In case you were out living a life of leisure, here’s what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
- Yankees GM Brian Cashman told a New York radio host that he “wasn’t surprised” that former players Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera were suspended for PEDs after spikes in performance.
- Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic advanced to the second round of the U.S. Open with straight set wins, while Caroline Wozniacki was upset 6-2, 6-2 by Romanian underdog Irina-Camelia Begu.
- Johnny Cueto became MLB’s first 17-game winner, allowing just two runs over seven innings in a 5-2 Reds win over the D-backs.
- Chris Tillman pitched seven innings of one-hit ball and the Orioles roughed up Cy Young candidate Chris Sale in a 6-0 win over the White Sox.
- A billboard of USC quarterback Matt Barkley located near the UCLA campus was covered over yesterday, and nobody knows who’s responsible.
- After undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee last month, Clippers forward Blake Griffin says he is healthy and ready to go.
- Yu Darvish struck out 10 batters over seven scoreless innings, out-dueling James Shields as the Rangers beat the Rays 1-0.
- Blue Jays outfielder and two-time defending AL home run champ Jose Bautista will have season-ending surgery on his injured left wrist.
- Three suspects accused of attacking Wisconsin running back Montee Ball last month were finally arrested Tuesday.
As he left the station, a light rain fell on the sidewalk concrete. Cashman shook his head at the limousine driver, opened his black umbrella, and waited for the phone to ring. When it did, he spoke first. “Have you heard of a man called V?” he asked.
“I don’t want to be involved with any of you!” shouted the voice on the other end.
“BUT YOU ARE INVOLVED!” shouted Cashman, drawing stares from a woman nearby. He memorized her face. You never knew anymore. “And next time, Montee, believe me when I tell you it will be worse.”
“And you offer me protection, is that it? You’re good, and he’s evil?”
Cashman smiled to himself. After wooing Urban last month, he could feel the Big Ten falling his way. “Montee, if you’re the kind of man who still believes in good and evil, I pity you.”
A long silence. A sigh. “Okay,” came the voice. “Damn it all, okay.” Cashman pressed a button. The rain began to fall harder as the last sunshine disappeared behind the clouds. He raised a hand, and it was seen by someone not far away. Maybe he’d take that ride after all. You couldn’t be too careful these days, and anyway, Flushing Meadows was farther than he cared to walk.
It began with Begu, the daughter of a Romanian crime family with bases of operation in most major college towns in America. Their main source of income came from drugs — they hid the illegal powder inside boxes of pizza dough and shipped them across the country, and who needs more dough than a pizzeria in a college town? — and they were no strangers to violence. For a favor, Begu would call her family and start the process.
Cashman was admitted to the locker room before the match, and caught Wozniacki as she prepared to enter the court. “I believe you are in my debt,” he said, raising an eyebrow. Wozniacki jumped at the sound of the voice. She protested — the Danes always did — but in the end she could only agree. Just over an hour later, Begu had advanced, and the phone call was placed.
Walking back to his Phoenix hotel room after the game, Cueto spotted a homeless man in a filthy trench coat sprawled near his door. He stepped over him gingerly, and reached for his room key.
“Johnny, Johnny you would ignore a man in need?”
Cueto stopped dead. Nicolae Begu. He would recognize that harsh rattle anywhere. And he understood, in a strange flash, that the world was all about favors, forever trickling down to the innocent. But he wasn’t innocent. “Tell me what you want and leave,” he said tersely. If he was obliged to repay an old debt, one which helped him escape a tricky situation with a crime boss in the Dominican Republic, he would at least be unfriendly. Your whole life was controlled; everything but your attitude.
“I need you to talk to your amigos in Wisconsin,” Begu began. When he finished Cueto nodded without looking and entered his hotel room. He would have to place a call to a dangerous man he knew, and from there it would only get more violent. Fautino de los Santos. El Gato Triste. He threw himself on the bed and stared at the ceiling.
The voice mail was waiting back at Tillman’s home. “Meowwwww ” came the voice. “La Alma.” His wife looked at him strangely. Tillman forced himself to laugh. “A prank,” he said. “Stupid kids.”
“It sounds almost sad,” she said.
El Gato Triste. Tillman knew what had happened, at least in broad strokes. Fautino was a hit man, a mercenary who owed his life to the Cash Society. He had been called, probably for something local, and he had pressed his underworld sources until the target or targets were known. But because he had been asking the questions, he couldn’t be the one pulling the trigger. Still, he had gotten his answers. And the noise of El Gato Triste the meow meant an outside assassin, and “La Alma” was a simple acronym. “Los Angeles.” To Tillman, the final name was unknown. So many steps in between, so much caution. But he had to call the painter.
He walked past at 8 p.m., as he did every night, keeping his eyes on the ground and hoping nobody would recognize him. But somebody always did. He was a quiet man, but maybe he shouldn’t dunk so flamboyantly. Maybe he shouldn’t have jumped over that car. Still, it didn’t matter. They couldn’t know his mission, a simple gaze upward. This year the billboard had the quarterback’s face on it, a simple-looking boy who they said might win the Heisman. But football had never interested him. What did interest him? Well, tonight, colors. The color blue, in fact, because when he looked up to see the quarterback, all that met his eye was a field of blue, darker than the night sky, lighter than the sea. Fascinating.
The words ready to go were a signal for three men located in Chicago. They were unremarkable, these men, plain in the face, no distinguishing characteristics. They convened with Griffin, who had received the details in a coded missive from a Cash foot soldier in the San Fernando Valley. Sometimes the code instructed him to dispose of the foot soldier anyway, just to be cautious, but this one was either too close or too dumb to meet that end, and he was allowed to walk away. Griffin only stayed in Chicago for an hour, and the details were hammered out. The three unremarkable men would be leaving for Milwaukee immediately.
Phase two, the misdirection, began with Darvish. Cashman had turned him last year, when he was desperate to be free of the Yakuza that worked for V. So strong, V’s ties to Japan, but Cashman had worked his magic, and now Darvish was a double agent. A bulky man who sat behind the home dugout in Arlington stood conspicuously after the fifth inning to applaud Darvish. The pitcher ambled over after the game. The man handed him a baseball and a pen. To the outside observer, it looked like a simple autograph, and nobody would have noticed the pitcher removing the small note taped to the back of the baseball unless they were really looking. And who would think to look for something like that?
The message from Darvish came via e-mail. Coded, of course, telling a story about a possible Cash Society operation in Atlanta involving Chipper Jones. Bautista, code name El Matador, narrowed his eyes. There was something about Darvish he didn’t trust. There had been some good tips, sure, but the bad ones had been too critical. It didn’t smell right. This time, if it didn’t work out, he would talk with V about Darvish. A good, long talk. But for now, he had nothing. He had to act. He contacted V through the usual channels, and agents were dispatched to Atlanta. “We’re being played,” he thought to himself, and took comfort in the fact that if he was right, it would be the last time Yu Darvish played anyone.
It had been an anonymous tip that clued the police into the identity of the assailants. In truth, they had almost given it up for a cold case, but the suspects had confessed easily, and Ball had identified them without a problem. It was rare to see a case come back from the dead like that, but they weren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. The rest of the night had been ordinary, even dull. The only action came an hour later when three unremarkable men were brought in for a bar brawl that left them scraped and bruised. Out-of-towners, it seemed.
One of Ball’s assailants used his phone call to dial a Boston number. “You’ve got to get us out, V!” he hissed when a tinny voice answered.
“Oh, you are out,” the man said, calmly. “Out of the game, out of time, out of options. But out of prison? No, I don’t think so. But don’t worry. Soon enough, you’ll be well and truly out.”
The line went dead, and the prisoner walked back to the large holding cell. What did that mean? And was he going mad, or were the three new guys, the ones who had been admitted just an hour ago, staring at him in a strange way? And not just him — all of them. They wouldn’t look away. Suddenly, strangely, the two guards outside left. The lights went down. He heard a gasp to his left, a gasp to his right. The inmate, at last, began to understand, and almost managed to scream before the knife cut into his throat.
A thousand miles away, V smiled wryly before throwing his phone at the opposite wall and watching it explode into its component pieces. All his practiced calm, shattered. It had been years since he felt so angry. “Cashman,” he muttered. “You are, I must admit, a unique problem.”