Prologue: The Den
Morning came with a howling wind, the kind that carried dirt and muck that stuck on the skin and never washed out. It seemed to scream in pain.
Arthur gritted his teeth. The storm was over but everything in the campus was still drenched. He knew it would be very cold on the field, not to mention muddy. The football pitch looked more like a swamp when he passed it on the way to the college’s main building.
Coach wanted them to start putting in more hours now, before first period, for the citywide inter-collegiate tournament opening game next week. Come rain or flood or any other calamity, they would defend their title all the way up to regionals, for the second year in a row.
He descended the steps to the building’s basement. It was only six-thirty. The prized player’s first class started at eight and now he was most probably in his lair, practicing those deft knee tricks that brought tears to the eyes of the rival coaches.
As team captain, it was Arthur’s job to secure the gear and inform the prized player about that morning’s practice not getting cancelled in spite of the field’s condition.
Not that he’d care either way, he thought bitterly
The prized player was a tireless machine, not a person. He’d show up, do the drills and rounds, and commit the plays to memory. Arthur often wondered what possessed him to turn down the position of captain, after bringing the team to two regional championships since he was a freshman.
Even as a senior, Arthur was only the distant second choice to lead the team this year. His numbers in goals and successful plays were pathetic compared to the prized player’s, as was everyone else’s. The man pretty much did not miss goals.
He typed in the door code and stepped inside the basement, which housed a collection of old school furniture and relatively new sports equipment. He knocked on the door of a smaller room inside, once a storage closet for cleaning equipment and break room for campus cleaning staff, before the lay-offs. This was now the prized player’s residence on campus, because he didn’t want to share his space with three other kids in the dormitory next door.
No answer. Arthur turned the knob, finding it unlocked, and pushed warily.
There was nothing in the prized player’s room except a sparse wooden cot, an equally drab three-legged table and a portable clothes rack.
The team helped him load back the equipment only last night, he thought. Knowing him, he wouldn’t move out of this place. It’s his lion’s den, after all.
Arthur knew that the prized player had some other stuff around, like dartboards, target posters, and sketches of exotic birds. They were all gone. Nothing was draped on the makeshift clothesline strung across the tiny room.
He stood there and assessed this new information for half a minute.
Arthur took a deep breath and closed the door. He retraced his steps in the basement, retrieving two footballs from the storage racks before he left.
He had better tell Coach that Aragon was gone.