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EDITIONS


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Excerpt: 'Bump and Run'

By Mike Lupica
Putnam
Fiction
311 pages

As the go-to guy in Las Vegas, Jack Molloy thought he knew it all, but that was before he inherited half of the New York Hawks and found out that, next to the denizens of the country of Football, he was just a babe in the woods.

Over the course of a single season, Molloy will get a crash course in steroids, gambling, crooked quarterbacks, idiot sportswriters, control-freak coaches, and philandering announcers. He will end up with his brother and sister co-owners-"the demon-seed twins"-along with his coach, the commissioner, and most of his fellow owners, out to get him. He will discover just how far every mogul in America who doesn't have his own football team will go to get one. And he just might wind up falling in love with Kate, the smart, funny, tough woman who also happens to be his team president.

The following excerpt contains adult language.

EXCERPT

One

REVIEW
Review: Lupica's 'Bump and Run' goes for a touchdown
 

I was known in Vegas as the Jammer. My real name is Jack Molloy, which most football fans know as well as the point spread by now. But nobody on the Strip ever called me Jack for long. If you've ever been on the Strip and don't know me or what I used to do there, then you're the new target audience for the Chamber of Commerce, which wants to turn the place into some kind of Disney wet dream.

You want to bring the wife and kids on the four-day, three-night weekend package and say things like, "Jesus, Myrtle, an indoor volcano!"

People say now that Las Vegas was more fun before they tried to de-Bugsy it, make it more wholesome for a new millennium than Kathie Lee's kids. But the fun was still out there for you once you got past room service. You just had to know the right people.

Like me.

"Jammer," my boss Billy Grace liked to say, "you're one of the last guys left who don't think having a cocktail and getting a hard-on are against the law."

I'd always tell him to stop then, he was starting to make me blush. Of course that was before the National Football League in general and the NewYork Hawks in particular took me hostage, as if pro football was the guys with the towels on their heads and I was the U.S. Embassy.

I'll get to that in a minute.

If you want to know the whole story of my season in tabloid hell, how it happened that I became as well known as Jerry Jones or George Steinbrenner or any of those other celebrity owners, you have to know where it all started, and it started when I was still the Jammer.

My official title at Billy Grace's hotel, known as Amazing Grace, was Casino Host. It's like saying Michael Jordan's position was guard. I was Billy's go-to guy. Some reporter from the Las Vegas Sun once asked him what I did and Billy said, "Whatever it is, he's indispensable." Sometimes Billy-who wanted to be the king of Vegas as much as Kirk Kerkorian and Steve Wynn ever did-just described me as his Director of Logistics.

I set up what needed to be set up, arranged what needed to be arranged, fixed what needed to be fixed. I didn't particularly want to know if you were a good guy or a bad guy, just if you had money in your pocket and wanted to spend it in Billy's bar or at Billy's tables.

If you were staying at Amazing Grace and needed to be hooked up, I was your man. And let me explain something right here, just so there are no misunderstandings. When I say hooked up, I don't mean hookers. Though I must say that most of the working girls I know, especially the ones in Vegas, are a much better class of people than a lot of the high rollers and socialite scum I've met in what has passed for my adult life.

When I say hook you up, I mean just that, whether it's a tee time at Billy's golf course-God's Acre-or the best odds on the Georgia-Florida game, or a showgirl who'd not only laugh and look at you the way Siegfried always looked at Roy, but who wouldn't ask you for five hundred dollars afterward to help out with her acting classes.

The real tourists and the amateurs still had this idea that Vegas was some kind of high-class whorehouse. I never looked at it that way, not from the first day Billy brought me out from New York. I always looked at Amazing Grace as the world's classiest frat house, one with so many good-looking women around, you thought they'd put blackjack tables in Hugh Hefner's grotto.

Say a star athlete is in town for a big prizefight and he wants to play God's Acre. Billy'd had it built because he just had to have a better course than Shadow Creek, which was Wynn's pride and joy before he sold it to Kerkorian, along with The Mirage, a few years ago. Maybe you remember, it was one of those periods when you got the idea that everything and everybody in town was suddenly on the market.

We'll call the guy Mr. Perfect, football hero. Mr. Perfect's guys would call Billy, and Billy would call me and he'd say what he always did.

Handle it.

The regulation stuff-the tee times, the comps at casino, the cigars that tasted like they'd come straight from Castro's own humidor, the reservations for the shows-that was as easy for me as lying is for the President. But usually with stars, even ones who had an image as squeegee-clean as a sitcom dad, there'd probably be a nanny in the package somewhere.

Nanny is the polite way of describing what Billy just calls discreet pussy, in Vegas or anywhere else.

It worked this way for jocks, for politicians and movie stars and CEOs and university presidents and presidents of your favorite sports teams, even the Secretary General of the U.N. one time. It's also how I worked, at least before pro football car-jacked me.

So let's say that in addition to trying to break par and break the bank at Billy's tables, Mr. Perfect-even with Mrs. Perfect back home, organizing another charity auction-also wanted to get laid. Most of the high rollers did. Even the God guys.

Especially the God guys, if you want to know the truth.

A few years ago, when the whole world was in town for a Tyson fight, I accidentally walked in on a famous Christian quarterback just as his nanny finished up with something that seemed to fall under the general heading of an oil change. When she'd left the room, I said, "If you don't mind me asking, how does what just went on here fit in with your religious beliefs, exactly?"

The quarterback shook his head sadly, and sighed.

"Jammer," he said, "we've all got needs."

If my latest football hero was feeling needy that weekend, I was supposed to help him out. The real trick was getting the girl into the hotel and around the hotel and finally out of the hotel, keeping her discreet while still making sure she enjoyed her free time. That way she wouldn't end up feeling like a love slave who'd sell her story someday to the National Enquirer or The Star and eventually end up as a featured selection on Oprah's Book Club.

If the drill went the way it was supposed to, and it usually did, the only people who ever saw the quarterback and his nanny together were his guys and my guys and me.

The drill went like this: She'd register at the concierge desk with one of Perfect's security guys. The two of them would check into their room, which the security guy would end up using. There'd be an adjoining room next door, which would stay empty. And on the other side of that would be one of Billy's Temple of Gold-type suites, which are equipped with everything except a helicopter pad and indoor rain forest. That's where our perfect hero was waiting. The suite would have a private elevator, outside phone lines, even a personal chef on twenty-four-hour call, one of the more versatile guys from what I called my A Team.

The only guys working that floor would be from my own Casino Host staff. Jammers in training, I called them. I'd also have alibis set up in advance, around the golf and the gambling and the fight, even a log I could produce if I had to, one that would show my star at God's Acre between noon and five o'clock, say, then eating dinners with friends-all male, of course-at a certain time. Then at a particular blackjack table from the time the fight ended until four or five a.m.

All in all, it would be a timeline that would make O.J. hot, just in case a suspicious wife or some asshole reporter came around looking to ask questions afterward.

Maybe you're starting to understand the irony of my nickname now: I didn't get you into jams, I kept you out of them. Unless, of course, you rubbed Billy or me the wrong way and a compromising situation-another of my specialties-was required.

Then I got your ass into a jam, sometimes with snapshots to prove it.

Billy liked to pick the girls either way. He did this because (A) it made him feel like a sheikh, and (B) he said he didn't want anybody to ever call me a pimp.

"Let's face it, Jammer," he'd say sometimes, "I'm no good and can prove it."

I don't mind telling you, in the interest of full disclosure, that Billy's career in business began with a job that involved him taking $500,000 from New York to Miami in a suitcase in 1957. He didn't tell me a lot about some of his other duties in those days, but when he did, it would all come out sounding like the first season of "The Sopranos." When he got drunk enough sometimes, he'd hold up his hands, which were big enough and beat-up enough that they could have belonged to some old baseball catcher like Yogi Berra, and say, "You don't want to know where these hands have been...."

He was right, I didn't, but I did know that particular routine the way cops know Miranda.

Anyway, that would be Mr. Perfect's weekend at Amazing Grace, courtesy of the Jammer. If one of Billy's girls ever did go public, it would be her word against ours. When you came right down to it, it would be hard for her to prove she was ever on the premises in the first place, unless she clipped the complimentary robe or the remote for the big-screen TV.

Put it this way: We never needed our VIPs to fill out a Satisfied Guest card to let us know they'd had a good time. Some guys might get busted by their wives somewhere else along the dusty old trail, but never on my watch. It's why they all came back, and when they did, treated me like we'd pledged the same fraternity in college and knew the secret handshake. It is also worth pointing out that every time they did come back, they dropped enough money to buy a G-5 at Billy's tables, which he thought was the real national pastime, not baseball or football or sending dirty e-mail.

I was thirty-five. An old girlfriend said I reminded her of the way Harrison Ford looked when he used to wear the hat. I had stock options from Billy as high as the volcano he'd built in the main lobby. I was still single, living just off the fifteenth green at God's Acre, carried a five-handicap in golf, still drank Scotch, smoked the cigars I hadn't given away to whoever was my new best friend that week. When everything happened that changed my life and the course of pro football history, at least for a little while, I had just broken up with Stacy, who made Cindy Crawford look like a boy.

Stacy was a dancer in our Show Tune Revue and an aspiring actress.

"Let me ask you something, Jammer," Billy said the first time I described Stacy as an actress. "Aren't they all?"

I'd worked in television, bartended for a while in New York, invested in a couple of places there, even opened a place of my own. When that finally went bust, Billy'd offered me the gig at Amazing Grace and I became the Jammer. There I was. I knew everybody, drove a cream-colored Mercedes convertible, and generally felt like that if I ever did retire I'd have to come out of retirement to do it. Billy said I was the closest thing to a son he ever had. The only thing his ex-wife, Roxanne, had ever given him was a daughter who'd turned into a Rodeo Drive junkie and was currently married to a tattooed mutant from a rock band known as Fourth Level of Hell.

I had my secrets, but who doesn't?

Life was good for the Jammer.

That was before God became such a cutup. Usually on Monday I didn't do anything except pretend I was still sleeping when Stacy woke up wanting to play Wounded Soldier/Naughty Nurse.

That was before she'd informed me one morning, the Vuitton bags I'd bought her packed by the front door, that I was hampering her growth as an artist and as a woman.

"Face it, Jack," she said in her exit scene. "You're a controller. Hopi told me that even after the breast reduction and I just didn't want to listen."

Hopi was her yoga instructor and inner trainer.

Weekends for me, especially weekends when Billy had a big fight going, were as close as I ever got to hard time. And we'd had the fight of the year on Friday, between TruValue Jones, the reigning heavyweight champ, and his number-one challenger, White Trash Bobby White. The two of them had been ducking each other for years, but Billy'd finally thrown so much money at them that even the bed bugs who managed them couldn't say no. The fight seemed to be dead even by just about everybody's accounts going into the twelfth and final round, then thirty seconds before the end, White Trash Bobby White kneed TruValue in the balls as they were being told to come out of a clinch. White Trash was disqualified, and as soon as he was, his walk-around guys-all wearing militia outfits-had a World Wrestling Federation death match with TruValue's boys, who wore Los Angeles Laker road jerseys, snap-brim fedoras and jack boots. By the time Billy's security broke everything up, the two managers were already underneath the ring setting a date for the rematch.

At Amazing Grace, of course.

Billy and I celebrated in his penthouse that night with a guest list of usual suspects that might have looked this way on the official scorecard later:

  • Two U.S. Senators, one from each side of the aisle.
  • Three members of the NBA's all-time top fifty players.
  • One network morning host, male.
  • One network morning host, female, a frisky little thing who we all agreed afterward had become the fifty-first member of the all-time NBA team.
  • Two studio heads.
  • A microchip billionaire who would end up winning all the Hot Tub Awards.
  • Two members of the 1999 U.S. Women's World Cup soccer team who wanted to take off a lot more than their team jerseys.
  • The previously-thought-to-be-gay leading man who was the silver medalist in the hot tub.
  • Four Laker Girls.
  • Half the chorus line from the Show Tune Revue, minus Stacy, who was already in L.A. auditioning for a sitcom about a Playmate-turned-meteorologist and her zany friends.
  • The precociously young country star who admitted after drinking up all the margaritas that she'd lied about her age, and apparently hadn't spent nearly as much time in that church choir back in Nashville as People magazine said she did.

I left before the morning prayer and got about six hours of sleep before eventually dragging my own remains over to the spa at the hotel in the late afternoon to continue a daily regimen of torture that the doctors had all assured me would hold off a knee replacement for at least a few more years.

The injury had happened my sophomore year at UCLA, in the fourth quarter of our game with USC, which used to decide a trip to the Rose Bowl before the computer nerds from the NCAA ruined college football. I'll tell you more about the play later and why it broke down the way it did for our quarterback, Bubba Royal, and me. Just know that it ended with a steroid-crazed 327-pound football terrorist named Mountain Montoya doing everything to my anterior cruciate ligament except drive over it with the Grand Cherokee the Southern Cal boosters had given him.

I never played another down of college football, but did earn the right to make walking up a flight of steps feel like an Olympic event forever.

I hated exercise, but I didn't want a knee from Home Depot, either.

So I found time every day to make a tour of the Nautilus equipment in Billy's gym. I figured I'd give it my usual tour and then spend an hour in the sauna trying to remember why I'd ended up playing White House intern with one of the senators' wives. By then it would be time to watch the preseason Monday night game between the Hawks and the Dallas Cowboys.

Billy came through in dark glasses about five o'clock. He's got thick black hair that is either a tribute to his Sicilian ancestors or Grecian Formula, a washboard chest that has cost him hundreds of thousands in personal trainers over the years, a nose that he's broken seven times as a young middleweight, and coloring that even I now describe as dark-complected after hanging around him all these years. In the half-light of his own lounges, you could even call him ruggedly handsome, in a sort of five-crime-families way.

"Was that you I saw going into the screening room with the senator's wife?" he said.

"I felt bad for her," I said. "The potential-next-vice-president of the United States had disappeared with a Laker Girl by then."

I groaned through another leg lift.

"Two," he said.

"Two?" I said. "Like hell. This is my third rep."

"I meant two Laker Girls," Billy said. "By the way, how can you be working out when I know you feel like the same brand of shit I do?"

I said, "A man without structure in his life is just a smaller version of White Trash Bobby White."

"Good point. Where we watching the game?"

"How about your home away from home?"

I was talking about the penthouse suite Billy kept here, in addition to his real home, a rather amazing replica of the Vatican that took up pretty much of the whole front nine at God's Acre. The first time Billy took me through it, I only had one question afterward: "Where's the gift shop?"

"I'll see you at six," he said, which was the time Monday Night Football came on in the West.

I did another leg lift that must have sounded like some kind of Swedish movie to the rest of the gym.

"I want your solemn word on something," I said. "No girls."

"Is this some kind of allergic reaction to the senator's wife, or just a love of the Hawks?"

"You know me. Despite everything, I love my Hawks. Now leave me alone."

"I never figured this Hawks thing," he said.

"Don't try," I said. "It's like cracking one of those World War Two codes that they have in really bad spy novels."

He walked out past the aerobics class, where a lot of girls in no clothes, most of them from the Show Tune Revue, were working out to old Donna Summer disco music. He cocked his head toward them as if maybe he wanted to invite the whole class to Monday Night Football. I gave him the finger and he was gone.

I looked up at the clock. I was a half hour from being finished. After I went through the machines, I liked to sit on the exercise bike and watch blue-haired girls try to beat the shit out of their parents on afternoon talk shows. But on this day I decided to watch CNN's Headline News, in case I had missed any terrorism or stock market crashes overnight.

Some shrieking kid had just done the sports when the "Breaking News" screen came on.

The next thing I saw was his face.

It wasn't up there because he'd won the Nobel Prize.

They let the boy anchor handle it.

I was fumbling with the volume switch on the headphones I was wearing, so I missed the start of it.

"...in his luxury box at the stadium when he was stricken," the boy anchor said. "He was taken by ambulance to nearby Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, but was pronounced dead on arrival."

There was a live shot of the inside of the stadium now, where the Hawks-Cowboys game would be played later. Behind the girl twink doing the standup, I was pretty sure I could see Bubba Royal, now the veteran quarterback of the Hawks, light-tossing to someone whose number I couldn't recognize.

I didn't even notice that I'd gotten off the bike now and was right on top of the television, or that Billy had come back and was standing next to me.

I took off the headphones.

"The set was on in my office," he said.

I nodded and started to put the headphones back on, but Billy waved me off and just turned the volume up loud enough to be heard over the machines.

Some fat guy started to bitch from the rowing machine and Billy turned and gave him a look and said, "Shut up or check out."

"...one of the most popular owners in the National Football League and certainly one of the most colorful," the boy anchor was saying.

Now he looked straight into the camera, trying to play two parts all at once: Frank and Earnest.

"The one thing he never did across a long career during which he became one of the most beloved figures in the game was win a Super Bowl. This was supposed to be his year. Now it ends two weeks before the Hawks play their first regular-season game."

He paused here for the big finish.

Bring it home.

"Big Tim Molloy," the boy anchor said. "Dead at the age of seventy-seven, survived by his second wife Kitty and the Molloy twins, Ken and Babs, who were with their father in his luxury box when he suddenly collapsed, and a third child..."

"Me," I said out loud. "Jack Molloy as the Beaver."

Reprinted from Bump & Run by Mike Lupica by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Mike Lupica. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.



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