Ginobili vs. Dracula, Chapter 2

Thursday's game against the Jazz felt longer than a day away. The Spurs were looking forward to rigors of practice. Popovich earned the right to challenge them. He did not even have to yell anymore. The team felt like it was running the break across a limitless court.

Popovich's new afternoon practice schedule was based on research by the Sleep Clinic at Stanford University. Pop and Assistant coach Hank Egan each had books and papers littering their desks: Biorhythms and the Concept of Time, Axiomatic Frequencies and Seasonal Change, Theories of Fruition, Metric Analysis of Subconscious Pre-Memory, Dreaming Beyond Meta-REM ...

Pop kept the older texts at home: leather bound and printed black letter folios, Latin manuscripts quilled in red ink, a prisoner's journal of mirror writing, papyrus and old stones, a meticulously notched ivory staff ...

"I have a feeling that bat didn't actually get into the arena on Halloween by itself," Richard Jefferson said. RJ shook his head and tried to push the uneasy feeling out of his mind. The team was stretching, getting ready for a shoot-a-round. Timmy missed a trick three and the team laughed as the rebound caromed off RJ's head. RJ just stood facing west, staring through the walls of the practice facility.

He saw nothing. Darkness.

* * * * *

In an abandoned church off IH 10, a tender mouth licked the last bit of Beno Udrih's blood from her fingers. Her thirst sated, for now.

Her lithe hand carefully moved the candle from the alter and smoothed the front page of the San Antonio Express News that her tight fist had crumbled but moments before. No one dared strike her like that -- not even him, her master. To add insult -- the hand sanitizer, the rabies shots. She was the one dirtied by the contact! The Argentine lived in filth. Rodents nested in his laundry.

She loathed Ginobili, but ... she could not help but return to the tender way he cradled her in his hand, carrying her to the locker room. No one had ever held her like that, not even her master.

* * * * *

A halo of arriving flights circled above LAX in concentric patterns. None were given permission to land. Only a single black Leer jet descended through the smog and screeched to a halt on the tarmac. An ebony casket shifted slightly in the jet's hold. The dark prince glanced at his Blackberry. An email from Phil Jackson glowed in the darkness. "Welcome to Los Angeles."

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