Finals of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament, Arthur Ashe Stadium, Flushing Meadows, New York – it's early afternoon and a tepid wind belied the cloudless blue September sky, as Cliff Drysdale and Patrick McEnroe, two veteran commentators, fought to keep from being drowned out by a packed house of frenzied patrons. The decibel level continued to rise as they called the live action for the largest television viewing audience ever in the history of the event.
“WOW, what a bomb. A 152-mile an-hour serve, Cliff.”
“Gordon leads two sets to one and four games to two in the fourth set. What an amazing story this guy is, Patrick. He’s come out of nowhere this year and is only two games away from winning his first Grand Slam event. Plus he’s got this place rocking. Listen to that ovation.”
“It’s something, alright. Nicholas Gordon, in less than nine months, has become a household name. He reached the semi-finals at the Australian, quarterfinals at the French, and finals at Wimbledon, and along the way won the Canadian Open. This guy looks like the real thing. He’s got every shot in the book as well as that howitzer first serve.”
“I have to agree with that, Patrick. But I see the referee has just motioned for the trainer. Oh no, Gordon is holding his shoulder and appears to be in a great deal of pain. Check out his father in the friend’s box, his head is hanging, this is the moment they’ve worked for the last twenty years, and from the way Nick is clutching that arm it doesn’t look good.”
“What a shame for the Gordons and the game if this is a serious injury. This is such a great story, Cliff. Nick and his dad have overcome so much adversity and controversy to get to this point. What a pity.”
“His face is contorted. The trainer is barely moving that arm and …that’s it. They’re signaling to the chair to end the match.”
“This capacity crowd of over 23,000 is stunned. No one could ever have foreseen it ending like this. Something in that shoulder must have snapped during that last service. I can’t even find Nick’s father anymore. He has to be upset. He must have left the box, and maybe the stadium.”
“Patrick, it looks like the paramedics are being waved in. Even with the loss, Nick will break into the top ten from a ranking of 397 less than twelve months ago. But unfortunately, we may have just witnessed the rise, and the fall of a superstar. Let’s hope that’s not the case, but it doesn’t look good … it doesn’t look good. We’ll be back in moment.”
It was a mid-December morning. The warm ocean breeze blowing through an open sliding glass door caressed and bellowed the silky curtain fabric as Nicholas Gordon slowly opened his eyes to the sun-filled bedroom of his Bay Street second floor Nassau, Bahamas apartment. The temperature was already climbing when his first deep breath revealed the sweet lingering scent of Ysatis by Givenchy that clung to his ruffled bed sheets. The source of that fragrance had long since vanished from his side and the thought of her current whereabouts engulfed him with a worried and confusing sensation. To anyone on the outside he knew their relationship had to appear strange, but for them it worked, although he still had no idea why.
Rolling to his side, a familiar pain shot through the front of his shoulder, causing him to wince, as he instinctively ran his fingers over the three-inch scar at the origin of the discomfort. Sitting up, he tied back his shoulder length light brown hair as he felt the roll of a once washboard mid-section, protrude over his blue boxers. Another day in paradise, he thought, while trying unsuccessfully to ignore his splitting headache, knowing the culprit was the three-quarter empty bottle of rum on his nightstand aided by the half-dozen opened coke cans strewn about at his feet. Death by Cuba Libre was his conclusion as he grabbed the bottle and gingerly maneuvered his way into the other remaining room of his quarters.
After rinsing out a glass on the counter, he rifled through the four cabinets of his kitchenette in search of aspirin, knowing full well that none would be found. His only relief dangled at the end of his damaged arm. Opening a small refrigerator, he filled the glass, half with rum and half with orange juice. Breakfast of Champions reverberated through his head as he took a large swallow before venturing out onto his small veranda to survey the street below and the waterway that separated Nassau proper from his place of employment on Paradise Island.
Looking out from the rear of his apartment, he had a clear view of Roger’s Walk and The Straw Market that was already alive with activity, spying a few leather skinned tourists, whom he imagined were looking to purchase woven goods, a hand-carved walking stick or gaudy beach-wrap. Living in the heart of the colorful colonial downtown had made it easier to blend in and go unnoticed, than habitation in the fishbowl environs that the gigantic Disney-like resort across the water offered.
Gazing over at The Atlantis Hotel, in three too short hours he would be expected to be on court giving hundred-dollar an hour lessons to the most affluent of the several thousand well off’s spending their Christmas vacation in the Caribbean. This was his third winter holiday among the palms, turquoise blue waters and throngs of rich and famous that sought solace here. Movie stars, professional athletes, rock icons, heads of state among recognizable others could be seen wandering the expansive picture postcard grounds, casino or high priced shopping mall walkway connecting the more modestly priced and adorned Beach Towers with the ultra extravagant Royal.
Finishing his medicinal cocktail, he fought the urge for another, making his way back into the bedroom to find shorts, tank top and slides. He was concerned for his missing companion, knowing that what he knew and she didn’t had the distinct possibility of placing her in harm’s way. Checking his day-timer confirmed enough time to look in on her without having to pass on a difficult lesson to his over-burdened assistant, as well as fabricate yet another tale to explain his absence.
Hitting the street, he acknowledged a couple of local shop keepers while he made his way to the small parking lot off Roger’s Walk and the complimentary Hotel Jeep that he had made a routine of commandeering whenever the need arose, which in his case was almost nightly. Running his hand over the two-day old growth on his face made him subconsciously subtract ten minutes to shower and shave from his allotted search time.
Pulling out of the lot, his morning headache was beginning morph into a dull throb as he wished he was accompanied by a second rum and juice. Turning left on Blue Hill Road, he took his thin, wire framed, Maui Jim sunglasses from their case and put them on. The shades represented one of the last perks from the sponsors who had abandoned him in droves after his injury. Leaving downtown proper and continuing toward the south shore, he could sense his mounting concern. He thought about what he should find and what he might find; both scenarios left him feeling more than a little uncomfortable as he pushed the accelerator to the floorboards.
As he traveled inland, Nick could not help notice the roads, grounds and housing were nowhere near the standard of those along the tourist traveled northern shoreline. Much of the ongoing maintenance and renovation effort was targeted at the population centers of Cable Beach, Downtown Nassau and Paradise Island. All other areas had been largely ignored, and while that reality no longer surprised him, the contrast still resonated while he sped along the potholed roads and past the wood and tin structures of the seedy Over the Hill neighborhood, and into the sparsely populated interior that featured dense scrub forests, still favored as garbage dumps by the locals.
Reaching the southern seacoast, Nick spotted a large cruise ship on the horizon, most likely making its way to the dock in Nassau. Several ships stopped daily, sometimes as many as six at a time, gorging out their human cargo and swelling the city population with the bargain seeking vacationers who had become the life’s blood of the small island’s economy. Switching to four-wheel drive; the paved road turned to dirt and then to sand as he drove up a deserted, but familiar stretch of beach. Parking just shy of a small wooden shanty located about a hundred feet from the shoreline; he scanned in all directions for any signs of trouble before approaching. There were no vehicles or persons in sight with the exception of a thirty-foot sailboat anchored just off shore.
As he cautiously approached the structure, soft moans could be heard emanating from within. Peering through a glassless window, the source of his anxiety was in clear view in all her naked splendor. From his vantage, only her back and the legs of the man she straddled were visible, although the identities of both were well known to him. For the moment he couldn’t avert his eyes, fixating on the broken chain tattoo located horizontally across her lower back, just above her well-rounded derrière, while she continued to ride her beach shack paramour. The temperature was hot; already well into the seventies, made even more evident by the matted blonde hair that clung to her shapely neck. He watched as the multiplying beads of perspiration on her well-tanned shoulders continued to lose their hold and trickle down the taut muscles of her dark glistening back.
Pulling himself away, Nick fought to remove the image of their lovemaking from his mind. Even though their behavior was no surprise, having never witnessed it first hand before today had left him with an emptier feeling than he would have thought as he walked around to the front and removed a lukewarm Kalik Gold from a beat-up Styrofoam cooler located just outside the open door. Twisting off the top and taking a long swig, he made his way down to the shoreline where the surf had washed away a portion of the sand, forming a ledge. He settled among the freshly washed up morning seaweed into nature’s chair and, after removing his shirt, stared blankly out across the blue water; the noise from ardent activity behind him drowned out by the waves lapping up on the beach. He breathed a sigh of relief, holding the beer lightly between two fingers, before hoisting it up and downing another huge swallow while he waited for them to finish.
Ten minutes later he felt a replacement bottle being rested on his left shoulder. Reaching around with his right hand, he took the alcoholic offering as his six-foot two, one hundred and seventy-five pound benefactor walked silently past him toward the boat bobbing nearby. Watching from his sandy perch while the bearded, shaggy headed, long lean form of William Orin Ralston McGregor, a.k.a. Worm, made its way toward the ocean, he wondered if all Worm’s body parts would still be present upon their next encounter. Not that he doubted that Worm couldn’t take care of himself. That proficiency had been demonstrated on several occasions. Choosing to live and travel in the remotest parts of the 100,000 square mile 700 island archipelago made him appear to be an easy mark for those undesirables not aware of his background or expertise. Most former members of elite forces, Nick imagined, could easily handle any island riffraff out to do no good.
Worm, unfortunately owed money to a local drug lord, made all the worse by his rising cult-status among the natives that had been fostered by his blatant disregard of all efforts to collect the debt. Nick knew they had to deal with him; a message needed to be sent to others who interpreted his open defiance as a sign of weakness. That perception would never be tolerated.
As visions of Worm’s demise danced in his head, those thoughts were interrupted by the light scent of a familiar perfume that preceded the two naked legs and arms that wrapped themselves around him from behind.
“Good morning, Nick,” she said, reaching over his shoulder and taking the beer from his hand.
“Morning, Taylor,” he answered, feeling her breasts press against his back as she nuzzled closer. “Did you have fun?”
“Of course,” she giggled, taking a swallow from his bottle and passing it back.
“Did we have fun last night?”
“The usual,” she answered.
“I passed out?”
“Yep. Wanna go for a swim?”
“This is not normal you know.”
“I know,” she said, kissing him on the neck before getting up and sprinting toward the water.
He enjoyed the view as Taylor Philips’ curvy, au natural five-foot six-inch frame dashed through the sand. Her body wasn’t perfect; she was a little wide at the hips with thicker legs and smaller breasts than many of the surgery enhanced, bikini clad trophy wives that stalked the several large pools immediately adjacent high priced Royal Towers at the Atlantis. Her face, however, put her in a class by herself. An exquisite white smile and freckled spattered, turned up button nose were after-thoughts when he gazed into her two large blue eyes that he’d swear were the same hue as the stunning turquoise water surrounding the island. She was fit, looking a lot like the healthy, blonde athletic girls he’d seen when vacationing near his home on the Massachusetts Cape.
Leaving his empties behind and joining her, she put her arms around his neck. He held her in the warm surf while they watched Worm hoist anchor and wave as he sailed off. What a strange life, he thought, almost as strange as mine.
“How’d you get here? I don’t see your car,” he questioned, turning his attention back to Taylor.
“I got one of the Jitney drivers to give me a ride,” she answered, still clinging to him. “You want too?” She asked, flashing a suggestive grin.
“Want to what?” He feigned ignorance.
“Oh, that. Sorry Taylor, I don’t have time. I’ve got to get on court.”
“See, Nick. Now that’s not normal”, she returned, releasing her grip and turning to head back toward the beach shack.
“ Taylor, there’s a problem,” he relayed, following after her.
“So that’s what you’re doing here?” She stopped and turned to face him.
“I was worried about you”
“What’s going on?”
“Get dressed and I’ll fill you in on the way back.”