Christmastime in Elamville, and confirmed bachelor Riley Covington’s having dinner at the Ricci household, where Meg Ricci confides in him that she’s noticed a change in her beloved Sal.
She stopped for a moment, then looked Riley in the eyes. “You’re Sal’s closest friend on the team. Have you seen anything different about him lately?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’d say he seems edgier than usual. He says it’s because of the pressue at the end of the season, but I think it has to be more than that. One moment he’s wonderful, and the next moment he bites my head off about something; then the next moment he’s staring off into space.” Megan paused and looked down. When she looked back up at him, there were tears in her eyes. “Would you…would you tell me if he was having an affair?”
Oh, Meg. Sweet, ignorant Meg. If you only knew you existed in the context of a book that wouldn’t dare allow such a thing.
Riley, however, is his usual virtuous self:
“After I got through beating him to a pulp, yeah, I’d tell you - or at least I’d make sure that he told you.”
After the Christmas meal is consumed, the womenfolk retreat to the kitchen, while the men settle down and confront each other about their failures as husbands.
The two men entered the living room and settled into a couple of overstuffed leather chairs. The smell of expensive cowhide filled the air…
“You haven’t been yourself lately, Reech. You’ve been moody; you ripped me a new one on the plane; you’ve isolated yourself from me and Travis and Garrett; and I gotta say, you played Sunday like your mind was anywhere but in the game.”
Elam’s apparently been buying his semicolons at Costco.
As Riley watched, Ricci’s expression shifted from neutral to anger to profound sadness and back to neutral. Ricci sighed. “I appreciate your concern. Truly I do. I guess I’m just really feeling the pressure. It was never like this in Europe.”
Riley, relieved that it was what he thought it was, said, “You’re taking the game too seriously. Sure, you want to do your best. Sure, there’s tons of pressure. But you know what? If we lose, you’ll still get up the next day. You’ll still have a wife who loves you. You’ll still have a daughter who thinks you’re the greatest thing since sliced focaccia. The things that matter will still be here.”
His daughter’s inability to form thoughts in anything but bruschetta-based similes aside, Ricci’s brow remains as furrowed as a field of ripe fava beans.
“I want you to swear to me that if anything ever happens to me, you’ll take care of Meg and Alessandra.”
“C’mon,” Riley laughed, “those Predator DBs are big, but they’re not that big.”
But Ricci wasn’t laughing. “Swear it to me, Riley. If anything ever happens to me, I need to know that my girls are taken care of.”
“Sal, I give you my word,” Riley said somberly. “You never have to worry about Meg or Alessandra.”
“Thanks. I know you’re probably wondering what that was all about,” Ricci said, giving a little self-deprecating chuckle. “I’ve been having these dreams - strange, ugly dreams. I guess they’ve got me a little shaken. You know Italians - we can never shake the feeling that a nightmare is actually someone from the other side warning us that something really bad is about to happen.”
I sure do! Stupid Italians!
Anyway, it’s not like he’s engineering a mass suicide bombing of the Mustangs/Predators game, in which thousands of people will die agonizingly on Monday Night Football, right? Since he could never be capable of such a thing, let’s forget that we thought we’d figured out his real identity almost immediately. Those kinds of plots are the stuff of Islamofascist super-terrorists, not superstitious Tuscan Y receivers!
As game day dawns, Riley’s up to his usual pregame routine.
He was on his way right now to meet his friend Mike Robertson at the Kiowa Creek Sporting Club to shoot some clays. He was fairly sure this wasn’t on Coach Burton’s list of approved activities, but it sure helped relieve some of the pressure on a late game day.
Riley liked to get out shooting at least once a week. Because Robertson worked at the club, Riley was able to shoot all the typical guns he owned plus a few of the “atypical” ones that had happened to find their way into his collection - usually gifts from his old AFSOC buddies. For shooting trap today, Riley had snagged his 12-gauge Perazzi MX2000 with its over-under barrel and beautifully made custom stock. But he also brought along his compact Glock 19 9 mm - midnight black with ten in the clip. And, just for fun, he packed his Crimson Trace laser that attached to the top of the Glock for some pinpoint target practice.
Later, he had designs on the best pastrami sandwich in town at the New York Deli News with Pastor Tim, and sometime in between he had to take Alessandra Ricci’s Christmas present back.
Because Riley Covington doesn’t know dick about children’s clothing sizes, okay? Football? Yes! Typical and atypical guns? Affirmative! Cold cuts? Absolutely! Praying? Implied!
But “the size 3 Little Mermaid dress that Riley had picked up at the Disney Store” - look, if that doesn’t fit a nine-month-old, it’s the fucking kid’s own fault. Drag some sleds around the parking lot instead of crying and napping all the time, shrimpy, and we’ll get you in that dress yet.
Luckily, the stick up Sal Ricci’s ass seems to have dislodged itself.
Ricci had been like a different person at the team dinner last night. All the surliness was gone, and he was back to his old self. He had even arranged for a dish of lemon Jell-O with a little whipped cream happy face on it to be delivered to LeMonjello Fredericks. The big lineman’s threats almost got the name of the culprit out of the poor waiter who delivered it, but the second fifty-dollar bill that Ricci had promised him if he survived LeMonjello’s assault was enough incentive to cause temporary amnesia.
That crazy Sal. Splashing money around like he’s gonna have an exploding vest of ball bearings draped around him tonight, instead of some undersized Baltimore DB.