"I wouldn't trade my experience in the NFL for anything in the world," grinned Calvin Lewis. "Those were great years. Hey, you know, in the Rams-Cowboy game of--"
"Not even to have gone to bed with, oh say, Sharon Stone? Traci Lords? Cindy Crawford?" the stranger down the bar asked.
Lewis looked down the bar and sized the man up, then made a pawing gesture. "Aw, hell, man, I had plenty of women. I remember this time after the Bears game, these chickipoos came right into the locker room," He grinned lasciviously and made sure all were listening. "Hell, there must have been twenty-thirty of them! Black, white, spotted-pink, all kinds and what they did was--"
"What about this new actress they're all talking about, this Claire Donovan?" the stranger asked.
"Hey, she's somethin', ain't she? But, hell, face it, no chick like that is beddin' down with an over-the-hill halfback like this one," Calvin grinned. "Well, once, maybe," he added.
"Would you trade your experience as a halfback for the, um, experience of Claire Donovan?" the man asked smoothly.
Calvin squinted his eyes at the slightly-built stranger. The bar was dimly-lit, the air-conditioner overloaded with smoke, but he could see the man clearly enough. "Who did you say you were?"
"Jonathan Ryan, World Reality Traders, Limited, London," the man said, smiling. "We'll be on the market in September." He moved a stool closer. "May I buy you a drink?"
"Yeah, okay, sure, why not? Who are these, uh, World Traders?
"Mister Lewis," Ryan said. "while you had a long and distinguished career in football you were not, um, shall we say, a superstar." Lewis made a face and admitted it with a shrug of his broad shoulders. "You did not get the essential endorsements to build you up."
"Yeah, you're right about that," Lewis said sadly. "Hurt my knee, out almost a season, never did get it all back."
"And that agent of yours," the bartender said, shaking his head. "Kept holding you back, going for the big one."
"Only the big one didn't come," Lewis smiled ruefully.
The stranger moved another stool closer. "So while you are comfortable, salaries and bonuses being what they are, you are not rolling in wealth, are you?"
Calvin Lewis hunched his shoulders and made a sound that could have been rude. "Don't forget the ex-wife from Hell." He looked at Ryan. "So?"
"So we -- my company -- are prepared to make you an offer. A trade, if you will. Your memories of certain select games of note...for the, um, experience of Miss Claire Donovan."
Lewis gulped more beer. "You want to interview me? 'Bout old games? And for this I get a clear shot at Claire Donovan?"
"Yes, you could say that."
His eyes got small behind bunched muscles. "What kind of looney scam is this, huh?"
"This is no charade, Mister Lewis, I assure you. No, um, scam, as you put it. We have the technical means, here in Los Angeles, to extract your football highlights and replace them with the, um, very skilled and quite beautiful Claire Donovan."
Calvin Lewis stared at him for a long moment. "Money. Money, too."
Ryan extracted a list from the inner pocket of his well-tailored English jacket and handed it to Lewis. "Instead, what about an additional two of these? Any two? In addition to Miss Donovan."
Lewis's thick hand took the list and he looked it over, squinting. There were twenty-two names. Mostly actresses, but there was one from minor royalty, a famous network anchorwoman, two mistresses of very famous and very wealthy men, and a couple which Lewis could not place.
Lewis frowned at Ryan. "This Donovan chick, and any two of these?" He looked suspicious and a bit belligerant. The stranger nodded, smiling slightly and confidently. "This has to be a scam," he said, "You're selling desert lots, aren't you? Florida mountain estates?"
"Any two on the list," Ryan repeated. "Plus Miss Donovan, guaranteed."
"What do you mean, guaranteed?"
"Guaranteed, I assure you. Our facility is less than twenty minutes from here."
"Tonight? You wanna interview me tonight?" The stranger smiled and spread his hands. "You're right. Hell, I'm just sitting around, killing time. Sure, why not? My car's outside."
It was an assuming office building on Third Street just east of La Cienega Boulevard. A one-story stucco with a small, discreet sign. World Reality Traders, Ltd. London, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, Tokyo, Buenos Aires.
There wasn't even a sound-proofed studio, only an office, about the size of a dentist's examination room. A canvas director's chair opposite a big easy chair, a chrome stand with an arm, a chrome helmet with lights, and a small table by the chair. He plopped into the easy chair. Soft music. A pretty woman came in, smiled as she handed Lewis his favorite drink.
"Just relax, Mister Lewis," the woman said in an English accent. He shrugged, looking down her cleavage as she adjusted the helmet. "Drink something," she murmured, "it'll help you relax."
"Funny way to do an interview," he said, drinking. He fixed Ryan with a skeptical look as he came in and sat in the canvas chair. "Funniest interview I ever did was when they first let women reporters into the locker room. Ol' Blackjack, he kept droppin' his towel behind me. Poor ditz didn't know where to look. It was..."
His head went back and he started snoring. The woman took the half-empty glass from his slack hand and put it on the table, then put the chrome helmet on him and adjusted it. A section of the wall slid up and there was a control room beyond the glass.
A gray-haired man put on a headset. "Start running on all channels. Five, four, three, two, one, mark."
"Speed," an assistant reported.
"Mister Lewis," Ryan said, "I want you to think back to the Superbowl three years ago..."
"Subject pulse normal. Respiration normal."
"LDX at max," someone said.
"...three years ago, Cal, your greatest moment..."
"Hot damn, Larry, you wouldn't believe the gonzongas on that Donovan chick! I mean, hey, there is one fine woman!"
"You had her? Claire Donovan?" the bartender asked.
"Claire Donovan?" a man down the bar said, his eyebrows up.
"I hear the disbelief in your voice, ol' buddy, but let me tell you one sweet detail. Did you know she had inverted nipples? Yeah, really! First one gets hard -- pop! Then in a little while -- pop! -- the other one! I'm telling you, I--"
"Saaaay--! Ain't chew Cal Lewis?" a skinny man said. He shoved up his baseball cap and shoved between them, slapping Lewis on the back. "Man, let, me shake your hand! Buy you a drink! Tender of the bar!"
"Yeah, uh, okay. Why?"
"Cuz choo Cal Lewis, man! Second best halfback the goddamn Rams ever had!" Cal nodded, a weak smile on his face. "C'mon, Cal, tell me 'n' my buddies over there about that second half of the Superbowl game. Jeezchrist, that was the greatest thang! C'mon, Cal!"
"Uh..." A look of puzzlement crossed Cal's face. "Actually, uh, I...I don't really remember that game, not all of it."
"Aw, go on, Cal, you know you love to tell it," Larry said.
Cal looked at him, his eyes slightly wide, his face slack. "Uh...I remember the Rams okay, I remember the...I remember the Coach and Jack and, uh, I don't, uh, really remember that game."
"Chew drunk, man?" the skinny man asked, squinting. "I unnerstan that." He stuck out his hand. "I'm Lamarr Vincent Endi--" He hiccupped. "Endicott. I'm real pleased to meet chew and I'll catch you, later, man, when you are, you know, straight, okay? Don't worry, man, I unnerstan. Been there myself. Went to introduce my wife -- my ex now -- to some good ol' boys and, Lord, I couldn't remember her name for a second. So I unnerstan." He flapped his arms, grinned, and slapped Lewis on the back, and returned to his table.
The bartender leaned across to him. "What's the matter with you, man? That's the weirdest way to shine on a mooch I ever did see."
Calvin Lewis wiped his face. "It's the truth." He clutched his beer glass. "I can remember going to the stadium, suiting up like always, bullshitting the guys, then...the game, that's gone. Gone."
"Aw, hell," the bartender said, leaning back. "It's just temporary, Cal, like forgetting where you put your car keys."
"Yeah, you're right, you're right. I hope you're right. But, hey, let me tell you about these other two chicks," he grinned. "You will not believe who they are, man! You will never guess who I hopped in the sack with!" The others grinned and moved closer.