3:00am April 29th, 2009
"Next year, Pete. Next year." Jimmy, the night guard at Holt Cat headquarters, pushed the door open for his boss just as Peter Holt was fumbling for his keys. Jimmy had been at the game too; a faded black-and-silver jersey hung out the bottom of his uniform jacket.
Holt gave Jimmy a weary nod. "Yeah. Yeah, next year. Shouldn’t you be in bed?"
"Couldn’t sleep. Figured maybe you couldn’t either."
"Yeah." Holt clapped Jimmy on the shoulder. "You got that right." He was bone tired, drained dry, but Julianna knew not to expect him home tonight. It was always this way after a big loss. When things don’t go the way they should, well, a man’s gotta go to work.
"And hey, nothing wrong with a little extra security, right?" Jimmy called after Holt as he walked to the elevators. "The refs have been stealing from us – don’t want anybody else getting’ the same idea."
Holt chuckled. "Yeah. Right." He stepped into the elevator and waved to Jimmy. "Go home. Get some sleep. I’ll be okay."
As the elevator door closed behind him, Holt rolled his thumb over the biometric sensor pad. You’re a good man, Jimmy, Holt thought. Security was one thing they both knew he didn’t need to worry about. Holt Cat was a fortress. You don’t build the biggest Caterpillar dealership in the nation by being careless; Holt opened his eyes as wide as possible for the benefit of the tiny laser that was deciding whether his retinas qualified him for access to the executive suite. Security, I have. What I need is revenue. A first-round playoff loss? Do you know how goddamned expensive that is? This is the money season – I should be packing the ATT Center for a dozen more games, there should be ad money, merchandise. Getting bounced in the first round? We just can’t afford this. A light turned green, the elevator hummed, and he had arrived. Next year, Jimmy, Holt thought. Maybe. Somehow.
Holt didn’t reach immediately for the light switch after he punched in the alphanumerical sequences and spoke the voice-ID codes to get through the secure airlock and into his private office. Through six inches of bulletproof glass, the moon was shining on San Antonio. Silver rays made the number 21 on Holt’s chest glow, and painted his great mahogany desk a ghostly white.
White … and red.
Amid the moonlit shadows floated a circle of crimson light. Holt stared at it for a long moment. Then slowly, carefully, he spoke. "Chateau Margaux, nineteen-seventy-eight."
"Seventy-nine." The voice that replied was cold as a Moscow February. The red light moved and disappeared as the shadow holding it – the man in Holt’s chair – raised the wine glass to his lips. "We have work to do."
"Christ, Gregg." Holt turned on the lights and reached for the second glass Coach Popovich held out to him. "How long have you been here?"
Pop leaned back and dropped his feet onto the desk. His white hair was wild, but his eyes were clear and black as the waters of the Serebryanka. "Forty-six minutes. A cabernet sauvignon needs forty-five to breathe properly."
"Yeah. Right." Self consciously, Holt held up his glass to inspect its contents. For years his basketball team’s coach had been trying to teach him about wine. He’d been trying to learn. Not-trying was something you didn’t do around Pop. "Ummm … dark robe, good clarity." He stuck his nose in the glass and inhaled. "Yeah, it’s the seventy-nine. Floral notes, red fruits, a tarry nose with–"
"I want Richard Jefferson."
That pulled Holt up short. He took a nervous sip, and swallowed without remembering to swirl. "C’mon, Gregg. Let’s put basketball off to the side for tonight, huh? I’m sure R.C. has some great ideas for the offseason, but tonight let’s just–"
"I want Richard Jefferson. And Antonio McDyess." Pop’s words hissed like bullets from a silenced Makarov semiautomatic. "I want them."
Slowly, Holt lowered his glass. "Look, Gregg." He walked over to the window. Far below him, the Riverwalk was dark. "It’s not that simple. I’m a businessman. I mean, Mark Cuban…" his jaw tightened. "That frat boy can pay as much luxury tax as he wants. I can’t do that, Gregg. The numbers have to be there, or I can’t spend the money. You know how it is. The numbers have to be there."
Holt turned just in time to pin the manila envelope against his chest. On the outside, in black marker, was written:
"What’s this?" Holt set his glass down on the desk. He opened the envelope and pulled out a ream of spreadsheets, graphs, statistics. "What are these, ticket revenues? Merch sales? Box scores? Hang on, these are dated 2010." He squinted at Pop. "These are for next year. What gives?"
Pop took a leisurely sip. He said nothing.
Numbers, figures, equations. Holt flipped through the spreadsheets. "What is this supposed to be, my own personal fantasy? Three home games and a winning series against the goddamned Mavs, and then on to…" he flipped some more. "Phoenix? Again, three home games and the win? And then…" his eyes widened. "The Lakers. Christ, don’t I wish. That’s your cash cow, right there. Three home games, and a win here too? Now you’re really pushing it, Gregg. The only thing that could top that would be if we got King James back in town for…" he flipped once more. "…for the Finals. Three more games, and again, we close it out at home." Holt stopped, and looked at Pop. "Okay, I give up. What is this?"
"How much is it worth?" The old coach poured himself another glass. "Tell me how much it’s worth."
"Well…" Holt reached for a pencil. "I mean, the way you’ve got it here … you’ve got us going up against our biggest rivals and the marquee money-teams, and closing it out at home for every series. That’s huge at the gate, and that’s huge in jerseys and tee shirts. Going up against Kobe and LeBron, the TV time alone is worth serious bank. There’s millions here, tens of millions, easy. But that’s only…"
"Is it worth Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess?"
Holt did not reply for a long time. Instead, he crammed the silent office with the question he knew not to ask. I won’t ask him if he can do it. If he says he can, he can. At length, Holt chuckled. "Only three home games, huh? Not four?" But he remembered what Pop had told him in 2007, when the Mavericks had beaten them for the Division title but lost in the first round, while the Spurs went on to win it all: you can’t control the matchup if you’re at the top. And the matchup was key. The money was in the matchup.
Again, Holt looked at the plan for the 2010 season. A mediocre season, by Spurs standards – a careful navigation, not showing too much, barely squeezing into just the right spot. And then…
"That game five in Dallas next year. You’ll really throw it away, just to bring the series back home for the win? You’ll play Bonner and Mason for heavy minutes in the first half, just to be sure we lose?"
Pop said nothing.
"I don’t know, Gregg. I don’t know." Holt shook his head. "Yeah, it’s worth it. It’s more than worth it, for this kind of money. If you take each round in six, if you give our home crowd all wins and close out each round in San Antonio, it’s worth every penny."
"Richard Jefferson. Antonio McDyess."
Holt laughed. "Yeah. You want ‘em, you got ‘em. Now c’mon, let’s get out of here. Bring the bottle." He dropped the manila envelope onto the desk. Suddenly he had energy again, new life. New hope – and more than hope. "Wow. 6-6-6-6, huh? No, I get it – each series goes six games, so we get the most possible home games and still get some rest. Still, a little biblical, huh? Y’know, six-six-six. Number of the–"
Pop reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a photograph. He handed it to Holt. Holt raised an eyebrow.
"Huh? Oh, that guy, right. You never did tell me what’s up with that – why am I paying off doctors again? Who is this kid?"
"DeJuan Blair," the old coach said. "You’ll see."