Excerpt: Out of Bounds

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“YOU SAID THEY WERE bluffing. You said the trade threat was a tactic to get Gary Krota to sign for less money.” Wes slumped on the concrete steps outside his building, the sandwich he’d been planning to eat before practice forgotten next to him. The midday Madrid-traffic snarl in the street barely registered. “I told Fabi to ignore the news,” he added, “that I was definitely not being traded to Serbia.”

A small dog covered in tangled, grayish fur that probably should have been white, nosed into a paper bag lying on the sidewalk. Wes watched it give the bag an investigatory lick.

“That’s what I thought,” Vic said, his tone flat, and not because it was 6:00 a.m. in the New York agent’s office. He’d been negotiating with the owners of the Madrid Piratas, Wes’s basketball team, for a week and it was clear he was out of alternatives. Victor hated to lose almost as much as Wes did. “Your option clause lets them trade you, Wes. I have another call set up for later this afternoon, but it’s not looking good.”

The dog shook the bag.

Wes rubbed a hand across the back of his neck, his fingers glancing against his newly healed shoulder. If he hadn’t torn his rotator cuff would he be having this conversation? His numbers had been a little off, but it was a long season. He’d never been a superstar, but was he actually disposable?

“Look, Victor, nothing against Serbia, but I can still contribute here. My shoulder is one hundred percent. Practice was solid all week. I’m ready to go tomorrow night.” He realized he was veering close to begging. But if the Piratas didn’t want him, fine. “I don’t want the trade.”

“I’m doing everything I can, Wes.”

“I hate being jerked around.” Victor wasn’t only his agent, he was an old family friend. If anyone understood why he didn’t want to move again, his life uprooted by the whim of someone in authority, it was Victor.

A seagull had spotted the dog and its paper-bag prize and dived down, beak extended. The dog scampered across the sidewalk, dodging around the feet of pedestrians, veering close to the traffic.

“I have to go,” Wes said. He ended the call without waiting for Victor’s response and was off the steps in one smooth motion.

“Hey, dog! Stop! Come!” The bird dived again and the dog darted between a lamppost and a bench. “Sit!”

Two women with shopping bags in their hands stared at him.

He spun, scooped his sandwich off the steps and turned back to the street.

There. The dog sprinted between two cars and slipped past the front wheel of a delivery truck. Just when it appeared to be safely on the opposite sidewalk, it turned to dart back across the street.

The dog was so small.

Wes ripped a hunk off the sandwich and threw it. “Hey, dog, come! Fetch!”

The bird swooped low and the dog skidded past the back wheel of a red car.

He was an idiot. A Spanish dog would know Spanish commands. How the hell did you say ‘Heel’ in Spanish? He pulled another piece off his sandwich and held it out as bait while he skirted a trio of twenty-something backpacking tourists and stepped off the sidewalk.

He couldn’t see the dog anymore, but a truck loaded with full barrels suddenly accelerated into a gap in the traffic. The truck’s bumper caught him on the hip, his head snapped back into the grille, and then he went flying backward into the outdoor seating at the Savion café. A crack as he landed on one of the café’s stone planters told him his barely healed shoulder was done for good.

Hallelujah, he thought right before he passed out from pain.

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