The images flash through my mind like a slide show on a computer screen as I review the papers just handed to me by the process server. Of course I signed for them, all of the players get legal documents here, and the team's always signed for them. It's part of the system with pro football, everyone knows that the team has a lot of sway over players. Besides, we're the ones cutting the paychecks, so if something involves money, the courts know we're the people to talk to as well.
What I didn't expect, of course, are the papers sitting in front of me. The Superior Court of California. In the matter of Larissa Guillaume versus Joseph Crenshaw...
I read it again, sighing. A paternity suit, alleging that just before New Year’s Eve last year, the night after the last game of the season, Joe Crenshaw met Larissa Guillaume at a bar in Los Angeles, where the team had just lost their ninth game of the season, a 49-35 butchering that meant the fifteenth straight losing season for the Knights. Joe, after a five touchdown performance that was the only highlight of the game for the Knights, decided to stay in LA for some post-season relaxation. He'd gone to the bar, met the girl who recognized him... and now I'm looking at a paternity suit.
Not that I haven't seen these before. In the four years I've been working full time as an executive for the team after finishing college, I've handled at least a half dozen of these. Professional athletes whipping their dicks out at the drop of a hat isn't that much of a surprise. You'd think after all the speeches these guys get between high school, college, and even the team docs talking to them, they'd remember to wear a condom more often... but I guess when you earn the money they do to put their bodies on the line, they sort of expect that they'll live forever.
No, it's not the fact that I've got a paternity suit on my desk. What hurts is the name of the defendant. Joe Crenshaw, twenty nine years old, seventh year player coming out of Nevada, six foot four, two hundred and twenty five pounds, blonde hair, blue eyes, with a tan that never seems to fade, an arm that can sling a football through the eye of a needle at forty yards on a laser beam, and heave a rainbow for seventy five yards with the deadeye accuracy of a military mortar. He's got legs that can jump for five yards, evade charging linebackers and defensive linemen, and rushed for six touchdowns last year to go along with the twenty seven he threw for.
All of that, though, matters for jack shit to me. What matters more... since roughly the preseason two years ago, he's been my boyfriend. And now I have proof, along with photographs, that he's cheated on me at least once. I've suspected before... but I always forgave him, let him slide and overlooked the rumors as being just that, rumors around a popular celebrity. There was never any proof before, and I understood that Joe is the sort of person who attracts attention. And with that attention comes a lot of talk. So I forgave him, and ignored my doubts. Not this time.
My fist clenches on my desk, and I can already hear what people are going to say. I was stupid to mix business with pleasure. It's hard enough getting taken seriously as a female executive in pro football, especially since the Knights have been in my family for two generations now. My grandfather started this team, and thirty years ago my father took over. Now, everyone thinks I'm Daddy's Little Princess, a total case of nepotism who's never played ball past a few powder puff games and a shitload of Madden.
Nobody recognizes that I grew up around this team. My first memories were of watching this team, learning the ins and outs of football from some of the best minds in the world. I learned about spread formations, play action fakes, two deep coverage and dime packages before I knew what bras were for. If they gave degrees in football, I'd have earned a PhD by the time I was seventeen.
I learned about more than just the on-field game. I also learned about the business side of things, about how to structure a free agent contract, about salary caps, television coverage and revenue sharing. I learned about the limits of how to merchandise the team, and how while selling the naming rights to the stadium might bring us a lot of money up front, it hurts our 'brand' even before everyone and their brother was worrying about the term.
Hell, I even put on one of the skimpy uniforms for half a season and shook my ass and tits out there on the sidelines along with the rest of the Knight Watchgirls when a freak sideline accident took out four of the girls and they needed some more. I might not have been the best dancer, but I worked harder than any girl on the squad for those ten weeks, going to every game and even freezing my ass off in Cincinnati two days before Christmas.
But if anything, all that's just made it seem like I'm more of a case of nepotism than ever. Everyone just assumes I don't know anything, that I'm an executive who got her job simply because of my last name. After I was seen in a relationship with Joe Crenshaw, that assumption became even worse. Too many people think I've just been a pretty face, the daughter of the former Playboy PMOY who ended up marrying my father for a few years before he got bored of her addictions and her party all the time attitude. They saw me dating Joe as just a continuation of my mother's ideas, and ignored the simple fact that for me, I've always loved football.
Football's driven my entire life. I loved taking weekends to travel with the team, to tell boyfriends that Sundays were days with one purpose and one purpose only. I studied business in college with a minor in sports administration simply because I love this sport and this team. And yeah, I gave my heart to a football player. And now... this.
There's a knock on my door, and I look up, doing my best to put my emotions behind a layer of steel. “Come in.”
Joe, who's here doing some publicity work for the team, comes in, smiling ear to ear. “Hey gorgeous, what's up? Red got a text saying you needed to see me right after the thing with the United Way was over. You miss me that much?”
Any other time, his good looks, easygoing smile, and swagger would make me melt a little bit. Not today. “You got served.”
“Excuse me?” Joe asks as I slide the papers across to him. “Is this about that parking... oh.”
“Yeah, oh,” I reply icily. “Tell me Joe, did you even have an inkling of regret over doing this? Regardless of if you're the father or not.”
“Listen, babe, this girl's a total psycho, one of those stalker cases that-”
“Stuff it Joe,” I hiss, sliding more papers across. “The Private Investigator who delivered the papers also gave me these. Apparently, you took photos with both your camera and hers. He says he's got video as well of you going raw dog on her.”
Joe picks up the photos, glances at them, then sighs. “Great. Number four.”
“That's all you've got to say?” I rasp, trying not to yell. “You get served with paternity papers, along with photos of you having sex with this... this total stranger in Los Angeles, while being in the middle of a relationship with me, and the best you have to say is 'great, number four?' Were you even going to tell me?”
Joe shrugs, looking like a surly child. “Wouldn't matter. You'd gone back home, didn't want to stay in LA to just chill for a few days, and I needed to blow off some steam.”
“Yeah well, you blew off more than that,” I reply, getting up from my office chair. “We're done, Joe. Got it? Through. Don't even worry about your shit that you've left at my place, I'll pack it up and bring it to the stadium, you can pick it up at your convenience.”
“You won't even bring it by?” Joe asks incredulously. “And you want to just leave it at the stadium like last week’s garbage? Are you kidding me?”
“I think I'm totally justified!” I yell, losing it. “Christ Joe, I overlooked so much of your shit in the two years we were together. I'd let it slide when you would be seen with your arms around cheerleaders, or that time you signed the tits of that one fan. All part of the image, you said, and I believed you... even if I should have known better.”
“Yeah well, Princess... that's the way things roll,” Joe says, raising his voice a little. “In case you haven't noticed, you don't do shit to help this team. The only reason anyone even gives a shit about the Knights, the only reason the team isn't fucking Cleveland bad is because of me. I'm the only star on this assembly of retreads, half wits, fucksticks and losers. I sucked it up for five goddamn years too, first toting that clipboard like a good little rookie, and when Trent Mowry went down with that concussion, I stepped up. Remember that? I know you did, because you were on the fucking sidelines shaking your ass. I bet your panties got wet as fuck when I gave you a smirk then, too. Now, I'm putting my foot down, and Red's in line with me. I'm getting the talent around me that I deserve.”
“You might... but what you won't have is me,” I fume, pointing. “Now get out. By the way, I already faxed a copy of the papers to your agent, he'll get your lawyers on it. Keep the team informed of any settlements that effect your game checks.”
Joe turns to leave, stopping at the door to look back. “You know... she sucked dick a lot better than you ever did.”
“GET THE FUCK OUT!” I scream, reaching for the big Knights insulated cup I keep on the corner of my desk. I don't ever drink anything with it, it's stuffed with giveaway pins the team's done over the past three years and probably weighs three pounds. Joe ducks and scurries out, leaving me fuming at an empty door while I hear the squeak of his shoes fleeing down the hallway. I wait a full minute before leaving my office, turning right instead of the left that Joe fled in and go next door.
Opening the door, I see the team's head coach and general manager, Tom 'Red' Hallifax sitting behind his desk with Justin Cooper and Steve Petersen, his offensive and defensive coordinators. “Okay Coop, so the first thing-”
“We gotta talk,” I interrupt, not caring who Red's talking with. “In private.”
Red, who shares an office wall with me, gives me a sharp look but nods. “Justin, Steve, can you give me and Miss Porter a minute or two?”
The two assistants flee, and as soon as the door's closed, I explode. “I know you fucking overheard that.”
“Bits,” Red admits, nodding. “Sounds like you and Joe just broke up.”
“Broke up? That cheating motherfucker just got served with a fucking paternity suit!” I scream, my control slipping some more. “I had to sign because you were in here talking the goddamn details of training camp, and forced myself to sit there while Joe fed me some bullshit story. I want him gone Red, I want his cheating ass GONE!”
“Well now Miss Porter, while I'm sorry that Joe's not the choir boy that I know you hoped he'd become, I just can't justify that,” Red says. “He's the best chance this team has to win-”
“He's an overpaid pain in the ass who's fucking our salary cap and has for the past three years,” I fume back. “The only way we've been able to afford his demands on offense is by gutting our defense, and frankly if you want my opinion-”
“I don't,” Red growls, cutting me off. “Listen, I may appreciate your book knowledge of football, but you don't know the first damn thing about putting together a football team, and I won't sit here while some... some daddy's girl throws a tantrum because her heart got broken!”
I'm pissed, seeing red in a way that I know is dangerous for me, but before I can reply the door to Red's office opens and about the only voice that can calm me down interrupts. “Sam... come with me to my office.”
I glance back, seeing my father standing in the doorway. Still debonair even as he cruises past sixty five, he's dressed like I am, in a tailored Italian suit that makes him look at least ten years younger than he is. Holding my tongue, I give Red an acid look and turn on a short two inch heel to follow Dad into his office. We have to go upstairs, but it doesn't help me calm down.
“Now, what the hell's going on?” Dad asks when we're alone. “I ran into Coach Cooper in the hallway, and he looked like the hounds of hell were on his ass.”
“I've got no problems with Coop,” I growl before sighing. With a trembling voice, I lay it out for Dad, telling him about Joe's cheating, the paternity suit, and my yelling at Red. “I was about to tear into his ass when you came in. Dad, I want Joe gone. That's not the sort of player the Knights need.”
Dad sighs, and shakes his head. “Sorry Angel, but I'm going to have to side with Red here. You said it yourself, Joe's not the first Knight to get served with a paternity suit, and he sure as hell won't be the last. In the three decades I've been the principal owner of the team since taking over from your grandfather, I've lost count of the number of lawsuits that we've had to sweep under the rug or just try to deal with quietly. Hell, it's better now than it was back in the eighties... Christ you should have seen the drugs that were running through the team back then.”
“I don't care Dad, Joe Crenshaw and his top ten contract are crippling the-”
“This is the fiftieth anniversary of the Knights founding,” Dad continues, not even pausing. “We were the last expansion team of the old American League, and if it hadn't been for a lot of wheeling and dealing, and the fact that the League wanted to equalize the number of teams out per division, we'd never have come into existence. I was seventeen when we played our first game.”
“I know, I've seen the pictures of you being the waterboy that first season,” I reply. “Dad, I know you've busted your ass for this team... but what sort of legacy is it when we have losers like Joe Crenshaw as the face of the franchise?”
“Loser? Samantha, Joe Crenshaw is about the only hope this team has of not being a loser,” Dad fumes. “For a decade now, we've languished in the cellar of our division. We're not playing in the Western Conference, where a 9-7 record gets you into the playoffs. We're in one of the toughest divisions, where even getting second place has a good chance to get you one of the Wild Card slots. Most of that has been because for every other team in the division, they can pencil in the games against the Knights as wins. We're so terrible that the only reason we get on national TV is if we're playing one of the division leaders.”
I nod my head, ashamed at what Dad's saying. I love the Knights, but to be a Knights fan is about as bad as being an old school Cubs fan. Except we don't have the 'lovable loser' image... we're just fucking losers. “I know, Dad. Remember, part of my job is dealing with the networks?”
“I know,” Dad replies. “Which is why you understand when I say I'm sick of it. I'm sick of being second only to Cleveland in terms of being a laughing stock. So this year, I'm not holding back. I told Red, go out and get the team the weapons it needs to win the division. Samantha... I haven't told anyone, but after this year I'm planning on stepping back.”
“You're retiring?” I ask, surprised. “But Dad, you love the Knights.”
“I do,” Dad admits, “but that love's also cost me three marriages. Not just the team, we don't need to re-fight this, but Sam... I have nine children by four different wives. You're the only one, outside of Troy and George who even talk with me, and they're in elementary school still.”
I nod, biting my words. Troy and George are good kids, the product of Dad's most recent marriage to a woman who, by the results of the past eight years, seems to have calmed him down some, even if she is only a few years older than me. We don't get along, but I at least respect Meisha. “I know that, Dad. But the Knights are just as important to me.”
“Which is why you have to learn to put a wall between the good of the team, and your own personal good,” Dad says. “I should have put my foot down about it when you started dating Joe Crenshaw, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from this. Sam, Joe's not going to be traded. He's not going to be punished, nothing is going to be done outside of the PR department making sure to keep this off the goddamn sports pages as best they can. Meanwhile, you're going to take on a very important assignment.”
“What?” I ask, my fist clenching. Oh, I learned your lesson long ago, Dad. It's the same lesson that, you're right, destroyed three previous marriages. The team always comes first, regardless of how much it hurts those around you... even your family. I just plan on being different.
“With summer training camp coming up, the team needs an executive to make sure things run smoothly,” Dad says. “While Red could handle it, I'd prefer if he keeps his head where it should be, in the game. Your job is to make sure everything's good with the university where we'll be doing camp, and to sign off on any cuts or contracts Red wants to get signed. Maybe that'll get you to focus on what's right, and not your feminine weaknesses.”
Feminine weaknesses... Dad's way of saying he wished I was born with a penis and the ability to run a 4.5 40-yard dash. I've heard it so often that I just let is roll off my back. Besides, this is sort of an opportunity. If I'm to ever prove myself as an executive, this is a chance to do it. Let Red and his coaches handle the on-field action... I can be the one woman back office who makes sure all the other balls stay in the air. “Understood.”
“Good... then get your bags packed,” Dad says. “I'm flying out to spend some summer vacation with Meisha, Troy, and George in the Virgin Islands... and summer camp starts next week. You need to get up to the campus before then.”
I nod, not saying anything. A month of training camp... a month away from the hassle of the city, and being back in the pure nature of football.
It almost makes up for the heartbreak I'm feeling, and knowing I'll have to deal with Joe Crenshaw's ass the whole time.
Dad sees my face, and nods. “Then get out of here. I'll inform Red you'll be the ownership representative for training camp. And Sam?”