This is the first chapter of BANK SHOT, a novel about the worlds greatest basketball player. BANK SHOT is available on NOOK and KINDLE.
By John Haslam
Disclaimer: Although the names of teams, cities and places are real, this work is purely fiction. Any similarities to persons both alive and deceased are purely coincidental.
Thursday Night Late – Chicago
Marcus Witherow slowly emerged from the doorway of the arena. He had just talked to the last reporter and signed his last autograph. His large, sculpted ebony body was still hot after his ritual whirlpool bath and shower. A cloud of steam rose from his body, like a fog, as he entered the bitter cold Chicago night air. The light, coming from the doorway, backlit the basketball hero. His 6-foot, 11-inch frame gave him an eerie, almost monster-like appearance.
Marcus was always the last player to leave the arena following an NBA game. His stilt-like legs usually needed therapy after 48 minutes of running, stopping, stretching, twisting, turning, jumping, flying and worst of all, landing on the hardwood floors. After 30 minutes of leg treatments with his trainer, he would shudder through a two-minute ice bath to numb the pain before sinking low into the hot, bubbling waters of the whirlpool, replaying the game in his mind – enjoying the great plays and critiquing the bad.
By the time the security guard opened the door for him, the player-only parking lot was empty. He sluggishly moved along the sidewalk. His long shadow outran him on the 20-yard walk to his new black Cadillac Escalade. He opened the door to the driver’s side of the vehicle and threw his Nike gym bag across the front seat. He reached up, grabbed the handle just inside the top of the door and painfully lifted his long, tired right leg into the Escalade before pulling the rest of his body into the driver’s seat, dragging his left leg behind.
“Hello Marcus. Don’t turn around.” The calm, baritone voice, as smooth as hot chocolate, broke the night’s silence from the backseat. Before his butt hit the leather, Marcus felt the cold steel barrel of a gun press against the base of his skull, at the back of his neck. He wasn't about to turn around.
“Close the door and let’s take a little drive. Downtown. Keep it nice and easy.”
Marcus closed the door. The security guard waved to Witherow’s Escalade without a second thought, just as he did 40 games a season and slammed the arena doors. Marcus cranked the vehicle and gently eased out of the parking lot of Chicago’s United Center arena and drove south at the 55 miles-per-hour speed limit toward the freeway ramp of the Eisenhower Expressway East. When the sport utility vehicle moved up to an easy 60 miles per hour, the gun gently moved away from his head. Marcus tried to see his captor’s face, in the rear-view mirror, as they passed under intermittent streetlights along the freeway. A baseball cap sat low over the intruder’s eyes and his face was always hidden by shadows, even when they passed close to a streetlight.
“Marcus, my man, that was one helluva game you played tonight. I haven’t seen one player dominate a game like that since Bill Walton lit up Memphis.”
Walton made 21 of 22 shots when UCLA shut down Memphis in the NCAA finals in 1973.
“But there’s one little problem. The boys in Vegas wanted to bet on another game tomorrow night. That was pretty stupid to play a game like that one night early. They’re not real pleased with you right now. We’re gonna take a little ride into the city and let you discuss it with the boss.”
The Eisenhower freeway was unusually quiet. It was just after midnight, on a Thursday night/Friday morning. The prime time, made-for-TV NBA games only made the viewers sleepy the next day. The cold, damp night was doing a good job of keeping people off the streets. The Escalade easily made its way into center city Chicago.
“When you cross the Chicago River, take Upper Wacker north. We’re going down to the river wharf area just below the Wrigley Building,” a command came from behind. “We’re going to settle a little score.”
Marcus knew the area where the Voice wanted to go. Just off Michigan Avenue right in the middle of town, the Chicago River cuts into the city from Lake Michigan and divides downtown into north and south. That’s where the Miracle Mile starts and heads north to the beach. A Mecca for fun, and always crowded with tourist, locals and plenty of boats in the summer, the wharf area was sure to be deserted on this icy, rainy night sandwiched between a long, hard winter and the late-arriving spring.
Witherow’s mind raced much faster than the car as he left the interstate and headed north on Upper Wacker . . . “the voice, the gun, who else would be waiting?” Marcus kept thinking and driving.
As the vehicle moved along one of the side streets into a vacant lot just below the bridge on Michigan Avenue, Marcus noticed a single dark Lincoln Continental parked near the top of a boat launch ramp on the river's edge.
“Pull up beside that car,” the voice said, putting the gun barrel again into the position behind his right ear. “Don’t make me blow your fucking head off.”
The big Cadillac stopped. In the rear-view mirror, Marcus saw the Voice look toward the Lincoln. Seizing the chance, Marcus reached to the in-the-floor gearshift and moved the stick to reverse instead of park. He kept his left foot on the brake, hoping the Voice would not notice that the vehicle was not in park.
The Lincoln’s front door opened and the driver walked to the back door and opened it for a short, fat man. He was the boss. Two other goons, cloaked in long, black trench coats, exited from the opposite side. One went to the Escalade’s front left while the other went to the left rear. The driver stayed by the open door of the Continental. The short, fat man walked around the Escalade to the door where Marcus sat. The man motioned with his finger for Marcus to roll down the window. When the window quietly disappeared inside the door, the fat man spoke.
“Marcus, you cost me and some of my friends in Vegas about 5 million bucks tonight,” the fat man said. “After all the things I’ve done for you and your family. I thought we was family. You hurt me, Marcus. Hurt me real bad.”
“I told you I wasn’t gonna help you any more,” Witherow shot back at the man. “I thought I made it clear.”
“You know I can’t let that happen, Marcus,” the fat man continued. “If you would’ve played with us tonight, maybe I could’ve let you off the hook, but you cost me plenty tonight. You gonna have to make it up to me.”
“What I ought to do is expose your operation to the league and the police,” Witherow said. “I’m gonna shut you down one way or another.”
“I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this, but I can’t let you do that.” The fat man turned toward the gunman in the back seat. “Kill the stupid bastard and dump him in the river.”
Marcus’s heart jumped into his throat when he heard the order, but he couldn't move. He wanted to jump out of the Escalade and run, but the gun at the base of his brain helped his body rule out that option.
The short, fat man quietly turned and waddled back to the Lincoln shaking his head in disgust. He never looked back at Marcus. The driver shut the door as the man disappeared inside and sat down.
The two other henchmen moved back to the doors of boss’s car and then Marcus heard the metallic click of the hammer move into the cocked position on the gun behind his head.
“Well Marcus, I guess this is it . . . .”
But, before the Voice could finish the sentence and pull the trigger, Marcus stomped the accelerator and the big vehicle lurched backward. The instant acceleration threw the Voice forward and the gun slipped past the right side of Marcus’s head. The Voice pulled the trigger and a bullet shattered the front windshield. Marcus let go of the steering wheel and got his big right arm around the neck of the would-be assassin before the Voice could make a move. Marcus grabbed the gun with his left hand and violently pulled the Voice over the back of the front seat. His size 15 right foot held the accelerator fast to the floor. This forced the Escalade into a tight turn as the men struggled for control of the gun. Marcus continued to pull the man into the front seat as the Escalade raced backward in a counter-clockwise circle, getting faster and faster. The circle ended at the boat ramp with the back end of the vehicle plunging into the dark, cold river. Focused on the gun, Marcus and the Voice continued their struggle.
Icy-cold water rushed into the vehicle through the open front left window. A second shot echoed across the waterfront. The bullet went through the roof of the Escalade and rocketed off into the night. The Escalade disappeared into the dark murk like a sugar cube sinking into a cup of black coffee.
By the time it took the boss and his goons to realize something had gone wrong with the hit, and get the Lincoln to the edge of the ramp, the vehicle disappeared into the water. The water muffled the high-pitched engine revving noise. Air bubbles made the only sound.
The boss, slower than the others, arrived at the edge of the water after the Escalade vanished. They had all heard the shots.
“Som-bitch,” the fat man swore in-between gasps of air and deep throaty coughs, trying to catch his breath after the short sprint. “Let’s get the hell outta here.”
“What about Maxie?” one of the goons asked the boss, referring to the Voice, who went down with the car.
“Leave them both. That water is instant death. Neither of them bastards gonna make it outta there alive.”
The boss and the goons wasted little time getting back in the Lincoln and disappearing into the night.
Causes John Haslam Supports
I support the Constitution of the United States of America.
I support St. Jude's Hospital.
I believe in GOD.