Why We Go Bad

© 1996 by Miq Millman

May 9, 2000, 5:00 p.m. Johnny Rocket's Cafe, Atlanta, Georgia.

The large black man clenched his teeth tightly, the bulge below his cheek highlighting the carefully trimmed beard that followed his jawline. He pulled the $250 Revo sunglasses from his eyes and glared at his companion across the table.

"Dammit Clark! You can't do this to me!" His fist hit the table in the small diner with sufficient force to cause the other diners to stare. Instinctively he lowered his voice a few notches as he continued, "I've been playing by the book; following orders, staying out of trouble. Hell, I even avoided that sports card convention last month. You said, 'keep a low profile.' That's what I've been doing. Now tell me what gives?"

He glares under the darkly hooded eyes, daring the other man to ignore him.

Clark Parker takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly as he looks around the diner, perhaps for a way out. He purses his lips and raises his hands in an almost defensive posture, "Jacomo, I know how you feel. We talked about this being a possiblity last spring when you applied for a transfer to Atlanta with the company. There were never any promises made."

Jacomo leans into the table, trying to make his already formidable presence even greater, "Bull! Don't go trying to use that psychology crap on me. I'm the one that taught you it in the first place. You owe me, Clark. At least tell me the truth. I'm a big boy, I can take it."

"Alright, the truth is, some of the…financial backers expressed concerns about your public image. Face it Jacomo, three years ago you were bigger than Michael Jordan. Then you had that bad season. Public opinions don't have to be right or wrong. They just are." Clark's expression is a mixture of empathy and sadness, two things he hopes will calm his table mate down.

Jacomo pinches the bridge of his nose and rubs his eyes, responding from behind his hand, his voice is small at first, "Public opinions. Fine. But that was two years ago. I haven't played in a league game in eighteen months." He looks at the stained placemat covering the old formica table, studying its random design of coffee spills before continuing.

"I've followed the courses set up by Primus, I've followed every friggin order that's been sent my way. Do you know how undignified it is to be forced to stand guard during a bomb scare at an arena where just two years ago crowds were chanting your name?" He looks up catching Clark's scrutiny, "No I guess you probably don't.

"Look, I'm not asking for any special compensations because I'm already with Primus. I'm asking you to give me the chance I deserve because I'm being limited by the position I'm in. I'll level with you Clark, those rumors about the "treatment" effecting my mind were just that, rumors. I've always been in complete control. No one has seen what I can really do. Give me a chance, let me show the Champions that Jacomo Jones isn't some washed out overly augmented ex-Cyber Ball jock. I've waited a long time for this. Don't say no."

Jacomo stares at Clark, his dark irises masking pupils that dance from eye to eye, waiting for the answer that he doesn't want to hear.

Clark's voice is barely a whisper as he apologetically answers, "Sorry Jacomo, the decision has been made." Sensing the building anger he quickly continues, smiling reasuringly, "But the door hasn't closed completely. Give it another month, perhaps one of the new recruits will wash out…" Clark trails off as he sees that his words are having little effect.

Jacomo slaps his dark glasses on, and stands in a single fluid motion. "Fine. Just fine."

He turns and quickly heads for the exit. Clark knows it's not really fine, though, as Jacomo tears the glass and steel door off its hinge and flings it into a lamp post down the street. The ex-jock doesn't look back to see what aftermath might have been caused.

Clark simply smiles sheepishly at the waitress, "Could you put that on my bill as well? Thanks."

Clark hands her a credit card absent mindedly as he watches what was left of one of the most famous men he knew, dissappear into the early afternoon crowds.