PopFiles: Operation "Mills of God"
June 15, 2010
"Is that you, Steve?" Peter Holt stopped dead in his tracks. Around him, a dozen square-jawed men in keffiyeh and dark sunglasses paused to inspect the wares on display at the many stalls that lined the Deir El Nasra. Miles overhead, a private Ofek 10 satellite noted the deviation in its owner's vector and ran an unscheduled security sweep. Holt, mopping sweat from his brow, peered into the dim little café where he thought ... where he could have sworn...
"Steve! I'll be damned!" Holt plunged into the café, half a step behind two dangerous-looking Russian tourists with headsets who had apparently decided that they too urgently needed a cup of Beiruit's famous coffee. Holt side-stepped them and playfully punched the shoulder of a small, gaunt man who sat hunched at one of the tables. "Almost didn't recognize you! I'd forgotten you were from Lebanon - I'm in town on business, but if I'd known you were here I'd have looked you up. Heard you were taking some time off, and a good thing too. Christ, Steve, you look awful."
For a long moment Steve Kerr said nothing. He stared up at his old boss with wild, hunted eyes, the eyes of an animal that has chewed off its leg to escape from a trap and then promptly stepped into another. Holt pulled up a chair and sat down.
"So, how's it going? I was surprised to hear you left Phoenix." Holt waved away the waiter who had been standing nervously against the wall, glancing back and forth from the Russians on either side of the door and the beaded curtain that led to the back room of the cafe. "Running the Suns seemed like a perfect fit for you - and you sure figured us out, huh? You had our number in the second round. Four games. Ouch."
It was Kerr who winced. His untouched mug of bitter, cardamom-flavored coffee chattered in its saucer as he tried to raise it to his lips. Swallowing a mouthful, he blinked at Holt and forced an unconvincing smile. "Hello Mister Holt, sir." He glanced feverishly around the café. "It's ... a pleasure to see so many familiar faces. I thought ... I came here to get away ... didn't think anybody knew where to find me..."
Holt laughed. "Leave it all behind, eh? Good to take some time for yourself, get a little perspective. Wish I had time for a vacation. Phoenix is gonna miss you, but they'll manage - you put a good team together there, Steve, a damn solid team. That squad's built to last, and it's just a shame that whoever picks up the reins is gonna get the credit for what you accomplished. Do you know who's gonna take the job?"
"No." Kerr's voice was a whisper. "No. Whoever it is, I pray to God I don't know him. Poor bastard. Poor doomed bastard."
"Oh, come now." Holt raised an eyebrow - was this trembling husk really the same man he'd known back in San Antonio? The dead-eye sharpshooter whose cold-blooded heroics had put banners in his rafters? "The job can't have been that bad, surely? Seems like a pretty sweet gig to me - J-Rich is working out great, and Stoudemire's gonna sign his extension soon, so it's not like they're gonna have to blow a bunch of cash on underperforming stiffs, and ... what's this?" For the first time Holt noticed the empty wine glass on the table in front of him. "Do you have company? Am I interrupting something?"
Kerr twitched. Holt picked up the glass and squinted at the crimson residue at the bottom. He sniffed. "Say, that's some fine stuff - I'm surprised they have such a quality cellar in a place like this." He sniffed again, inhaling the complex floral aroma. "Quite a fine Bordeaux ... a Pomerol, or I'm much mistaken. In fact, I'll be damned if this isn't a '59 Chateau Pétrus. I've got to call Gregg, he'll never believe it." He pulled out his phone. "Good Lord, Steve, what's wrong?"
A thin trickle of blood ran slowly down the old point guard's chin. At the mention of Popovich Kerr had bitten his lower lip - nearly bitten straight through it, Holt saw. "Aww, c'mon now Steve. Don't you worry about Coach Pop." He chuckled, and handed Kerr a napkin. "I know he got a little testy after the Playoffs ... said a few things about ‘destroying the Suns piece by piece until they're too terrified to beg for the sweet release of death' ... but you mustn't take him too seriously. I'm sure he's forgotten all about it." Smiling, Holt shook his head as he dialed his Head Coach's number. "Pull it together, man! Good grief, if you were still a GM I'd swear somebody just put a gun to your head and forced you to trade for Vince Carter!"
Holt finished dialing and held the phone to his ear. In the back room of the café, somebody's cell phone began to play Gosudarstvenniy Gimn SSSR.