Bellybuster Part 5: “Puppet”

Rose Garden ArenaFifth in a series of installments documenting my failed political ambitions, my warped sensibilities, and my Portland Trail Blazers.

1.

The days that followed my Rose Garden eviction at the hands of Larry Miller’s henchmen were uneventful, but I still found myself in a foul and combative ardor. I couldn’t think of any conceivable reason why Larry Miller would have a problem with my presence at the arena, and the sheer force of the wild night left me dazed and angry. Sure, Larry Miller was an incompetent fool, but I previously hadn’t thought of him as violent. It goes without saying that, looking into his beady eyes that night, I felt the strange presence of desperation and dark vibrations. I couldn’t see past the glint of his corneas, as if the “steely reserve” I had heard so much about was cutting off circulation to his brainstem and cranial nerve.

Lala spent the remainder of that night by my side at my hospital bed in the emergency room of a local hospital. Thankfully, I hadn’t broken my wrist earlier as I tumbled down the stairs, and I was commended by the medical staff for my abnormally strong bones. They wrapped my wrist up nice and tight and sent me home with a bottle of pain pills. I rejected that notion outright – I was starting to feel fine, and I’ve always found pain medication to be the lowest form of mind-alteration – and I dramatically tossed the contents of the bottle out the window of Lala’s car as she drove us home for a late night gin-soaked respite in the hot tub. 

Later that week, I met up with Gerald Wallace bright and early for a morning run. The Blazers were about to leave on an important 6-game road trip, and so I wanted to see if he would be willing to dish the dirt on Larry Miller. I arrived at Gerald’s house a bit too early, and so I chatted with his wife for a bit as she prepared the kids for school. I insisted on helping her make sandwiches for their lunches, hoping that this would make her forget about my rude late-night phone call the previous week. Mrs. Wallace normally has a calm, gracious demeanor, and I was anxious to get back into her good graces.

Gerald ambled downstairs into the kitchen, and we had a cup of tea as we discussed the previous night’s disappointing home loss against the Orlando Magic. When you’re in the thick of the NBA grind, he reasoned, it’s best not to get too high or too low. You can’t get too emotional when you’re not even halfway done with the season, and especially right before the team starts a grueling road trip.

“Do you ever have trouble finding that balance, though? What if you’re not taking it seriously enough?”

“You get used to it,” he said. “It’s tough at first – real tough – but after you establish yourself in the league, it’s easier to step back and look at things from a distance.”

He asked me about my wrist as we set out on our morning run. It was a cold, clear morning, and I noticed how popular Gerald seemed to be around his neighborhood. Everybody – literally, everybody – waved at him as we ran past McMansions on our way to Cook Park. This was a very strange part of town, indeed. I told Gerald in further detail about the night Larry Miller ordered me evicted from the premises.

“To be honest, it doesn’t surprise me,” Gerald told me. “I’ve only seen him about five times since I came here last year, but every time it seemed like he had a bug up his ass or something.” I noticed Gerald was speaking in a more hushed tone.

“Stress, maybe?” I persisted.

“We off the record here?” he asked me. I nodded, giving him an oh-come-on-you-know-I-wouldn’t-do-anything-to-ruin-our-friendship glare. “OK. It could be stress, sure. Or, of course, he’s overcompensating for the lack of respect he has. Look, everybody in the organization all know he’s a puppet.”

We simmered on this for a few minutes as we stopped so Gerald could shake a young boy’s hand.

“Look,” I continued as we started up again. “I can’t stop thinking about the other night. I’m trying to step back and look at it from a distance, like you said, but it’s hard because he was literally right there.” I flattened my hand and put it against my face. “I just started this sportswriting gig, and I haven’t written one bad word about him or the team. Not one. Even if I wanted to, my editor wouldn’t let me. He doesn’t want to burn his bridges, and I don’t blame him.”

We stopped for a water break under a large oak tree. “And by the way, if he has some sort of issue with the Cayman Islands thing, join the club. Join the hundreds of people who judge me without talking to me about it, I don’t give a shit! Really, I don’t. But don’t get violent with me, you dig??”

Gerald mulled it over for a few seconds, ignoring his water in the process. The clouds were forming, and the blue morning was rapidly turning grey. “You’re asking the wrong questions, man.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean, you’re asking the wrong questions. You’re asking why he acted like this, and I understand that, but you’re barking up the wrong tree here. If you want answers, you won’t get them from him. We both know that.”

I waited for him to continue as I saw a faint glimmer of a grin form on his face.

“Then what do I do?” I asked.

“You need to find out who’s pulling the strings.”

2.

I woke up on the barcalounger to the sounds of Ruth playing my guitar softly on the beach, trying to work out the chords of a Smiths song. “I Don’t Owe You Anything”, perhaps? At any rate, a very pleasant way to greet the bright morning. I noticed that the documents of the Bellybuster folder were scattered all over the floor.

I took a quick shower and started to make eggs blackstone. For kicks, I mixed a little champagne in with the oil, something Bernie Sanders taught me one morning when I lived in DC. Ruth asked about the papers I had scooped up and placed on the end table, and I told her that I had briefly looked through them the previous night. I didn’t find anything all too interesting in there – it was in Spanish, for one, and I couldn’t understand the technical jargon and legalese. 

I showed her some old blueprints that I also found. They seemed to be of oil derricks and large buildings that appeared very Soviet in style and context. Looking through the documents again, I noticed that there were also maps. Topographic maps, all with no text. I hadn’t noticed this last night. On every map, there were various red dots, ostensibly representing cities. On every map, there was a black dot on the northwestern corner of the continental United States.

“Seattle?” asked Ruth.

“Hmm… maybe.” I leafed through the maps, noting the precise location of the black dot on each one. “Probably not, though. The locations of the other cities are pretty accurate. Seattle’s not up in the corner, really. It’s like 100 miles or so southeast of the corner. The dot looks more like Victoria, or somewhere on Anacortes or Lopez Island.”

We finished up breakfast and spent the rest of the day on the beach, soaking up rays. I noodled around on the guitar, trying to find something to occupy my mind other than those damned maps. Ruth clearly wasn’t interested in dwelling on them, as she persisted throughout the afternoon for me to join her skinny dipping. I relented, naturally. After dinner, Ruth returned to the palace, and I had the place to myself for the next few days. I not-so-patiently awaited Yang’s return from Cuba. 

After all, we had something important to discuss.

About Arran Gimba

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