“Blindsided,” Chapter One
“For fuck’s sake!”
I wake up with drool all over my pillow. Again.
“Must have been some dream,” I mutter to myself as I turn over to sit up, careful not to squish my yawning calico cat, Stinky, as she peers up at me with her sleepy green eyes. “But damn if I can remember any of it.”
My cat comes by her name honestly. She can pass some rank gas.
Stinky usually sleeps on my legs under the covers every night, unless I end up facedown in the pillow like this morning after doing a lot of tossing and turning. I sleep in my birthday suit, so I learned the hard way to start trimming her claws on a regular basis. That definitely is a mistake I won’t ever make again. I had scratches for weeks when I rolled over on her.
Good thing it was my legs instead of my breasts, though. I wouldn’t have been able to wear a bra, which means I wouldn’t have been able to leave my apartment. I don’t do the boobs hanging out in public thing — EVER. I do pride myself on having SOME standards.
But, getting back to the subject at hand, Stinky thankfully doesn’t miss her super long claws, nor does she require much need for them. She seems quite content being a house cat, and my little “Queen of the Domain” will go right back to sleep after I leave for the day.
“Prrrowww,” Stinky sounds off at me, making her first demand of the morning.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I say, giving her head a scratch to her purring delight. “Breakfast. Just give Mommy a few minutes, Stinky-dink.”
I sigh loudly as I take the damp sage pillowcase off and swing my legs over the side of my pitiful looking double bed, mentally trying to prepare myself for the day ahead of me.
Work. I dread it. Well, not my job, itself. More like my boss. Let’s just call him Dickhead. I do. Not to his face, mind you, but everyone else at work knows exactly who I’m talking about when I say it. I wouldn’t have a problem with him if he didn’t take such great joy in making the rest of us so miserable, me more than anyone else because of my big, sarcastic mouth.
He could benefit from a lesson or two in people skills and compassion. He has neither.
My name is Piccolo Leighton Granger. I’m a sports writer for the Bluegrass Daily Herald in Bluegrass, Kentucky. I’ve been there for five years now and was quite content with the quiet routine of my life until Dickhead came along and ruined everything a year ago. Now, it feels like all I ever do is hide from him half the time and quarrel with him the other. At least when I’m at the office and he’s there, too. It’s a different story when he isn’t around. The atmosphere almost has a sedate, relieved feel to it when he isn’t there, but that’s generally only on weekends and at night during the week.
I’m frankly astonished I haven’t been fired for, uh, sassing him as much as I do, although I sometimes grow weary of our ongoing feud.
And yes, my parents thought it would be cute to name me after former Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo.
Like me, Mom and Dad are huge sports fans and all three of us love football with an almost frightening passion. After watching the made-for-television movie Brian’s Song about Brian Piccolo’s battle with cancer and his friendship with fellow Bears running back Gale Sayers, my parents were relentlessly determined to name their firstborn, and only child, Piccolo whether I was a girl or a boy. You obviously can guess what they had.
I gave up long ago trying to get everyone to call me Leigh simply because my first name, well, lacks femininity. But I sure as hell don’t allow anyone to call me “Pick,” which was Brian Piccolo’s nickname. The last person who called me that got a black eye courtesy of yours truly.
I was quite the tomboy growing up. Still am.
I shake myself out of my reverie and finally unwillingly slide off the bed onto the filthy, crappy tan shag carpet that covers my entire one-bedroom apartment, with the exception of my kitchen and its hideous circa 1970s plaid-like linoleum floor. I don’t know who did the decor in this place, but it sucks balls.
I moved here almost a month ago and ended up not having to pay the security deposit because the place was so fucking filthy. I spent a couple of days scrubbing down the apartment and eventually gave up trying to clean the carpet. I can’t tell you how many times I emptied the carpet-cleaning machine I rented, but I threw in the towel after hours and hours of changing out dark brown, dirt-filled water. The filth on the carpet still turns my socks brown, but at least it’s not the black from when I first moved in here.
I make my way to the small bathroom adjoining my bedroom, Stinky right on my heels. I glance at my bedside clock in passing. 6:35 a.m. Yep, I have enough time for a quick shower. Just.
I have to be at work at 7 on the nose. I’m always on time, but I push it on occasion. Today, I think, is going to be one of those close calls.
I can’t stand not having my morning shower, though. It helps to wake me up. I run the water as hot as I can stand it. I don’t have to worry about that bill anyway. My utilities, water and all that other crap are part of my $350-a-month rent. Not bad at all, especially since I have central air and heating. I’m all about comfort.
I push aside the shower curtain and turn the water on, tossing the dirty pillowcase into the laundry hamper beside the sink, grab a towel and washcloth from the cabinet above the toilet and step into the tub. As usual, Stinky follows suit, jumping up on the ledge as she always does in hopes of swiping another one of my razors while I’m trying to shave. My razors, for whatever reason, always end up underneath the stove. I’ve found 12 under there so far, along with one dead mouse. Whatever makes her happy, I guess.
Five minutes later, and a few failed swipes by Stinky, I wrap my towel around me and stroll out of the bathroom to my walk-in closet to find something comfortable to wear on this already hellaciously hot August day. July just ended, but August and September by far are the hottest months of the year here in the western part of the state. The humidity is so thick, it’s hard to breathe sometimes. No joke. Nothing can penetrate this horrific hot stretch. And, what’s worse, I sweat like a woman in the throes of menopause year-round.
I eventually settle on a sleeveless yellow sundress that doesn’t stick to all of my curves, and do I ever have MANY, although covering them up never deters men from staring. But the dress is nice and light and I don’t have to wear pantyhose, which is a bonus. I’ll do just about anything not to have to wear pantyhose. They were made to torture a woman, just like bras and high heels.
After dressing — including the daily struggle to get my over the shoulder boulder holder on over my watermelon-like chest, which is even more challenging when I’m already drenched in sweat from the hot shower — I quickly brush my teeth and run a brush through my wavy, shoulder-length carrot-orange hair. I don’t bother drying it. Never do. The humidity will take care of that within five seconds flat of stepping outdoors, if that, not to mention the frizzy mess it no doubt is going to make of my poor hair.
I look once more at the clock. 6:50. Just enough time. It takes me five minutes, sometimes less depending on traffic, to get to the office downtown.
Before I can get into that ghastly kitchen of mine to grab some canned food for Stinky, the phone rings, making me jump about a foot in the air and damn near landing on the poor, unsuspecting cat circling my ankles. The ringer has one setting: Scare the shit right out of you. The same evil people who invented bras, high heels and pantyhose probably are behind that contraption, too.
“Hello,” I say with a guarded half-snarl.
Anyone who knows me at all has enough sense not to call me this early. I am not what you’d call a morning person, and anyone who has even the smallest hint of a smile on their face before noon knows to steer their chirpy, cheerful little selves clear of me until such time. Which means it can only be one person.
“Go to Bluegrass High School immediately!”
I hate it when I’m right.
His is the last voice I want to hear first thing in the morning. Actually, EVER. I hate everything about his snobbishly snotty English accent. Makes me want to punch him right in his Limey balls, but I can’t because, well, I have a reputation to uphold as a Southern belle. And because I can’t afford to lose my job.
“Why?” I ask.
“There’s been a murder.”
I take a deep breath. I’m at a rare loss for words, trying to digest this information.
“Shouldn’t you be calling James?” I ask after a few seconds of silence.
James Reliant covers what I like to refer to as the cops and courts beat.
“No,” Dickhead says impatiently. “This isn’t the time for daft questions. Just get over there. You know those people.”
I take another deep breath, trying to stifle my irritation, even though my curiosity is piqued and my composure shaken at such an unusual request. I don’t do dead. At all. Ever. My skin isn’t thick enough. I’m way too emotional, too empathetic. I don’t have the stomach for it. I cover sports, not death. I go to games, not autopsies. I talk to coaches and athletes, not grieving people and criminals.
“I only know the coaches and athletes over there,” I say, making one last attempt to get him to send someone — anyone else — but me.
“Which is precisely why I want you there,” he says. “The victim was a coach.”
Was. A. Coach.
My brain keeps regurgitating those ominous words, dissecting them. And I still am unable to fully register them. Not yet. I just can’t fathom murder entering my little sports world here in Bluegrass, or the whole of Derby County.
“No,” I reply, “No, no, no, it can’t be!”
Who would kill a coach?!
That someone would do so seems preposterous. But then, I keep hoping I’m back in my bed simply dreaming about all of this … this … this horror! But it’s true, and I sure as hell ain’t dreaming! Besides, any dream with Dickhead in it constitutes a nightmare. In this case, it’s a horror movie come to life.
I force myself to snap out of my daze, to face this unseemly reality.
I can hear the police scanner in Dickhead’s office going bonkers in the background. I know all of the coaches at Bluegrass High. My mind is scrambling. Who? Who? Who could it be?
“Listen, Piccolo,” Dickhead yells so loud that I have to hold the phone away from my ear, “snap out of it and get your arse over there!”
All of that deep breathing isn’t working. I’m going to hyperventilate! I’m going to freak! I’m going to pass out! And then he’d have to get someone else. Now there’s a thought, I frantically reason with myself.
“All right,” I say unevenly. “Will you at least tell me who it was?”
His scanner is going haywire again. Lots of static. Lots of unintelligible talking. At least from my end.
The varsity football coach. The school’s all-time winningest coach. A living legend (in his own mind, I always joke, or used to, I should amend). A winner. And an asshole to the nth degree. Coach Smith and Dickhead would have been perfect for each other. A match made in hell.
And now Coach Smith is dead?!
It’s unfathomable! It’s unthinkable! It’s unbelievable!
Coach Smith did whatever it took to win. No matter who he hurt. No matter what the cost
No one ever got in his way. No one ever said no to him.
The man always did as he pleased without consequence.