His satin sheets had turned into restraints, silky, scarlet boa constrictors that bound him more tightly the greater the struggle.
Chad was having a lucid dream—though perhaps a fortnight-long, out-of-body experience is a more accurate description. He tossed and turned, arms bound to his queen-sized ivory throne, the cold sweat of panic running down his torso.
Monday or Thursday, day or night, there was barely a hint. Time was a fluid concept. Windows sealed shut with plywood and industrial-strength duck tape; no light penetrated the humid stank within, not even a single sparkle off the peacock feathers.
The pretty little assistant had long since been fired, her belongings unceremoniously left on the front porch, all the doors padlocked shut.
“Baby, baby, I didn’t mean it. Chad just needed some Chad time. We still gonna make it to the top. Don’t you believe me? Can’t you see? New York, New York, New Yorrrrrrrrk.”
Chad was in that purgatory between dreamland and reality, that lonely island without a bridge to either mainland.
The assistant had returned daily—for a while, at least. But the house was impenetrable.
The towering Chad-in-glory bronze statue in the foyer, the self-portraits leading up the spiral staircase to the master bedroom, the mahogany bar stocked to the brim—all top shelf, Chad ain’t one to skimp, baby. All sealed tight, no entry, no open-sesame would access these doors.
Chad thought he heard her, once or twice, breaking though that iron-willed malaise. But he didn’t break through. Eventually, she stopped coming.
It had gone so south, this free fall into the underworld, so fast.
The last time she had seen him, he was doing sprints in his HOF 20?? bathrobe up and down the series of steep hills surrounding the “Chad-sion. Never been one for subtlety baby, only originality for me.” Chad was exercising regularly for the first time in years. She had started to believe that his comeback delusion was something more than a hopeless raving.
Maybe a contender really could use a reliable slot man for the stretch run. Those old legs still had a little life in them. Maybe it would even, gasp, be the Bengals.
“6-2, 6-2. These streets will make you feel brand new,” he crooned, “this lights will inspire you, let’s here it for New York, New York….We comin’, baby!”
Something horrible happened in Miami, this much she was able to piece together. Something had cracked in his fragile psyche. Her suitcase on the steps, a crude, crinkled notebook paper that read, simply, Sorry.
Inside, the trial was raging within his addled mind, powerful forces going toe to toe.
Reality vs fantasy, touchdowns in the stadium or the yard, fact or fiction—only one would survive.
This dream world, this mid-2000s/2013 Bengals mashup, A.J. Houshmandzadeh and Carson Dalton—would be no more. The torn ACL of a quarterback or defensive tackle, which was it going to be.
A fortnight of moans and groans, of tossing and turning, unearthly sounds that drew coyotes and wolves alike to feast outside the Chad-sion.
Suddenly, he stirred, shook his limbs free. He ambled up to the walls, began tearing at the seal.
Light poured in. Gaunt and unshaven, smelling of garlic and sweat, Chad both looked every bit of his age yet more alive to the world than in years.
The assistant had made one last attempt, was striding purposely across the yard, equal parts rage and relief as she saw his head peek free. He croaked out a command before she could cut in.
“6-4. Time to go to work.
“Get me Andy on the line, tell him his wish is my command. Reinforcements are on their way, top-of-the-line stuff, baby. When Cincy needs a hero, ain’t no need to fear, Chad is here. Then call Marvin, tell him Chad needs an updated playbook. A personal trainer couldn’t hurt, neither.
“Book me a flight to the Queen City, baby. Chad is comin.’ ”