EW.com’s exclusive excerpt of John Grisham’s The Associate begins today with Chapter 1 below. Check back each Friday through Jan. 9 to see another chapter of the legal thriller, which hits bookstores on Jan. 27.
The rules of the New Haven Youth League required that each kid play at least ten minutes in each game. Exceptions were allowed for players who had upset their coaches by skipping practice or violating other rules. In such cases, a coach could file a report before the game and inform the scorekeeper that so-and-so wouldn’t play much, if at all, because of some infraction. This was frowned on by the league; it was, after all, much more recreational than competitive.
With four minutes left in the game, Coach Kyle looked down the bench, nodded at a somber and pouting little boy named Marquis, and said, ”Do you want to play?” Without responding, Marquis walked to the scorers’ table and waited for a whistle. His violations were numerous — skipping practice, skipping school, bad grades, losing his uniform, foul language. In fact, after ten weeks and fifteen games, Marquis had broken every one of the few rules his coach tried to enforce. Coach Kyle had long since realized that any new rule would be immediately violated by his star, and for that reason he trimmed his list and fought the temptation to add new regulations. It wasn’t working. Trying to control ten inner-city kids with a soft touch had put the Red Knights in last place in the 12 and Under division of the winter league.
Marquis was only eleven, but clearly the best player on the court. He preferred shooting and scoring over passing and defending, and within two minutes he’d slashed through the lane, around and through and over much larger players, and scored six points. His average was fourteen, and if allowed to play more than half a game, he could probably score thirty. In his own young opinion, he really didn’t need to practice.
In spite of the one-man show, the game was out of reach. Kyle McAvoy sat quietly on the bench, watching the game and waiting for the clock to wind down. One game to go and the season would be over, his last as a basketball coach. In two years he’d won a dozen, lost two dozen, and asked himself how any person in his right mind would willingly coach at any level. He was doing it for the kids, he’d said to himself a thousand times, kids with no fathers, kids from bad homes, kids in need of a positive male influence. And he still believed it, but after two years of babysitting, and arguing with parents when they bothered to show up, and hassling with other coaches who were not above cheating, and trying to ignore teenage referees who didn’t know a block from a charge, he was fed up. He’d done his community service, in this town anyway.
He watched the game and waited, yelling occasionally because that’s what coaches are supposed to do. He looked around the empty gym, an old brick building in downtown New Haven, home to the youth league for fifty years. A handful of parents were scattered through the bleachers, all waiting for the final horn. Marquis scored again. No one applauded. The Red Knights were down by twelve with two minutes to go.
At the far end of the court, just under the ancient scoreboard, a man in a dark suit walked through the door and leaned against the retractable bleachers. He was noticeable because he was white. There were no white players on either team. He stood out because he wore a suit that was either black or navy, with a white shirt and a burgundy tie, all under a trench coat that announced the presence of an agent or a cop of some variety.
Coach Kyle happened to see the man when he entered the gym, and he thought to himself that the guy was out of place. Probably a detective of some sort, maybe a narc looking for a dealer. It would not be the first arrest in or around the gym. After the agent/cop leaned against the bleachers, he cast a long suspicious look at the Red Knights’ bench, and his eyes seemed to settle on Coach Kyle, who returned the stare for a second before it became uncomfortable. Marquis let one fly from near mid-court, air ball, and Coach Kyle jumped to his feet, spread his hands wide, shook his head as if to ask, ”Why?” Marquis ignored him as he loafed back on defense. A dumb foul stopped the clock and prolonged the misery. While looking at the free-throw shooter, Kyle glanced beyond him, and in the background was the agent/cop, still staring, not at the action but at the coach.
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Excerpted from THE ASSOCIATE by John Grisham
Published by Doubleday
Reprinted by permission of the publisher
Copyright © 2009 by Belfry Holdings, Inc
THE ASSOCIATE is on sale January 27, 2009 wherever books are sold