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Chapter 76

AS THE DOOR to his town house was being blown into tiny pieces, Francis X. Mooney stopped on the corner of Park Avenue sixty blocks to the northeast and set down his bag.

He turned toward the four-story Gothic school building that took up most of the north side of 85th Street between Park and Lexington. It was St. Edwards Academy, the elite private school he had attended from seventh grade through senior year.

He was filthy from his scuffle, wet from the rain, and completely exhausted from the walk, but hed made it, hadnt he?

Hed come back full circle to the place where it had all begun.

He stood for a second, remembering his first day here. Hed stood in this same spot, sick and frozen, with the scholarship-kid certainty that his clothes, his face, and every other inch of his being wouldnt be up to snuff.

He quickly removed the Beretta from the valise and tucked it into the waistband of his trousers and smoothed his jacket over it.

The butterflies never changed, he thought, finally hefting his case with a swallow of his dry throat.

Just the reasons.

I cant do this, he thought.

I must do this, he thought.

Francis? Francis, is that you?

Francis turned. A tall, lean black man about his age was stopped beside him, smiling. He wore a St. Edwards ball cap and held a takeout bag.

Do I know you? Francis said.

I hope so. Its me, Jerry Webb. We were on varsity together, class of sixty-five. Its actually Coach Webb now. I was in finance for a while, but then I came back to good old St. Eds to teach them how to play a little ball. Can you imagine? I cant sometimes, especially when I get my paycheck.

Oh, my God. Jerry. Yes, Francis said, recovering. He found himself smiling genuinely as he shook the tall mans hand. They actually had been teammates. If you could really call them that. Webb had been their all-city starting power forward, while Francis had had to practically kill himself every practice just for the privilege of riding the bench.

Its been-, Francis began.

Too long, Coach Webb said with a wink. Ol Francis X. Blast from the past. I knew that was you. Not too old yet to pick an old teammate out of a crowd. Can you still drive to your left like a banshee, ma man?

Franciss smile immediately dissipated. Hed never been able to go to his left. It was the first strings running joke. Had Webb been one of the ones in that incident at summer practice? Francis went over the still-raw forty-year-old memory. He nodded to himself. Indeed, he had.

What brings you around? the still-cocky bastard wanted to know as he gave Francis the once-over. Youre looking a little ruffled.

How polite of you to notice, Francis thought.

I had an appointment with a law client around the corner. First, I slipped getting out of my taxi, then I got caught in the rain, and then the guy bailed on me, Francis lied. Long story short, not my day. I thought, since I was in the neighborhood, I might stick my head in the door to check on the application of one of my friends kids.

Oh, I know how that goes, Coach Webb said. One tradition about St. Eds that remains unchanged. It never seems to get any easier to get into, does it? Lets walk in together.

The flat-topped middle-aged guard behind the arched glass doors immediately buzzed them in when he spotted the coach. Francis swallowed again as he stepped inside. This was the hard part coming up. He hadnt had time to do reconnaissance, and he wasnt sure if his flimsy excuse would hold water.

Hes with me, Tommy, Coach Webb said, signing them both into the security register. This heres Francis X., a valued alum. Hes got very important business at Admissions. Ill walk him there myself.

No problem, Coach, the guard said with a thumbs-up.

Francis wiped his brow as they walked down the locker-lined hallway. He glanced into classrooms as they passed. He started to panic. What the hell? They were all empty.

Where is everybody? he said as casually as he could.

Sports pep rally in the auditorium. Baseball went to the Staties last season. Now, if only I could get my guys there.

A pep rally. Would that complicate things? Probably. No time to do anything about it. Hed just have to improvise somehow.

Coach Webb patted Francis on the shoulder as they stopped before a door marked ADMISSIONS.

Come visit me anytime, Francis. To jaw or maybe go a little one-on-one. See if that left of yours is still in operating order. Great seeing you, ma man.

You, too, Jerry. Thanks for everything, Francis said with a grin.

Thanks for helping me set in motion the blackest day in St. Edwards history, you conceited jock moron, he thought as he watched him walk away.

Chapter 75 | Worst Case | Chapter 77