Francois, the ma?tre d’ at La Reserve, flitted about their table like a vulture awaiting death – or worse, a New York ma?tre d’ awaiting a very large tip. Since discovering that Myron was a close friend of Windsor Horne Lockwood III’s, Francois had befriended Myron in the same way a dog befriends a man with raw meat in his pocket.
He recommended the thinly sliced salmon appetizer and the chef’s special scrod as an entree. Myron took him up on both suggestions. So did the so-far silent Mrs. Crane. Mr. Crane ordered the onion soup and liver. Myron was not going to be kissing him anytime soon. Eddie ordered the escargot and lobster tails. The kid was learning fast.
Francois said, “May I recommend a wine, Mr. Bolitar?”
Eighty-five bucks down the drain.
Mr. Crane took a sip. Nodded his approval. He had not smiled yet, had barely exchanged a pleasantry. Luckily for Myron, Eddie was a nice kid. Smart. Polite. A pleasure to talk to. But whenever Mr. Crane cleared his throat – as he did now – Eddie fell silent
“I remember your basketball days at Duke, Mr. Bolitar,” Crane began.
“Please call me Myron.”
“Fine.” Instead of reciprocating the informality, Crane knitted his eyebrows. The eyebrows were his most prominent feature – unusually thick and angry and constantly undulating above his eyes. They looked like small ferrets furrowing into his forehead. “You were captain of me team at Duke?” he began.
“For three years,” Myron said.
“And you won two NCAA championships?”
“My team did, yes.”
“I saw you play on several occasions. You were quite good.”
He leaned forward. The eyebrows grew somehow bushier. “If I recall,” Crane continued, “the Celtics drafted you in the first round.”
“How long did you play for them? Not long, as I recall.”
“I hurt my knee during a preseason game my rookie year.”
“You never played again?” It was Eddie. His eyes were young and wide.
“Never,” Myron said steadily. Better lesson than any lecture he could give. Like the funeral of a high school classmate who died because he was D.U.I.
“Then what did you do with yourself?” Mr. Crane asked. “After the injury?”
The interview. Part of the process. It was harder when you were an ex-jock. People naturally assumed you were dumb.
“I went through rehab for a long while,” Myron said. “I thought I could beat the odds, defy the doctors, come back. When I was able to face reality, I went to law school.”
Myron tried to look humble. He almost batted his eyes.
“Did you make Law Review?”
“Do you have an MBA?”
“What did you do upon graduation?”
“I became an agent.”
Mr. Crane frowned. “How long did it take you to graduate?”
“Why so long?”
“I was working at the same time.”
“I worked for the government.” Nice and vague. He hoped Crane didn’t push it.
“I see.” Crane frowned again. Every part of him frowned. His mouth, his forehead, even his ears frowned. “Why did you enter the field of sports representation?”
“Because I thought I’d like it. And I thought I’d be good at it.”
“Your agency is small.”
“You don’t have the connections of some larger agencies.”
“You certainly don’t wield the power of ICM or TruPro or Advantage.”
“You don’t have too many successful tennis players.
Crane gave a disapproving scowl. “Then tell me, Mr. Bolitar, why should we choose you?”
“I’m a lot of fun at parties.”
Mr. Crane did not break a smile. Eddie did. He caught himself, smothered the smile behind his hand.
“Is that supposed to be funny?” Crane said.
“Let me ask you a question, Mr. Crane. You live in Florida, right?”
” St. Petersburg.”
“How did you get up to New York?”
“No. I mean, who paid for the tickets?”
The Cranes shared a wary glance.
“TruPro bought your tickets, right?”
Mr. Crane nodded tentatively.
“They had a limo meet you at the airport?” Myron continued.
“Your jacket, ma’am. It’s new?”
“Yes.” First time Mrs. Crane had spoken.
“Did one of the big agencies buy it for you?”
“The big agencies, they have wives or female associates who take you around town, show you the sights, do a little shopping, that sort of thing?”
“What’s your point?” Crane interrupted.
“That kind of thing is not my bag,” Myron said.
“What kind of thing?”
“Ass-kissing. I’m not very good at ass-kissing a client And I’m terrible at ass-kissing the parents. Eddie?”
“Did the big agencies promise to have someone at every match?”
“I won’t do that,” Myron said. “If you need me I’m available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. But I’m not physically there twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If you want your hand held at every match because Agassi’s or Chang’s is, go with one of the big agencies. They’re better at it than I am. If you need someone to run errands or do your laundry, I’m not the guy either.”
The Cranes shared another family glance. “Well,” Mr. Crane said. “I heard you speak your mind, Mr. Bolitar. It appears you are living up to your reputation.”
“You asked for a contrast between me and the others.
“So I did.”
Myron focused his attention on Eddie. “My agency is small and simple. I will do all your negotiations – tournament guarantees, appearances, exhibitions, endorsements, whatever. But I won’t sign anything you don’t want to. Nothing is final until you look it over, understand it, and approve it yourself. Okay so far?”
“As your father pointed out I am not an MBA. But I work with one. His name is Win Lockwood. He’s considered one of the best financial consultants in the country. Win’s theory is similar to mine: he wants you to understand and approve every investment he makes. I will insist that you meet with him at least five times a year, preferably more, so that you can set up solid, long-term financial and tax plans. I want you to know what your money is doing at all times. Too many athletes get taken advantage of – bad investments, trusting the wrong people, that sort of thing. That won’t happen here because
Francois came by with the appetizers. He smiled brightly while the underlings served. Then he pointed and ordered them about in impatient French, like they couldn’t possibly know how to put a plate down in front of a human being without his fretting.
“Is that everything?” Francois asked.
“I think so.”
Francois sort of lowered his head. “If there is any way I can make your dining experience more pleasurable, Mr. Bolitar, please do not hesitate to ask.”
Myron looked down at his salmon. “How about some ketchup?”
Francois’s face lost color. “Pardon?”
“It’s a joke, Francois.”
“And a funny one at that, Mr. Bolitar.”
Francois slithered away. Myron the Card strikes again.
“How about the young lady who set up this dinner?” Mr. Crane asked. “Miss Diaz. What’s her function at your agency?”
“Esperanza is my associate. My right hand.”
“What’s her work background?”
“She’s currently goes to law school nights. That’s why she couldn’t join us tonight. She was also a professional wrestler.”
That piqued Eddie’s interest. “Really? Which one?”
“The Indian Princess? She and Big Chief Mama used to be the tag team champs.”
“Man, she is hot!”
Mrs. Crane nibbled at her salmon. Mr. Crane ignored his onion soup for the moment. “So tell me,” Mr. Crane said, “what strategy would you employ for Eddie’s career?”
“Depends,” Myron said. “There’s no set formula. You have two conflicting factors pulling at your son. On the one hand Eddie is only seventeen. He’s a kid. Tennis shouldn’t consume him to the point where he hates it. He should still have fun, try to do the things seventeen-year-olds do. On the other hand it’s naive to think that tennis will still be just a game to him. Or that he’ll be a ‘normal’ kid. This is about money. Big money. If Eddie does it right, if he makes some sacrifices now and works with Win, he can be financially set for life. It’s a delicate balance – how many tournaments and exhibitions to play in, how many appearances, how many endorsements.”
Crane’s eyebrows nodded. They seemed to agree.
Myron turned his attention to Eddie. “You want to score a lot of money early, because you never know what can happen. I’m proof of that. But I don’t want you sucked dry. Sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to say no to staggering amounts of money. But in the end it’s your decision, not mine. It’s your money. If you want to play in every tournament and every exhibition match, it’s not my place to stop you. But you can’t do it, Eddie. No one can. You’re a good kid. You have your head on straight. You were raised right. But if you try to bend too far, you’ll break. I’ve seen it happen too often.
“I want you to make a lot of money. But not every cent out there. I don’t want to turn you into a money machine. I want you to have some fun. I want you to enjoy all of this. I want you to realize how lucky you are.”
The Cranes listened in rapt silence.
“That’s my theory, Eddie, for what it’s worth. You may make more money with the big agencies. I can’t deny that. But in the long run, with a long and healthy career, with careful planning, I think you’ll be wealthier and better off with MB SportsReps.”
Myron looked at Mr. Crane. “Anything else you care to know?”
Crane sipped his wine, studied its color, put the glass down. He did the eyebrow mambo again. “You came highly recommended to us, Mr. Bolitar. Or should I say to Eddie.”
“Oh?” Myron said. “By whom?”
Eddie looked away. Mrs. Crane put her hand on his arm. Mr. Crane provided the answer. “Valerie Simpson.”
Myron was surprised. “Valerie recommended me?”
“She thought you’d be good for Eddie.”
“She said that?”
Myron turned to Eddie. He wasn’t crying, but he looked on the verge. “What else did she say, Eddie?”
Shrug. “She thought you were honest. That you’d treat me right.”
“How did you know Valerie?”
“They met at Pavel’s camp in Florida,” Crane answered. “She was sixteen when Eddie arrived. He was only nine. I think she looked after him a little.”
“They were quite close,” Mrs. Crane added. “Such a tragedy.”
“Did she say anything else, Eddie?”
Another shrug. Eddie finally looked up. Myron met his gaze, held it steady.
“It’s important,” Myron said.
“She told me not to work with TruPro,” he said.
“She didn’t say.”
“My theory,” Crane added, “is that she blamed them for her downfall.”
“What do you think, Eddie?” Myron asked.
Yet another shrug. “Could be. I don’t know.”
“But you don’t think so.”
Mrs. Crane said, “I think that’s enough for now. Valerie’s murder has been very hard on Eddie.”
The conversation slowly drifted back to business. But Eddie was silent now. Every once in a while he would open his mouth, then close it again. When they rose to leave, Eddie leaned toward Myron and whispered, “Why do you want to know so much about Valerie?”
Myron opted for the truth. “I’m trying to find out who killed her.”
That widened his eyes. He looked behind him. His parents were busy saying good-bye to Francois. Francois kissed Mrs. Crane’s hand.
“I think you might be able to help,” Myron said.
“Me?” Eddie said. “I don’t know anything.”
“She was your friend. You were close to her.”
Mr. Crane’s voice.
“I have to go, Mr. Bolitar. Thank you for everything.”
“Yes, thank you,” Crane added. “We have a few more agencies to see, but we’ll be in touch.”
After they left, Francois came by with the bill. “Your tie is very becoming, Mr. Bolitar.”
The man knew how to kiss ass. “You should have been an agent, Francois.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Myron gave him a Visa card and waited. He turned his cellular phone back on. A message from Win. Myron called him back.
“Where are you?” Myron asked.
“On Twenty-sixth Street, near Eighth,” Win said. “There were two gentlemen – and I use that term in its absolute loosest sense – in the Cadillac. They followed you to La Reserve, sat outside for a while, and left about half an hour ago. They’ve just entered a drinking establishment of rather questionable repute.”
“It’s called the Beaver Hunt. Enough said?”
“Stay on them. I’m on my way down.”