Thanks to Herr Wozzeck for providing Aggie's lines! And a fair warning, this story does contain strong language.
Thursday, September 14, 2017, Lorain Ohio
“Hey fuckbeak, stop avoiding me and get in touch. We need to plan out your next move.”
This message, in and of itself, would not have bothered its intended recipient had it not shown up on his phone via a voicemail, a text version in a message, AND a message on his Telegram account within the span of twenty seconds. Edwin rolled his eyes and sighed, pushing the redial button on the phone and waiting for the call to connect. He pushed the button for the speakerphone. There was the briefest flash of a stereo system pausing as the other party picked up.
“About fucking time. Listen, I got you booked as a guest on Colbear next Thursday to give the world your decision and I guess talk about the plight of people going hungry, blah blah blah… I can have movers at your apartment in Lorain packing things up for Winnipeg while you’re there… nice clean break… don’t gotta come back and face the angry muzzles of fans.”
Edwin looked annoyed, but realized that he couldn’t convey this over a strictly voice phone call, “For one thing, I haven’t come to an actual decision yet on if I’m staying or going…”
He was cut off by the falcon on the other end, who decided that raising his voice to an almost uncomfortable scream was the way to go, “Did you fall out of the egg onto your head? This is what you wanted, you goddamn idiot! Winnipeg is offering the most money and it’s playing for a Canadian team…”
It was Edwin’s turn to shout, this berating causing him to finally lose his temper, “Enough! I don’t know what killed off the part of your brain that remembers that you work for me and not the other way around...” He put extra emphasis on the final five words, then continued his voice with a stinging edge, “But, I’ve grown to like it here, and I’m still weighing the pros and cons of leaving. Yeah, more money… wonderful. You told me yourself that Wregget isn’t budging on the contract. Canada, yeah I want to play there. But I’m feeling like I owe Lorain this time, especially after that overly-generous contract last year.”
“Okay, whatever,” came the reply, “You know my thoughts. And for fuck’s sake, don’t go out to lunch with Wregget or even return his phone calls. Same goes for Tomasi. Let everything from them come through me, you got it?”
Friday, September 15, 2017, Lorain Ohio
Edwin told the smart speaker he kept in the room of the apartment for yoga and meditation to go ahead and answer the call, grunting as he rolled his lower body back to the ground from having held his body in halasana for the last sixty seconds, wishing he had remembered to turn off that feature and just use it for the home automation controls and playing music. He didn’t even get a greeting out before he heard those words echoing out.
“What?” he asked reaching over and grabbing a towel, running it through his soggy headfeathers.
The voice of the falcon on the other end sounded dismissive as he said, “Wregget went ahead and matched Winnipeg’s offer. Now, it’s really your choice. The accountants ran the numbers and you’ll probably lose about an extra million over the life of the contract to taxes if you stay in Lorain. But, that’s after my cut so I don’t really give a shit, just giving you the facts.”
The goose took a deep breath and nodded, “Alright, Jack. Thanks.”
Sunday, September 17, 2017 - Lorain Ohio
“Well, that fucking sucks.”
Edwin was on a video call with Agundio Atti-Morales, his teammate from the previous season. The news had come down that the Firestorm’s bigfur, Aisha Melbourne, was not being given an offer by Lorain and had just signed with Winnipeg.
"It does indeed," Agundio replied. "I never thought I would see Aisha go to another team, but... it seems that is what God had in mind." He paused briefly. "That means Mr. Wregget will need to work harder to find a Center, though..."
"I've heard he's made an offer to Bratzing. That's knocking even more points out of Lorain's column for me right now."
"Oh come now, Edwin, Sterling really is not so bad when you get to know him," said Agundio. "And I do not mean that on a purely player-based standpoint. He is proud, certainly, but there is good in him. He stood by and offered advice when Pietro ran away..."
Edwin huffed, realizing the slippery slope that he was heading down with disparaging a person that someone calls a friend, "Alright, I'll give you and him that... I guess if I can be friends with Trent St. Croix, I'll try not to begrudge things between the two of you." He paused, "So, how are you coming along on your decision?"
Agundio sighed. "I am torn, now," he said. "A part of me does not want to leave Lorain, but a part of me... Is it selfish if I want a more stable team in my career? Tennessee has been more stable in recent years, you know." He sighed, rubbing the back of his head.
"Yeah, having half the team in free agency doesn't help. I've got my own conflicts with my own decision... being Canadian, I want to support my country, and now that the Voyageurs have lost Derek Kim, I could probably find my way into being the starting small there. Plus, according to my agent, my taxes would be less playing for Winnipeg... but it's not all about money."
"Well, you may have to compete with Yves Carbonneau there," Agundio replied. "But... I suppose we are at an impasse here between the both of us. If I do return to Lorain, though, I would very much like to play beside you again. But I know that is not for certain, so..." He paused briefly. "At least I have a small certainty: Huntsville is out. I wonder why they thought to offer to me in the first place, but Wendy and D'Angelo together? I am a patient man, but I imagine I would meet my limits with the both of them."
Edwin laughed, "You don't think I'm better than Yves? Aggie, I'm hurt." He grinned, "I'm only teasing, but, yeah...he would be a formidable obstacle. And yeah, I'd totally want to be on a team with you again." When Agundio mentioned Huntsville being out of the running, he nodded, "I hear ya, bud. Last year when Baltimore gave me that shitty lowball offer, that was enough to say no, but the thought of playing with Rockwell and his relationship drama hanging over everything... extra points on no. He was in my draft year, and the way he and that rat girl were all lovey-dovey-smoochy-smooch on each other... if I were capable of vomiting, I would have.”
"You were a friend of his too, were you not?" Agundio asked. "I suppose that turned sour fast. And I do understand where you are coming from." He leaned back. "Free agency is a very strange animal, isn't it Edwin? I know you've been through all of this before, but... does it ever get any easier?"
"I wouldn't say friends. Acquaintances, maybe. I think mostly my problem with him is that idiot half-brother of his. When that fuckwit came into his life and stole his girl, and he just shrugged it off like it was the best things that ever happened, I realized just what kind of person I was dealing with. That’s when I decided to cut ties." At the free agency question, he sighed, "I've been through it precisely once, and that was last year... it was a lot easier then than it is now. One team that I have a history with offering me the most money? Easy sale. And talking to a few people I know, no, it doesn't."
Agundio nodded. "Well, he was soft against adultery, I see." He sighed gently. "Well... I guess I know how difficult it is now, yes?" He then sighed a little further. "I am very sad San Jose did not offer to me, either. I know they do not need my position all that much, but a part of me wished I could find that way to maintain an eye on Pietro..."
"Yeah... that kinda sucks that they didn't... I know how much you want to be around him, but it’s probably for the better that you aren’t - your career would suffer if you were putting most of your energy on that. How are he and his new boyfriend doing, by the way?"
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 - Lorain, Ohio
BREAKING: @MWregget assaulted by fan while shopping, suspected it was for letting @_LilMissMink_ go. More details soon here on #FMZ.
“Is this what’s going to keep happening if I leave?” Edwin thought to himself as he pored over the day’s tweets, happening on the news from the gossip rag FMZ. He sighed, his inner monologue answering its own question, “Naah, you’re not loved like Aisha is.”
He picked up his phone and forwarded the information to his agent, along with a message that he’d be, in spite of the falcon’s orders, dropping by to see the Firestorm GM later that day. This was followed with a message of, “... and save your energy if you think you’re going to stop me.”
Edwin drove by the makeshift staff lot for the Firestorm’s employees, the main lot for players and staff having been plowed up some months prior for a parking garage for the new stadium. Edwin squinted and held his hand over his brow as he watched cranes lifting steel and concrete trucks moving in and out of the jobsite. He marveled that the seating bowl was already formed, the structure that would surround it starting to take shape.
He parked and walked to the office, knocking on a glass door to get the security guard’s attention. A quick explanation of what he was doing there, and the guard was radioing to someone inside the office. After holding up his driver license to show the guard he is who he said he was, as his access card had been disabled at the end of the last season since he was no longer under contract, he headed back, saying a hello to Marge, the older pug that had been the secretary for the general manager since at least his first season in 2014. She nodded to the door, “Go on in.”
A casual knock on the halfway-open door, and, while he was expecting things to be not quite right, he could see that the vole was in his chair, holding a cold compress to the side of his swollen eye and cheek. Edwin approached slowly, and a smile formed, though it quickly turned into a grimace as the pain shot through the area, “Hello, Edwin.”
Edwin nodded a hello, placing a bag on the desk and pulling out several objects, “I, uh… brought you some pea and sweet potato soup, a greens and berries smoothie, and a few bottles of Infuriade…”
The vole managed a weak smile, “Thank you… I hope you’re doing well.”
The avian nodded, “I’m doing okay. Agonizing over the choice I need to make… now that I’m on a shorter timeframe with going on TV in… shit, two days from now. But, did they catch the guy?”
Michael nodded, “Yeah, I kinda lucked out that there was this big rhino gal who decided to grab him and hold him for the cops when she saw what was transpiring. It’s nice to know there’s still some good people out there.” He paused, switching the cold compress around to maximize its contact to his face, “And, as curious as I am, I’m not going to inquire on where you’re at in that decision… your agent made that abundantly clear that I’m not to bother you.” A sigh, “This is not me speaking as your boss, or ex-boss, or whatever I’m about to be, Edwin. But you really need to find better representation. Jack is… well, I have words for that man that I’d prefer not to use… But, I’ve laid out my case for you staying in the letters attached to the offers.”
Edwin tilted his head, “I got a letter from Tomasi with the offers he put forth, but I wasn’t passed anything on from you with your offer.” His brow furrowed, his horned eyebrow piercings giving him a sinister appearance for a moment, “I’m… I’m going to address that.” He let out a sigh, “I’m kinda sick of this whole thing becoming a circus sideshow… I’d rather just make up my mind, announce it, and get it out of the way. But, I’m keeping to the plan. You’ll find out at about 6:30 P.M. on Thursday. You’ll know before I announce it to the world.”
The vole nodded, “I’m glad to know you’re still weighing your options. Thank you again for stopping by… and please keep in touch.”
As Edwin gave a smile and walked back through the doors, out of the reception area, and down the hall, he realized that Michael Wregget’s words had an air of finality to them-that the vole had resigned himself to this interaction being the last.
Thursday, September 21, 2017 - New York City, NY
Edwin showed up at the Ed Seallivan Theater at 10:00 A.M. and was greeted at the backstage door by a lioness wearing a headset and holding a clipboard, “Alright, you’re here, and on time, unlike the other two… I guess I’ll have you talk to Jon first and discuss the music part. I’m Leanne, by the way. Jeff over there will take your bags to your dressing room…” She made small talk with him as they walked through the backstage of the theater to an elevator. Ascending one floor, they went down a narrow hallway, the lioness knocking on the door jamb, “Jon, I’d like you to meet Edwin Griega from tonight’s show…”
The ram’s demeanor brightened as he stood up and reached out for a handshake, “Heeeeeeeey!” he said in his most enthusiastic tone, “Jon Bafleece, where yat?”
Edwin blinked, “Uh, I’m right here…” he said, taking the offered hand and shaking. The slender ram just laughed, “Naw, man… I mean, how’ya doin?” The goose ahhed, “I gotcha. I’m doing fine, thanks, and yourself?”
“Life’s good,” came the response that was simultaneously positive and non-committal. “So, I was lookin’ over the walk-on you requested… no’ffense, but it’s kinda slow! Ya gotta have it all hyped when you come on the stage, -especially- when you’re the last guest! So, if’n you’ll just trust me,” he said, settling down at a piano and noodling away, “I’ll make it something you’ll like, yeah?”
The goose pondered - the song he had requested was a mid-tempo number from an Ontario-based band called The Tragically Hip, and was one of his personal favorites. He nodded, being a regular watcher of the show, “Okay, I will trust your judgement on this,” he said, watching the sheep’s hoof-tipped fingers move smoothly across the piano’s keyboard.
The meeting with the show’s host and star was a fairly straightforward process. Edwin was told that only the interviews with the A-list celebrities were tightly rehearsed; everyone else hammered out a general overview and the segment went where it would go from there. For the seven minutes his appearance was allotted, Edwin stated that he wanted to talk about what a food desert is and what his project in Lorain hoped to do, as well as a few other general ideas for questions. Edwin looked across to the ursine, “And I’m not sure what my agent has told your people, but I also want to announce who I’m signing with… I was thinking of taking off my tie and popping open my shirt to have a jersey underneath. Would you be okay with that?”
Steven just grinned, giving his trademark perk of his left eyebrow, “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather be on James Roarden or Jimmy Falcon’s show for that?” He sat back in his chair, “I’m fine with it, actually. It’ll make for a good EweTube clip.”
The rest of the afternoon involved watching a dry run of the monologue and desk bit, as well as watching the host and writers conferring with the two people who would precede his turn to the desk on last-minute changes to questions - former United States President Jimmy Capybara, whose work with Habitat for Herbivores was well known, and Reptilia Vonstrelle, a crocodile actress who was here to plug a movie, but also had a foundation to help promote higher education in the Florida Everglades. Once their test interviews were over, the band started to run through the music they would be performing that night. Edwin decided to excuse himself to check out an herbivore deli down the street, returning an hour later and being escorted to a dressing room.
The time to record the show was drawing closer and Edwin paced around the backstage dressing room fresh from the fur and makeup department, who had chosen to only apply a light powder to his forehead. He was consumed with ‘what-ifs.” He looked at the two jerseys he had brought along, one in white with the wolf’s head carved from flames, the other in yellow with a directional compass and a northward-pointing arrow worked into the shape of a basketball. The decision couldn’t be delayed any longer, so he took a few minutes to sit on the couch and pull each into his lap and think about what that choice would mean for his career.
Lorain meant building more on a foundation he had already established. Winnipeg meant playing to represent the country he was hatched in and held in esteem the way Brad Pullman did the USA. Both were an acknowledgement that his attempt at a comeback had paid off - he would only get better during these two seasons and possibly be worthy of starting again. He took his time and studied them both, one jersey in each hand. He closed his eyes and pondered the decision before reopening them and looking down, casting one into the open mouth of his travel bag. He stood up, the representation of his decision clutched in his hand.
As he slipped the jersey over his head and let it fall down his body, he looked across at a mirror and blinked. He swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and nodded once at himself, knowing that the choice he was making was final and he wasn’t backing out; he could only hope that it was the right one. Pulling the dark gray dress shirt on, he watched the jersey disappear beneath dark fabric, hoping that it wasn’t too thin that what was beneath could be seen. He buttoned it up and tucked the shirt into his black slacks, and, foregoing a tie, left the top button open. Edwin looked back at the suit jacket, and decided that he would be best without it. Instead of dress shoes, he opted for a pair of red high-top sneakers - both teams had that color in their scheme, so he wasn’t giving anything away with his footwear selection.
The sound of tonight’s audience filing into the seats could be heard, even as the band randomly played bits of music and the staff comedian came out to start warming up the crowd.
The decision was made, but now came the difficult task of letting the two people who would be affected by it - the GMs of Winnipeg and Lorain - know what it was. He could hear laughter from outside as he watched the cold open play on the television inside the dressing room, followed by the vibrations of the band kicking into gear as the theme music started playing. The show’s graphics team had already programmed names into the opening credits, and he watched, wide-eyed as he soon saw his name superimposed on the roof of an arena, followed by a shot of the subway with the band name of “Jon Bafleece and Stay Furry” written on the wall. As the peak of the music hit, the crowd erupted as he watched the middle-aged ursine star run out and make a pass at high-fiving the crowd, then embracing the ram before settling at his mark.
The monologue, Edwin could see, took much longer to lay down than one could see on the finished program - there were additional jokes that wouldn’t make the cut that night.
He paced around the room, swigging water and nibbling at the fruit platter that was put there by the production staff. Once the first interview with one of the country’s former presidents was over and he could see the preparation for the second, nerves started to hit him, and he found himself needing the restroom.
With nature’s call answered, he checked his appearance in the mirror, ensuring that no shot of the jersey underneath was visible. There was a knock on the door, and a male mink stuck his head in, “You’re almost up, Mr. Griega. Start getting ready because we’re going to film you in the hall as we send it to commercial.
Edwin nodded as the mustelid ducked back out of the room. He pulled out his phone, and brought up his email program, then went to the drafts folder. This was the email he dreaded sending. It was cold and clinical, but his agent had prepared it and told him this was how it needed to be, no matter who he was sending it to.
Re: Edwin Griega Contract Offer
I want to thank you for the great faith you have shown in me by putting forth your contract offer. I have spent several nights agonizing over the offers from both Lorain and Winnipeg. Tonight, I will be announcing my decision on Steven Colbear’s show, which I am minutes from filming the segment. While you have my utmost respect and appreciation, I must inform you that I will not be accepting your offer.
He typed the last name after the salutation, went to his address book and chose the corresponding email address, making sure his agent was CC’d. Edwin then changed applications and going to a form that was emailed to him. He wanted to time this just right, having put his signature in an electronic version of his contract, finger hovering over the accept button.
The mink knocked on the door again, “We’re about to go to commercial. You’ll be filmed for your walk out before we cut. Follow me, please.”
Edwin nodded to him, mouthed the word, “Thanks,” and executed his movements, tapping the “Accept” button on the contract, then switched quickly to the email and hit send. He waited for the confirmation that the email had sent and that the electronic contract was accepted, before locking his phone and throwing it into his bag. Standing at the mouth of the stage, where he would make his way across to be greeted by the host and take a seat, he saw someone move in with a camera, and could hear Steven Colbear state, “The movie is ‘Crocodile Rock and is in theaters this Friday…” The band had started to play as he could hear Steven shout, “Reptilia Vonstrelle, everyone. We’ll be right back with Edwin Griega!” The camera was on, and Edwin just smiled warmly and waved for a few seconds before the bull holding it pulled it from his shoulder, “Great… break a leg out there,” before walking off to do his next role as part of the production.
The band played a three minute upbeat tune, Jon and other members of the band wandering the aisles of the lower section of the theater, before the shot on the monitors panned back to Steven and the music ended with the crashing of symbols.
“Thank ya, everybody!” the ursine said, waving, “My next guest is a free agent player in the Furry Basketball Association and is here tonight to talk about his project to bring food to underserved communities. Please welcome, Edwin Griega!”
A kick drum followed by a snare kicked off a rousing, jazz-inspired version of a song that it took Edwin only a few bars to recognize as he walked out and was met halfway by Steven. The ursine and avian shook hands before he was led up the two stairs to the desk riser, turning to watch the band for a second, before he couldn’t fight the urge and sang out, “My memory is muddy, what’s this river that I’m in? New Orleans is sinking, baby, I don’t wanna swim!” They stopped abruptly as Edwin laughed, looking at Steven, and took a seat.
“Sounds like that’s a song you know - that was good! Welcome!” he said, as Edwin took a sip of water from a mug.
“Thanks for having me. Man, they were not kidding about keeping it ice cold out in here… this is comfortable for me.”
“Yeah, it’s nice and frosty here. I should get my fur dyed white and claim I’m a polar bear…” the ursine said to a laugh from the audience, picking up his blue cards and turning to face Edwin. So, this last season, you played for Lorain, and you did something there to try and combat one of the city’s food deserts. For the people not in the know, what IS a food desert?”
Edwin nodded and said simply, “It’s an area of town where residents don’t have ready access to good-quality food or food that is affordable. A lot of them will have problems with transportation - they take the bus and can’t bring a great deal of groceries home and the nearest actual grocery store is on the other side of town, and it takes a long time to get there and back, so they usually just opt for convenience store options.”
Steven nodded, “So, they’re left with overpriced gas station hot dogs and ramen noodles, basically?”
Edwin nodded and responded, “Yeah, pretty much. Not a lot of fresh fruit or vegetables… heavily processed stuff too, or fast food. And I don’t have anything against fast food, you know.. I mean, me and Timmies,” he said, as about half the crowd applauded, and Edwin just grinned, “But, it’s not a sustainable way to live.”
The ursine mmed, “Yeah, not a good diet for every day of the week. So what are you doing about it?”
The goose looked casually at the camera, “With the help of the Firestorm’s Fire of Hope Foundation, and donations from myself, my teammates, and people who showed up to a special game night they hosted, we’ve helped a community organization purchase a disused building in the middle of one of Lorain’s neighborhoods and fixed it up to serve as a community grocer. The team’s lawyers put in some pro-bono work and made a deal with the dominant grocery chain of the area that they will provide the food to the store at their cost, but the community foundation will run the store, pay for the employees and the upkeep on the building. So there’s the advantage of an economy of scale, for the store in getting lower prices for things, and the grocery chain doesn’t have the overhead. They’ll be hiring from within the community and any profits get reinvested into maintaining and expanding the store.”
A satisfied nod from the ursine, “But what about food waste? And what about stuff you find at a grocery store that, well, isn’t so good for you?”
Edwin gave a brief smile, “The store will not sell booze, cigarettes, or things like lottery tickets. As for sweets, from what I’ve been told, there will be a limited selection of candy bars and baked items, because a treat is a wonderful thing. As far as food waste, what’s being implemented is to utilize fruits and vegetables that are nearing their peak in smoothies and baked treats, or along with things like meat and bread, donated to a local soup kitchen to minimize waste. What can’t be utilized… or… repurposed will be composted and turned over to a community garden.”
The audience applauded, and as it died down, Steven sat back in the chair, a signal that the interview was about to get personal.
“That sounds like an amazing project, and I hope it really takes off… but let’s talk about you for a moment. You went into the league in 2014, you retired at the end of your rookie year after an injury, but you came back last season after getting treatment.”
Edwin nodded his consent to make the interview personal, and answered, “That’s right. I had listened to two doctors who had told me that I absolutely needed to stop playing. And then during that year off, I got involved with an experimental treatment that helped stave off the worst of the tinnitus that was occurring because of that injury, and with that doctor and even the original two doctors giving their blessings, I went for reinstatement.
“So, you got reinstated, and you were able to get a one-year contract, but you’re a free agent again?” Steven asked curiously, looking at Edwin.
Edwin just smiled, “Well, I was a free agent up until about 15 minutes ago…”
Part of the audience started clapping, and Edwin paused until it passed, “I’ve made my decision, and I’ve signed my new contract… would you mind if I made the announcement here on your show, Steven?”
Steven scooted back and stood up, before Edwin did the same, “Hey, go for it! You all would like to find this out, right?” he said, getting to his feet.
A brief smattering of applause went up and got louder as the ursine gestured to the audience Edwin exhaled visibly, and was careful not to disturb the lapel microphone as he started unbuttoning the dress shirt.
“I’ll tell you, this was a really difficult decision. There’s a lot that I’ve done both on the court and off, Steven… and I’m looking to build on that next year…”
He pulled it open, revealing the reddish-orange wolf carved from fire, the town’s name, LORAIN emblazoned across the top of the white fabric, and a smaller number 52 below and to the right of the logo.
“... Right in my adopted hometown of Lorain.”
As the crowd applauded, the drummer struck the hi-hat on his kit twice, then landed the sticks on the snare as the rest of the band started to play. Steven shook Edwin’s hand and looked to the camera, “Edwin Griega, of the Lorain Firestorm, everybody. We’ll be right back!”
“And cut!” the lioness said, following it up with a gesture to let Steven know that the cameras had cut away.
The ursine smiled, “All the best to you. I’m sure I’ll catch you on the court when you’re here playing Queens.” Edwin nodded, “It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.”
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