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Gut-Shots: Role Player by Matt Phillips


Life ain't easy in The Gutter. But when Opportunity knocks? You gotta know when to take your shots, as Matt Phillips shows us.

The Role Player by Matt Phillips

Coach Egan shoved his cock into his tightie-whiteys. Stuffed his button-down blue shirt tails deep inside his pants … and tried to fasten the fucking things—black pleated slacks he’d let out two summers in a row. He figured he was the last division one men’s basketball coach in the country with a five figure salary. Middle five figures. Served him right for giving up on his teaching cert and taking this coaching job at Saint Matthew’s—a small college outside DC. Now he made what a seventh grade teacher did. Had to explain to his slutty wife why she couldn’t keep flying out to Oahu la-di-da Hawaii to sleep with her former college roommate.

The affair didn’t bother Egan—turned him on, in fact.

But they needed that god damn money. Paper his players called it.

And here Saint Matthew’s was for the first time in school history, a thirteen seed in the country’s biggest basketball tournament. They won their first two games, so oddsmakers started believing—had them as slight underdogs for the next game. And now his dumb shit kids were wearing Cinderella’s glass slipper, hoping to knock off the number one team—a squad led by Riggins Joe, an All-American out of Inglewood and headed for the NBA lottery. One and done, as they say: the odds of St. Matthew’s getting back to the big dance were the same as Egan’s chances of having a threesome in Oahu.

Yet here they were at halftime, his team down by only two. All because of Jame-O, their freshman swingman, another swinging dick from—yeah, that’s right—the projects of Inglewood, CA.

About the only thing Jame-O didn’t do right in the first half was shoot free throws. He was four for ten from the line. But with twenty-two points, nine rebounds, and four assists, the six-eight freshman was well on his way to a tourney triple-double. College ballers called that a reckon me.

As in: Reckon you NBA scouts will draft me?

So here Coach Egan was at halftime, down two in the tourney, pissing blood in a bathroom stall and trying to buckle his pants. Who’d have fucking thought? He sucked in his belly … pointed his chin at the ceiling, managed to button his slacks. But damn he almost puked when he let out his breath.

Trotting from the locker room and into the tunnel, Egan made a turn toward the court—

And rammed straight into Cirrus Greek.

Egan almost fell, caught himself, and straightened. “What the fuck?”

“Just wanted to have a chat, Coach—”

Egan jammed a fat index finger into Cirrus’s chest. The jackass reeked like a nasty combo of drugstore cologne and feta cheese. “It’s your boy Jame-O who’s fucking up out there. Almost perfect, except for his shit free throws.”

Cheeks plum-red, gray eyes squinted in anger, Cirrus slapped Egan’s hand away. “Jame-O knows what’s at stake. Besides, the kid wants to drive around in a black Escalade and bump Kendrick Lamar.”

“You saw the first half. And you see the fucking score.”

Cirrus cupped a hand behind Egan’s flabby neck, pulled their faces together, whispered in his ear. “I told you, Jame-O knows what’s at stake. And me? I want my motherfucking money. You hearing me on that, Coach?”

“Jame-O thinks he’s going to the league.”

Cirrus smirked. “He can think in one hand—and shit in the other. See which comes first. That knee injury his junior year in high school? Still gives him pain. Jame-O’s gonna be lucky to ride the bench on a ladyboy’s pro team in Chiang Mai, Thailand. This is our best shot at making money off this kid.”

Egan tried to pull away, but Cirrus tightened his grip, clenched fingers pressing circles into his pasty skin. “The way your boy’s playing, I’m wondering if Jame-O remembers the spread. Sometimes I think the kid can’t fucking add.”

Cirrus chewed on his own saliva before whispering again. “Just make sure you remember the spread, fuck face. This much money on the line? We can’t afford fuck ups.”

Egan planted both palms against Cirrus’s chest, shoved him against the wall. Free from the bigger man’s grip, he trotted again toward the court and the packed buzzing stadium.


Cirrus’s narrowed eyes followed him out onto the court before trekking to his seat. He liked to put his time and money into up-and-coming fighters: boxers and mixed martial arts. But he had a soft spot for Jame-O. Brought the kid up through middle school, AAU ball: saw him make All-City four straight years in high school. The knee injury in the last game of Jame-O’s junior year fucked the kid’s offers up. Made Cirrus take out that insurance policy on him—just in case. A big chunk of green that thing cost him.

Jame-O took a partial ride at Saint Matthew’s. Thought he could transfer to a mid-major if he had a good freshman year. And it was good. He averaged fifteen points and eight rebounds, got his team into the tourney—for the first time.

But Cirrus heard the whispers. Jame-O was too skinny for the league. Rail-thin, as a matter of fact. He had a couple uncles in and out of the joint. His family was as accomplished as trailer park janitorial staff.

And something else.

The crackhead gene ran deep in Jame-O’s fucked up family tree. And Jame-O was caught on video doing lines at a Motel Six after their last win. The chick who sent Cirrus the video wanted ten Gs—

Or she’d send the vid to TMZ when the tournament was over.

But Cirrus didn’t negotiate with assholes.

Did he feel bad for the kid? A little. He remembered letting Jame-O crash at his place in Culver City when the kid’s mom started shooting up in the living room. Remembered talking Jame-O out of jail time after he roughed up a dude from Watts at a street ball tournament. But mostly he remembered everybody asking why Cirrus Greek was putting his money on a ballplayer and not into fighters where it belonged. And they were right—

Unless Jame-O did what he was told.

***

Riggins dribbled left down the baseline.

Jame-O slid right, put one foot out of bounds. Riggins slammed into him, put up a wild finger roll that hit the side of the backboard. Jame-O flopped backwards, sprawling onto the hardwood. Screams poured onto the court like the waves of a tsunami.

Saint Matthews took the ball up court, and with the shot clock dwindling, Jame-O took a pass and went up for a dunk.

But Riggins slapped at Jame-O’s elbows, swatted the ball into the stands—an act that drew a whistle. He shouted in Jame-O’s ear, “I’m the number one player in the country, motherfucker. You sit your ass down.”

Riggins stayed in his face all the way to the foul line. “Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll have a nice career in Taiwan. Be a good spot for you—I hear they small over there. Get you a few dunks every now and then.

“Yeah, earn yourself a trophy in the Taiwan basketball hall of fame.”

Jame-O felt anger rising … a bitter juice that fermented on the streets of Los Angeles. Playing on asphalt, making chain-link nets splash like small change. Now here he was in the tournament with another dude calling him a piece of shit.

Like his momma did.

Like his uncles did.

Jame-O missed both free throws. Again—

Coach Egan called a timeout. “Jame-O can’t hit a fucking free throw. Time to play two-man ball using Serge and Reggie—”

“Coach, I’ll hit the next two. I promise—”

“You promise, Jame-O? What is this, a fucking slumber party? I thought you came from the street. They’re going to keep on fouling you because your free throws are pure shit.”

“I can make—”

“You’re six for fourteen from the line.”

“Coach—”

Jame-O? Shut the fuck up and do what I say.”

The next three minutes poured away. Jame-O begging for the ball. But Coach kept calling plays for Reggie or pick and rolls with Serge.

Up and down the floor: brick city for both teams. Until Riggins drove right through the paint, spun to his left, and flicked a soft floater—that splashed pure nylon in Jame-O’s sweaty face. The hometown crowd erupted in displeasure, the jaunts pinging like god damn needles in Jame-O’s freshman ears.

Saint Matthew’s down by one. Eight seconds on the game clock. Sweating like a frantic pig, Egan called a timeout. But other than the screaming crowd, Jame-O didn’t hear shit once coach told him he’d be throwing the ball in from the baseline.

Coach Egan suddenly grabbed him. “Keep an eye on Riggins. They’ll try to trap Reggie. And remember the fucking point spread.”

Jame-O saw the man guarding him turn to face the court, trying to double Reggie as he motioned for the ball. Jame-O tossed the ball at the defender’s ass, stepped inbounds—and scooped the ball in his right hand.

The defense recovered quickly, shifted, rotated.

But Jame-O slipped up the sideline, shaking a defender at half court by dribbling behind his back. Eight feet from the three-point arc Jame-O launched a rainbow … that hung for a year—

And dropped straight through the net.

The crowd erupted like an avalanche … multiplied by a hundred.

***

Right hand on the wheel, the other dangling a Winston out the rental Caddie’s window—Cirrus checked the GPS. One mile still from the Hyatt’s after-party.

“Man, that three-point shot was something,” Egan said.

Cirrus caught Jame-O’s beaming eyes in the rearview mirror. “Yeah—helluva shot. The way you sliced that defense? Then stopped and popped. Beautiful.

“And since you ain’t got your own wheels yet superstar, it’s hard to get out on the town, find you a lady—me and Coach special ordered something for you. Call it, I don’t know, dessert?”

Cirrus cut the engine, killed the lights. Flicked his butt to the curb, hit the power door locks, motioned the kid outside, and flashed a toothy grin.

Jame-O climbed out the XTS, tugged at his lapels. He squinted down a dead end alley—his dick already hard. DC hookers were legends up at Saint Matthew's. He couldn’t wait to tell his teammates about this.


Egan joined his star, looped his arm round Jame-O’s shoulder.

“What’s up, Coach?”

“What did I say in that last timeout?”

“You told me keep an eye on Riggins.”

“And what else, you stupid shit? That three-point shot blew the point spread. If you’d driven the lane, drawn a foul—and then hit your god damn free throws you still could have won the game. Instead, you had to be a showboat.”

Jame-O turned to find Cirrus—who licked his upper lip. “In my business, we call this ‘coming to collect.’”

Jame-O couldn’t get that final splash of nylon out of his head. He’d be hearing that swish for the rest of his life. It was Egan who drove his right foot through Jame-O’s left knee cap.

Egan’s blow and Cirrus’s cackle shouldn’t have surprised the tough kid from Inglewood.

But they did.

Matt Phillips lives in San Diego—he's plotting a takeover of the crime (fiction) underworld. His books include Countdown, Know Me from Smoke and The Bad Kind of Lucky. His short fiction has been published in Mystery Tribune, Tough and Shotgun Honey. You can visit him on Facebook and also on his web site.