Harris Tucker had finished his warm-up half an hour before game time. Now, in the privacy of his locker room, out of the way of the nosy crowd and paparazzi, he took four yellow pills to help dull the pain that was already seeping into his knees and lower back. In hindsight, he should have stopped by Dr. Morton’s office for the steroid shots he’d suggested. It was too late now, so he hoped the yellow pills would take effect in time for the match.
Once again he was kicking himself for agreeing to this event. “But Harris,” his mother had pouted, “it’s for the children. They need you.”
More like she needed him, he grumbled to himself. He knew perfectly well that the event was as much about his mother announcing her candidacy for state senator as it was about his raising money for the Santa Barbara Children’s Hospital.
He didn’t play tennis anymore, his knees and lower back protested every time he demanded they do anything more than a brisk walk, while his right rotator cuff wouldn’t even allow him to have a friendly game of golf without a complaint. So when his mother had approached him to star in this event, against none other than his former rival, Win Sommers, he’d immediately declined. “There is no possible amount of money that could get me out on the court against him again,” he claimed. He had watched his mother’s expression go from glee to tears in less than ten seconds. He had to give her credit, she was a fine actress. It took her a solid twenty days of badgering, and she’d had no qualms about enlisting the help of his girlfriend and her publicist, Lindsay, to finally convince him to play.
Now, sitting in the locker room of the Santa Barbara Municipal Tennis Center, he changed into his new Lacoste tennis outfit. The weather in January was generally mild and today, although still early in the month, was no exception. A pleasant 65°F with a cloudless blue sky and sunshine, he couldn’t have asked for a nicer day. It made for decent tennis weather and it would be comfortable for the fans. His mother had told him that the event had sold out, as if that was a justification for her asking him to play, never mind his aching joints.
He could already feel the yellow pills starting to work their magic. Doubling the dose had been a good idea, he decided, given how quickly the pain was receding. He could put his T-shirt on over his head without wincing from rotator cuff pain – always a positive sign. He put on his new shorts and sat down to change his socks and shoes. Huh, he thought as he looked down at his feet, when did he grow a second set of legs? He lifted his right leg and watched two right legs rise in tandem. Then he lifted his left leg and saw the same thing. Amazing. He stood up and felt the extra stability from having not one but two sets of legs. Everyone should have four legs, he decided – it’s just so much better for stability.
“Hi Harris,” he heard, and turned around to see where the voice was coming from. It had not exactly been a friendly voice. In fact, it sounded borderline hostile. He then understood why as Win Sommers approached him.
“Win! You old bastard!” He walked towards him, smiling. “Hey, I didn’t know you had a twin brother. Nice to meet you.” He held out his hand.
Win just looked at him with a puzzled expression. “I’m not following, who are you talking to?” Win was tall and lanky, still in excellent shape, although he’d retired a year before Harris. Currently he was a sports commentator for one of the major TV networks and was as popular as a sportscaster as he had been as a tennis player. He’d won considerably more matches than Harris and had been named “Player of the Year” by the Association of Tennis Professionals and Tennis Magazine in 2000 and 2001. He left the tennis scene after slipping in the rankings to world number 10, and saw that it was only downhill from there.
The second Win vanished and Harris was looking at only his long-time rival and friend. Well, they had been friends until the incident…. “Nice to see you again,” Harris tried, this time focused only on Win.
“Yes. I hope we can put that little matter behind us,” he said. He looked at Harris, anger evident in his cool blue eyes.
“Yeah,” said Harris. “Look, I’m really sorry about that. I didn’t know she was your girlfriend. If I did, I never would have suggested—“
“I get it, no need to go there.” He shook his head and looked at him again, the anger becoming less suppressed. “I’m just a little surprised. It’s not like we’d kept our relationship a secret. You’d seen her with me plenty of times. We were sitting beside each other at the dinner that night. Holding hands. What part of that didn’t you pick up on?”
Harris shrugged. How could he tell him that he’d propositioned lots of men’s girlfriends or wives before and had rarely been rebuffed? And in the few instances he had, husbands had never found out. Sure, he hadn’t exactly been sober that night, so his judgment had not been sharp, but still, based on his own track record, the odds had been on his side. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
“No kidding,” said Win. He went past Harris and put his bag down next to bench in the locker room and began checking it, making sure he had everything.
Harris undid the second button on his shirt. “Wow, did someone just turn up the heat in here? It feels like we’re in a sauna.” He undid the next button. Without giving Win a chance to respond, he continued. “This is going to be great, isn’t it? Two old-time rivals, getting back out there on the court. Do you think I have time for a quick 10 mile run before the match?”
Win frowned. “We have to get out there now. They just told me they want us warming up. The match is in 15 minutes.” He zipped his bag, and headed for the door that led to Center Court.
“So then, no? I’ll bet I could do 5 miles before we start.”
Win looked back at Harris, who was still standing in the middle of the locker room. “Are you okay? You seem a bit, well – I’m not sure what the right word is. But you look like you’re burning up. Your face is all flushed and sweaty.”
“I’m great! Never better in fact.” He did a couple of jumping jacks as if trying to convince Win that he was absolutely fine.
“Okay, well let’s get out there. They’re waiting for us.”
Harris gathered his bag and grabbed an extra towel and mopped his face and neck while he headed for the exit. Win was a few feet in front of him and Harris peered past him down the long hallway towards the courts. It went on and on and on. “When did they move center court?”
Win turned around and looked at him as if he hadn’t heard him properly. “I’m sorry?”
“When did they move center court? I don’t remember the tunnel being this long. Wow, it must be at the end of the property now. Who would do that? It doesn’t make any sense, we’re going to be tired by the time we get there.”
“Are you okay? You didn’t take anything did you?”
“Nah. Don’t need to, fit as a fiddle.”
“Well lucky you; I needed a steroid shot this morning before I got here. The old knees aren’t so happy to play anymore.”
Then Harris gripped Win’s arm as he caught up to Win. “Holy mother of God, what is that?” He stared past Win towards the end of the tunnel.
“What’s what?” Win asked and looked towards where Harris was looking.
“That, that, oh my God, it’s going to kill someone!” and Harris took off past Win towards the tunnel exit, chasing after what he saw as a mammoth-sized wasp, with a stinger that looked like it could wipe out an entire city with one sting. Why was it so far away? He wondered, as he ran towards the giant insect which was resting at the end of the tunnel. How did it keep getting farther from him, instead of closer? He felt himself running out of breath. Just as he thought he would never make it to the end of the tunnel, he emerged into shining, burning light. The giant wasp had left and gone through the open doors. He realized it had been a trap set by the force that wanted to wipe out the planet. He should have known! But wait, he looked around, his eyes now adjusting to harsh light. He heard the jeers – there was an audience! Where was he? Was this Rome in ancient times? Had the tunnel been some sort of time machine? And what was that chainlink fence in the middle of the stadium?”
While he was taking in his new surroundings he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. There it was! And it was enormous. It had grown when it had come through the tunnel. He set his bag of weapons down beside him, all the while keeping his eye on the giant wasp ahead of him. It landed on the wooden tower ahead of him, at the end of the chain link fence. Ah, he understood what was going on. They must be in some sort of prison fight – he’d read about the barbaric acts of ancient Rome. It was him against this wasp. This was one wasp which would go down. He would not lose his life to it, if it was the last thing he did.
“What are you doing?” It was Win; he’d finally caught up to him. He heard the audience cheer twice as loud.
“Shh! You’re going to disturb it,” he whispered to Win. He looked around at the audience surrounding him on three sides. “They need to be quiet too. Look, you stay here and I’ll go around and get it from the other side. One of us can kill it. Use your sword, it’ll work better than this.” He had pulled out a piece of equipment from his bag and lowered himself to almost knee height and approached the tower where the wasp was resting. Fortunately, the audience sensed that Harris needed everyone to stay quiet, and the din subsided. The wasp rested in place as Harris approached it, apparently unconcerned about any impending doom. He always knew he would have made an excellent and skilled warrior had he not chosen tennis as his profession. When he was no more than ten feet from the wasp, Harris stood straight up, raised his weapon in the air and ran head on at top speed towards the wasp on the tower, yelling at full lung capacity. The tower was in front of him before he knew it. He was too fast! Stop! He told himself, but it was too late. The tower jumped out at him, and the best he could do was to swing wildly at the wasp, hoping he made some kind of connection as he barreled helplessly towards the tower. They would remember him as a great hero, he decided. Then there was a great searing streak of bright light and intense pain as his world went black and soundless.
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