Three weeks earlier.
Matt’s K-Mart alarm clock buzzed at 6:30 a.m. on Monday morning. Fuck…he was having an awesome dream and had the hard-on to prove it. Matt was on top of the world. Everything was right and perfect. How could he possibly know it would all soon come apart?
He slammed off the alarm using the football he’d taken to bed with him. He liked to cuddle the ball as if it were a teddy bear, but that’s not what had given him the boner. It was the dream, the dream about Kitty. Kitty was his sweet girlfriend. Katherine to most; Kitty to him. Man, did she purr.
After Revere had won the semi-final game in the post-season tournament Friday night, Kitty got her cousin, who was a sophomore at nearby Salem State College, to let them use her dorm room for the night. Her cousin was raving at a club in Boston and staying in the city, so the room would be free all night long.
Matt and Kitty had been together before, but this time they were truly alone. No worries that parents might soon come home or a cop might see them doing it in her Volkswagen Jetta. The sex was the best they’d ever had. Kitty was insatiable and inventive, doing things Matt had only seen in online porn videos. She said his performance in the game made her hornier than ever.
That was Friday night, and thoughts of Kitty were still with Matt Monday morning, and he had to masturbate before doing anything else. He yanked down his boxers, and threw the football to the floor, not wanting to stain it upon discharge.
After Matt concluded his business, he crawled out of bed. He showered and performed his once a week, Monday morning shave. Of Irish descent, Matt had a light muzzle and his cheeks rarely saw the scrape of a razor. He had a jowly, inviting face which stood at odds with the massive bulk of his body. But that’s why he made a great captain and was a natural leader; he was large and strong, but more importantly he had a face anyone could trust.
Matt tugged on a pair of Old Navy Jeans and then some boots from Payless (both affordable outlets). Over a thermal shirt, he slipped on his game jersey. Revere High’s teams wore dull, muddy-brown colors, but today the shirt sparkled. His mother had done a fine job washing it, cleansing it of the dirt and grass from Friday’s game. The players would wear their jerseys the whole week at school in anticipation of the trip to Gillette Stadium.
Gillette Stadium was where the New England Patriots professional football team played its home games, but once a year high school teams took to its turf to compete for titles in their respective divisions. Revere, being a populous city with a large high school, was to compete for the Division One championship, the biggest prize in the State. It was every high school footballer’s dream to play in the “superbowl” at Gillette, and no other Revere High football team had ever gone this far in the playoffs. Matt and his teammates would make history if they took the title.
But there was a problem. The problem was Jason Albany, the team’s star quarterback. He was flunking classes, specifically Mr. Martinelli’s history class. Mr. M. was also an assistant coach to the football team, and no one wanted to see the squad win more than he did. But grades were grades, and if Jason didn’t pass a crucial test in a few days he’d be put on academic probation. That meant no football, and no Jason meant Revere had less of a chance to win it all.
Matt and Chad were good for high school football, but Jason was a god. Big time college teams were fighting each other for the chance to get him. Miami, Ohio State, Auburn, and Michigan. The grand-daddies of the game wanted him. He’d dominate college ball. Win the Heisman, and then go pro. Matt and Chad knew they would be working schmoes one day, but they also knew they’d be going to Gillette to see Jason as a professional. He was that good, and they would need him in the championship game.
Revere’s opponent was Longmeadow High out of western Massachusetts. The western part of the State rarely produced strong teams, but this year was an exception. Longmeadow was a beast which had gone undefeated (Revere had one loss in the regular season), rolling over opponents by huge margins. Revere’s back up QB was a good player, but to beat the best Revere needed the best: Jason was the best the city had ever seen.
Matt had to do something to prevent a disaster. As an offensive lineman, Matt’s foremost job was to protect his quarterback, but the situation with Jason was about protecting the whole team. Jason was not dumb, but he had trouble with academics. Revere High’s social psychologist had long ago departed her position, and the principal had been unable to fill it. Had a qualified professional been in place, that person might have diagnosed Jason with Asperger’s Syndrome. He found it hard to concentrate on anything except football and video games. Players, teachers, and coaches had warned him and pleaded with him all season long, but it had not sunk in. He kept telling them not to worry, as his grades continued to dip.
Now it was D-Day. The upcoming test would determine whether Jason could play in the game or not. Matt and Chad planned to meet at the Broadway Dunkin Donuts before school to discuss what options remained.
Matt’s parents were already gone by the time he got to the kitchen, a reality for many Revere kids. Pay check to pay check living. People had to be out the door to get to jobs by seven in the morning. Most had shit commutes on grungy buses and stuffy subway cars. In the case of Matt’s parents, his mom started an 8:00 a.m. shift as a nurse at a Boston hospital while his father, an independent plumber, was out taking the most meager jobs he could find.
Patrice and Ben Bisbee were Revere lifers. Born and raised. Would die there and probably have their ashes scattered on Revere Beach. The marriage had been mainly a happy one. There were whispers about some trouble years ago, but Matt didn’t know more. He didn’t want to. Many of his friends and classmates came from broken homes. Some had abusive parents. Other parents just didn’t give a damn. Matt was thankful his parents had remained together all these years and still seemed to truly love one another.
Another thing Matt knew: his parents never had more children because they couldn’t afford to. Ben’s plumbing business had never really caught on. It paid the bills, but it was hard to sock much away. Patrice chipped in, but a nurse’s salary was peanuts. The Bisbees never had enough money to be more than renters, and Ben’s plumbing van was the family’s one means of transportation.
It was an open secret that the family’s hopes for a better future lay with Matt. He was in line for a football scholarship to the University of Connecticut. It wasn’t big time college ball, but he’d get the degree and financial assistance. After that, he’d go to law school and eventually lift his family out of poverty.
There was a note on the kitchen table from his mother that a hearty breakfast awaited in the microwave. He zapped the food and sat down to eat. His appetite was low, for he had a tough task in front of him. How to get Jason serious about passing this test.
He forced himself to eat. Linemen had to keep up their weight. They had to be behemoths. Monsters in the middle that defensive lineman could not get around. Offensive linemen were the rocks of their teams. They couldn’t waver or waste. Matt ate. He ate eggs and bacons and waffles. He gulped down orange juice. Went it was all done, he rinsed the plate and cup and tidied up. The house was still and silent, save for the creak of ill-construction.
Matt grabbed his school bag and pulled on a parka. He tugged a hat over his ears and stepped onto the streets of Revere, Massachusetts.
Change jingled in Matt’s pocket—school lunch money—but he fished around the coins to find his I-Pod Nano. It was beat up, purchased on E-Bay at a fire sale price, but it worked and it was Matt’s morning ritual to pop in the ear buds just after stepping outside. The music helped to drown out much of what Matt did not want to hear.
It was a raw day. Shoveled snow from an earlier than normal for New England storm had frozen everywhere, creating mini-trenches through which the foot soldiers of the neighborhood weaved. Sand from city trucks and discarded lottery scratch tickets were mixed and baked into the snow piles. Winter made just about everything in New England look worse.
Matt began his walk to meet Chad at the Broadway Dunkin Donuts. He scrolled to his progressive rock playlist for a little Korn, Nine Inch Nails, and Weezer. There was even a little EDM, labeled generically so no one would discover Matt’s dirty little secret: he liked dance music. He turned the volume way up and walked quickly.
Revere was a small city five miles outside of Boston, the land of triple-decker homes and boxy apartment buildings—all in dire need of repair. The only hint of modernity, oftentimes, were the satellite dishes, which jutted from the structures like bad outbreaks of acne.
Matt’s neighborhood was tough, not just the way it looked but the way its people lived. Poor economic times had not been kind. As Matt walked along, he could see unemployed men hanging out on street corners. A sizable illegal immigrant population had moved into the neighborhood and they too gathered over trash can fires and snow piles to wait for unscrupulous contractors who might come by with a cash job for the day. The mix of White and Hispanic populations caused tension, and gang activity was a problem.
No matter what the ethnic group, drugs and crime touched them all. A lot of it originated with one man, Carmine Cantu. Billy’s father.
Matt’s size, as well as his reputation as a great athlete, made him fairly secure in the neighborhood. He was not offered drugs, and no one gave him much trouble. He hated seeing junkies or kids who had dropped out of school hanging around and doing nothing, but what could he do about that? He kept his head down and listened to his music. Best to focus on Jason and the test. Over that, he had some control.
It took Matt ten minutes to walk to the Broadway Dunkin Donuts, which got him through two songs and part of the way into a third before he hit pause. He texted Chad to let him know he was there. He bought two coffees and hung around inside to keep warm. When the manager began to give him dirty looks, he went back into the freeze to wait for Chad to arrive.
Outside, a semi-tractor trailer pulled away from one of the diesel pumps the Dunkin Donuts shared with a Mobil gas station. The truck tore through a pile of slushy snow and sprayed gray sludge everywhere. Matt was lucky to dodge the eruption, which would have ruined his clothes and fouled the coffee. Hurry the fuck up, Chad.
As Matt grew more bullshit with Chad, thinking about all the hell he would give him for making him wait around, Billy Cantu emerged from behind the Dunkin’ Donuts. He walked towards Matt like he knew he would be there. He did know. He had followed him from his house that morning.
It was only 7:30, but Billy was already fucked up on something. His pupils darted this way and that, but he had Matt clearly in his sights. He had big plans, and this had been a long time coming.
Billy had graduated Revere High three years prior, barely. Rumor had it the principal allowed him to graduate when he shouldn’t have just to get rid of him. Chad and Jason had little knowledge or memory of Billy, but Matt knew him very well. Everyone in Matt’s neighborhood did. Really, they knew Billy’s father Carmine and to fuck with Billy was to fuck with Carmine—at least that’s what was said on the street. It was his father’s rep that kept Billy alive. It was the myth of Carmine’s power that kept other wannabe thugs from taking Billy apart. It was all of this that made it possible for a runt like Billy to cow Revere High football’s biggest player and team leader.
“Bisbee!” the voice was rat-like. The face was rat-like. Everything about Billy Cantu screamed rodent, except the tattoo of a shark that was on his neck. He got the ink work in return for some Oxycontin, but the tattoo artist got too fast a start on the drugs and a few minutes into drawing the ‘tat’ the pills took effect. The result was a poorly drawn shark with a drooping fin.
Matt whipped around, expecting to get jacked. You could never be too sure in this part of Revere. He would have welcomed an attempted mugging to what he actually saw, Billy walking toward him doing a high-as-fuck, half-assed pimp roll. That stupid shark tattoo. You could see Billy coming a mile away.
It was thirty degrees outside, but Billy only wore a hooded sweatshirt. The hood was pulled up over his head to make him look more bad ass. A quick glance into Billy’s eyes and Matt surmised the drugs in Billy’s system were the only thing keeping him warm.
“Billy, how are ya?” Matt said, holding up the two coffees in a gesture of hello.
“One of those for me?” Billy asked.
“Someone’s picking me up,” Matt replied blankly.
“That’s okay. Already had mine,” Billy said, as if he were entitled to one of the coffees. Billy now stood in front of Matt. He fished a cigarette and lighter from his sweatshirt pockets and lit up. “Saw the game on Friday,” Billy said, blowing smoke toward Matt which the wind bent right back into his own face.
“Great, glad youz could come out,” Matt offered.
Billy waved away the smoke. “You guys are in the finals now, right?” Matt nodded. “That’s awesome,” Billy answered his own question without any emotion. “You goin’ to college then?”
“Yep. Next fall,” Matt replied.
“Where?” Billy asked.
“UConn, I hope” Matt answered.
“Fuck. You a traitor to your own State?” Billy snorted.
“Could be a full scholarship in it. You know how it is?” Matt reasoned. Billy didn’t understand. College. Scholarships. A life beyond Revere. That was Greek to Billy, who hated Greek people. Pizza shop owners and barbers. Fuck ‘em all.
“Maybe I should have gone for one,” Billy proposed preposterously.
“What? A scholarship?” Matt couldn’t help but crook the side of his mouth in a grin of incredulity.
Billy saw it and was instantly annoyed. “Yeah, why not? ‘Member when we played Pop Warner? I was pretty good.” The boys had indeed once played a little ball together, but Billy didn’t last long. It’s not that he didn’t have the skills, but even as a pre-teen Billy was a screw up and bugged out after one season.
“Yeah, you weren’t bad,” Matt said. Can this get any worse? Chad, where in the fuck–
“You ever bet on football games, Matt?” Billy asked.
It had just become worse. “Nah. I’d get in trouble,” a safe, neutral answer.
“You know, we could make a lot of cash when you get to UConn. You could be like my inside man. It’d just be between you and me. No one would ever know. Just let some guy go by you on a big play. That kind of thing,” Billy smiled at Matt in a beckoning kind of way.
Matt had always kept his nose clean, despite the many temptations to do otherwise. If this were anyone else he’d stomp the kid’s guts out or just ignore him, but in this case he had to be more delicate.
“I can’t do that, Billy. If anyone ever found out that would be the end of my career,” Matt tried to sound subservient, as if Billy would be doing him a favor not to pursue it any more.
“Who would find out? We’d be the only ones who would know.” Billy tried to assure him. “I’d bet on the games. You could flub a few plays. Nothing that would look strange. Just missing a block or a penalty once in a while. And we split all the money.”
Matt actually considered it for a second. If they were the only ones who knew, it might work. It didn’t mean he’d have to make his team lose, just not cover the point spread. Some quick, easy cash could help him and his parents. He was never going to the NFL, and scholarships didn’t cover living expenses. And if he went to law school after that…all of it meant he would need money, lots of it.
But Matt knew…There is no honor among thieves. Someone would find out or Billy would betray him or blackmail him. Matt’s dad had told him a long time ago, “Don’t ever get involved with some of these guys in the neighborhood. Not even in the smallest way. If you do, you’ll regret it the rest of your life.” To Matt, it sounded like his dad was talking from experience, but he never pressed him further.
“I just can’t do it, Billy,” Matt replied. “Thanks for thinking of me, but I can’t.” Matt thought cajoling Billy might help ease the rejection.
Billy could see through that and his upper lip quivered, but not from the cold. He thought he had put together a decent plan and now this jock fuck was turning him down. Billy cocked his head, staring long and hard at Matt. He flicked away his cigarette. “I bet I could still get around you,” Billy challenged Matt. “I was good at running the ball.”
“I’m on the O line,” Matt said. “I don’t tackle running backs.”
“Pretend I’m trying to get the quarterback. Stop me.” Billy challenged again.
Matt lifted his coffee cups up as if to say Sorry, my hands are full. It was then Matt saw Chad pull up to the Dunkin’ Donuts in his fancy Jeep Cherokee. He wasn’t sure if he should yell at Chad for being so late or to thank him for the rescue. “That’s my ride,” Matt told Billy.
Chad parked and jumped out, limping just a bit. His hamstring had tightened up over the weekend and he moved gingerly, as if little green men were pulling on the muscle. Chad also wore his game jersey, though he hadn’t bothered to clean it. His mother had died five years earlier of cancer, and his wealthy father was always running around with some new girlfriend. On his own, Chad knew little about stain removal, and so the grass and the grit and the blood from Friday’s game remained deeply embedded in the polyester.
Matt didn’t want Chad getting involved in this for the sake of his sore leg but for much more important reasons too. Chad lived in Revere, but he didn’t know Matt’s neighborhood. He may have remembered Billy from high school, but he didn’t know Billy’s father Carmine and how he struck fear in the hearts of kids like Matt.
Matt took a step past Billy to intercept his teammate, but Billy grabbed his arm, forcing Matt to spill a few drops of coffee. “He can wait a minute,” Billy informed Matt. “Put the coffee over there,” Billy said, pointing at a curb.
Chad did not know what to make of the scene before him. Matt wasn’t afraid of anyone, except maybe Coach Murray. This didn’t make any sense. Chad limped closer. “What’s going on, B?” Friends and teammates, often called Matt ‘B,’ the second syllable of his last name Bisbee. When Matt made a big block in any game the crowd would chant Beeeeeee.
Billy didn’t look at Chad, but he addressed him. “Go back to your prissy fuck car. Matt will be there in a second.”
This was not the kind of thing you said to the captain of the Revere High Football team. And not Chad Harrison. And not from the mouth of a one hundred pound, pimple-faced scumbag. Chad was not as large as Matt, but he was one of the most fearsome players in the league, a bang ‘em up safety as well as the team’s punt and kick-off return man. It was said Chad played dirty, kicking people on the bottom of piles or chopping at throats if he thought the refs weren’t looking. Chad had a mop of devilish red hair. He could bench press three hundred pounds, and you just didn’t want to fuck with him. Chad boiled with rage at Billy’s audacity. He’d started brawls with kids three times Billy’s size for far less. “You little prick! I’m going to fucking smash you!!!”
Matt looked at Chad as hard and as long as he could. Chad caught his eye, and Matt shook his head, his face slack and a little pale. Matt was the team leader, and Chad always trusted his instincts. He couldn’t figure out why Matt would back down to a scrawny puke like this kid, but he obeyed; he obeyed Matt, not Billy. Chad backed off and returned to the Cherokee but not without glaring at Billy to make sure the kid knew he wasn’t afraid of him.
“Billy, I don’t have time for this—“
“Come on!” This was not annoyance but anger. Matt had to watch his step. Matt complied. Best to get this over with.
Chad watched all of this in disbelief. He should help, but that look in Matt’s eye…Fear? Warning? Why? Who was this kid? He thought he looked familiar but couldn’t place him. Chad fired the Cherokee’s ignition and blasted the heat.
“Okay,” Matt said, turning to face Billy. “What do you want me to do?”
“Stop me from getting to the quarterback,” Billy said matter of factly. “That pump, that’s the QB.” A few gas pumps lay behind Matt. He wondered what Billy would do if he did get to the mythical QB. He hoped he’d swallow gasoline.
Billy did a few mock stretches and danced in place. Matt pretended as if he was taking up a position on the line, but the trained eye could see he was only going through the motions. One trained eye in the vicinity was Chad’s, and he knew Matt was half assing it. Take him out! You were all-league for crying out loud!!! Chad screamed in the car as the heater pumped out warm air.
After Billy concluded his dance, he came at Matt. He jived with his shoulders and shucked with his hips and went to Matt’s left. Matt put his hands out as if to block him. He touched Billy enough to make a show of it, but Billy easily made it around Matt. He slapped the gas pump and it rattled in its holster.
Billy was the world’s biggest screw up, but he could see a con a mile away. “No fucking way, Matty! You didn’t try!” Matt hadn’t. Billy came back to where Matt was and got right in his face. “Don’t you have any pride?” Billy asked Matt. An astonishing statement from someone who barely graduated high school and looked like a street bum.
“All right,” was the only thing Matt said. His jaw set. He wasn’t thinking logically anymore, and it infuriated him that someone like Billy would question his integrity. Furthermore, Matt was a competitor, and it didn’t matter whom the opponent was—he couldn’t let shit talk like that go unanswered. Matt lined up again, this time more rigidly.
Billy took a few steps back and did his stupid dance again. From the Cherokee, Chad relaxed. He could see the change in Matt’s expression and posture. Billy didn’t know what was coming.
Billy came at Matt again, but he wasn’t ready for what Matt did next. Matt wasn’t going to sit back on his heels and wait for the game to come to him. He did what any good offensive lineman would; he used his bulk and momentum to take the fight to his attacker. Billy was smiling when Matt’s forearm crashed into his chest and sent him reeling backwards. Billy had athletic instincts and tried to steady himself but he skidded on a patch of ice and went crashing down to the pavement. His face landed on a pile of slush, which was embarrassing but lucky. If there had been no slush to break his fall he would have lost two teeth (which would happen in due time). For the moment, Billy kept his teeth but had a mash of dirty, parking-lot slush stuck to his face.
In the car, Chad pumped his fist and chanted “Beeee!”
Billy rose, not bothering to wipe the slush off his face. He let it drip down onto his clothes in a stupid show of pride. Maybe he did have some. The elbow of his hooded sweatshirt was torn, and he had sand and water all over his pants. Matt knew he had made a serious mistake. Billy came toward him, smiling. “That was much better,” he said. “Fuck yeah!”
Matt didn’t know what to say. Billy was actually congratulating him. Was it a trick? “Thanks,” Matt warily replied.
“About that college thing,” Billy said, all-business, “It’s cool. I’ve got someone else, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Matt was caught off guard. Someone else? To fix games? He wanted to ask Billy who, but then he didn’t want to hear a name. They had one game left, the championship game. After that, what the players did with their lives was not his responsibility. But they were his teammates and this was Billy Cantu. Matt wanted to warn whomever it was not to get mixed up with Billy Cantu.
But now, after smashing Billy to the ground, it was Matt who could be mixed up with Billy Cantu. And that meant Carmine. Monday morning was supposed to be about Jason and his grade problem. Matt had woken with a hard on and thoughts about Kitty. He’d woken as the first captain in Revere High history to take his team to superbowl. Now, that world felt so far away. He had an unknown teammate mixed up with Billy Cantu and himself possibly in the fray after embarrassing Billy. Matt was on auto-pilot as all these thoughts rushed at him. “I’m going to get my coffee,” Matt told Billy.
Matt moved past Billy and picked up the coffee, which had gone from piping hot to balls cold. He walked toward Chad’s car, looking back over his shoulder only once. Billy had not turned around. He remained facing the other way, lighting up a new cigarette. Matt hopped in the Cherokee and told Chad to get the hell out of there. Chad quickly pulled away, but he had a lot of questions.
In the Dunkin Donuts lot, Billy stood in the way of a car trying to leave. The man behind the wheel honked and cursed, but Billy didn’t budge. Matt wasn’t going to work, but there was another. Billy, in the haze of his high, quoted the Star Wars character Yoda out loud, there is another. The man wanting to get around Billy laid on his horn again. Billy heard nothing.