Barry Petchesky felt naked and cold. The metal chair was frigid, and despite his seismic headache, icy sweat on the spine knifed him to attention. It was dark in the room, but cool drafts betrayed a spacious cavern around him: bats overhead and rats below produced sad, intermittent echoes. How long have I been here? he wondered.
There was movement and groaning to his left. "Tom?" Petchesky asked, incredulous that his colleague should be sitting there beside him. From what he could remember of the Central Park debacle, three men in dark clothes had ambushed Ley, while Barry had been laid low himself by a titanic blow to the head before signaling. He never saw what happened to Ray, God help him.
"Nnnnnhhhh," moaned Tom, who was coming around slowly. Barry's eyes adjusted to what little light there was, and he craned to examine the other writer. Both were stripped of clothes and bound to metal chairs, which themselves were bolted to cement floor. Tom's chin rested on his chest, black-red congelation matting nose and lips. His eyes were swollen shut, and his chest heaved irregularly.
"Tom?" Barry repeated, to which Ley grunted. "You look like shit, Tom." Barry, trying to elicit something from his colleague. Ley's head merely lolled away from Barry and appeared to lose consciousness again. Christ.
At length, Petchesky heard footsteps from behind. Many footsteps. A group of people: five, maybe six. It was impossible to tell. Coming quickly.
And now they stood before him and Ley. There were indeed six figures, and one of them snapped on a shop-light sitting on the floor. The beam seeped between their legs and caught Petchesky in the face. He winced at sudden sensory overload.
"Gentleman," a stern voice said, "you know why you're here." It wasn't a question. "You've been sniffing where your noses don't belong, and now it's time to pay the piper." Barry squinted at the speaker, searching for clues. He was wearing a suit, and Petchesky guessed his height at a shade over six feet. "Do you know me, Barry?" the man said, sensing Petchesky's curiosity, "because I damn sure know you." The voice was familiar, to be sure, but in his addled state Barry couldn't place it.
"Let me introduce my colleagues," the man said, stepping to his left, right arm extended. "This here is Mark Emmert, Executive Director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. He doesn't like you very much. Next to him is our legal counsel, Mike Slive, who moonlights as Commissioner for the Southeastern Conference. That there is Dr. David Chao, formerly team doctor for the San Diego Chargers and the NFL's chief neurological consultant. Callie Beusman you of course know," he was speaking faster now, moving through the lamp's glare too fast for focus, "… and this guy, this is Doug."
The man in the suit lingered here, to let Doug's full stature sink in. And with good reason, since Doug would have dwarfed even Refrigerator Perry. He stood easily 6'8", 350 lbs.—a Kodiak bear of a man. "As for me," the suit was saying, "my name is Goodell, Roger Goodell."
There it was. The Commish himself; ginger-mother-fucking-hammer in the flesh. Holding hostage two writers for one of America's premier sports blogs. Binding them to cold chairs in some warehouse after kidnapping them from a payoff meeting in Central Park. Barry spat in Goodell's direction, but the Commissioner stepped aside, chuckling.
For all his mass, Doug moved exceptionally quick. Before Petchesky's saliva had hit the ground, it seemed, Doug was on him, open-handed smack across the face. Petchesky tasted blood in his mouth and slouched. Goodell, for his part, seemed unfazed—invigorated even—and thus motioned to Chao, who approached Ley and waved something under his nose. Smelling salts, Barry recalled his high school wrestling days.
Tom snapped up immediately, terrified at what surrounded him. Six human silhouettes—or rather five humans and one yeti—bearing down on him, acrid stench in his eyes. Goodell stepped forward and reiterated, "Alright, here's the score: you two are going to tell me just how much you know about our little research project. If you don't, Doug here will introduce you to the Bear Claw." From nowhere, Doug brought forth an ancient, leather football helmet. Along each side was an archaic Chicago Bears logo.
"Bear Claw, get it?" he said.
"Good," Goodell was saying, "so, tell me, how far have you gotten?"
Barry stared at the floor for a long time. So long, in fact, he didn't realize that Tom was laughing. Loud guffaws, cackles that evinced bloody mucus from nose and mouth; he writhed in his chair. Doug fitted a colossal fist into the helmet and delivered a murderous jab to Ley's right cheek. Petchesky heard something wet splatter the floor nearby. Good God, he muttered. "You too?" Doug asked and repeated the gesture. Greenish-yellow pain exploded into Barry's right temple, which felt as if it had a Dremel searing through it. And is that blood in my ear canal? he mused.
Ley was laughing even harder now. Fluid had obviously seeped into his lungs, for coughing overcame and wracked his body at regular intervals. Still, he just kept laughing. "What the fuck is so goddamn funny?!" Goodell was screaming. And Tom: "It's too late, dipshit." At this, the Commissioner cocked his head in Ley's direction and Doug mauled him. Barry lost track of the blows—fast that they were—and listened in dumb silence as Tom's laughter died away slowly. At length, only echoes bounced around the space, the sum total of Tom Ley's life now receding sound waves and a bloody mess taped to the chair.
David Chao—in his capacity as resident physician, Barry assumed—stooped to examine Ley. As he rose, his face exploded forward upon Tom's face and chest. The doctor was thrown forward by some invisible force and slumped at the dead man's feet. Barry scanned back to his right, the apparent source of what could only be a silenced firearm, and saw Callie, Slive, and Emmert fall one-by-one. Someone is shooting them, Petchesky rejoiced.
Goodell and Doug had fallen to the floor and were scampering about. "What the fuck?!" one of them shouted, then abject agony. The Commissioner was screaming and holding his left knee, which seemed to have turned his lower leg around 180º. He moaned and moaned.
From above Barry, and behind, a figure leapt onto Doug's back, which was just making its way to upright. The man's agility and speed caught the oaf unawares, who began choking as his assailant closed off his windpipe. Doug stumbled around, slamming himself into walls and rebar, trying to shake the other from his back. From among this fracas, Barry heard Ray's voice: "You okay, BP?" To which Barry answered: "Yeah, I think so." "Good," Ray answered, "I'll have this guy done with in a jiff."
Doug was slowing now, but still blasting himself backwards into any and every hard surface he could find. Andre the Giant flashed through Barry's mind for some reason, but the thought faded as Doug fell to his knees. Ray had a chokehold as best he could muster about the great man's neck, and it was taking effect. Doug was winded, asphyxiating now. Eyes closing … and POP! POP! POP!
Ray stood over the giant, sucking down air and holding the .45 limp in his hand. He looked up at Barry, blinked, and smiled. "What say we get you outta that chair?" he drawled.
"What about him?" Barry, gesturing at Goodell.
Ray considered the wounded man for a moment, and then emptied his remaining three rounds into Goodell's face. "Better?" he chirped.
It was a gloriously clear morning in New York, and Barry staggered his way through Manhattan, intent on the office. Once inside, Petchesky leaned against the elevator's wall, massaging his left arm. God I'm tired, he thought. The lift stopped, and the doors opened on the newsroom.
Barry walked stiffly to his desk, dropped his coat in the chair, and out of habit checked his wristwatch: it was 8:04 AM on Wednesday morning. He tossed his satchel to the floor, flipped on the computer, and checked his email. Smiling, he glanced at an attachment from Tim Burke and sighed. Here we go, he thought and replied "do it."