, if you lose this bet, you lose your life.” Shorty heard the phone click on the other end.
. . .
The second half went well for the Bulls until Witherow got deeper into foul trouble early in the fourth quarter. He got his fifth foul with more than 9 minutes left and had to leave the game. The Lakers led by only five points at that point in the game. With Marcus on the bench, the Lakers extended the lead to 12 and eventually won the game 94-88.
The Lakers had a 2-0 lead in the series with game three going back to Chicago in two days. It looked like the Bulls were in an impossible situation. All the extra attention placed on Witherow was affecting his play. Without him playing well, the Bulls were no match for the Lakers.
Causes John Haslam Supports
I support the Constitution of the United States of America.
I support St. Jude's Hospital.
I believe in GOD.