Page 28 of Protective Player

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“Sorry, Dawson. Mr. Buck said immediately.”

I blow out a frustrated sigh and turn back to Wendy. Her expression hasn’t changed, but she nods and offers me a look of resignation.

“Call me. We’ll talk about all this after,” she says.

“Yeah. Maybe.”

I turn and follow Jerry through the doors and into the belly of the arena. He’s silent as we walk, which isn’t like him.

“What’s going on, Jer? Can you give me a heads-up? What am I walking into?”

“I can’t say, Dawson. I honestly don’t know. All I know is Mr. Buck is tenser than I’ve seen him in a long time. Maybe ever.”


We take the elevator up to the executive floor, and Jerry escorts me down to Randy’s office. He gives me a nod and a pat on the shoulder.

“Good luck, Dawson.”

“Thanks, Jer.”

Jerry walks away and before I can even knock on the door, I hear Randy’s deep, booming voice on the other side of it, beckoning me in. I step into his office, close the door behind me, and cross to the chairs in front of his desk. I feel like I should be saying, “Dead man walking.”

“Sit,” he says gruffly.

Randy played in the league for sixteen years—mainly as his team’s enforcer—and still has that rough and rugged look he had on the ice. Unlike his playing days when it hung to his shoulders in a god-awful mullet, these days, Randy’s dark brown hair is flecked with gray, cut short, and styled well. His flinty gray eyes still miss nothing, and he’s still in good enough shape that he’ll sometimes come down during practice and mix it up with us on the ice. He’s in his fifties, but I still won’t bet against him in a scrap.

The grim look on his face tells me I’m not here to negotiate my next contract with the team. Whatever it is, it’s not good news. I take a seat and run through the scenarios in my mind. I know they’re not going to cut me. I’m playing at a level that has me in the conversation for the Hart Trophy and have the team closing in on a playoff spot—something unthinkable a month ago.

I haven’t broken any team or league rules. There is literally nothing I could be in trouble for. Which leads me back to Devon. It’s the only possible thing anybody might be taking some sort of issue with.

“Listen, Randy, before you say anything, I’ll be straight with you and tell you it’s true—”

“You’re admitting it?”

“Yeah, I am. I’ve got nothing to hide since I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“League rules would beg to differ, Dawson,” he replies and runs a hand through his hair. “Jesus Christ, how could you do this? How could you betray this organization like this?”

“Let’s not be dramatic, for fuck’s sake, Randy. A betrayal? Give me a fucking break,” I spit. “Yeah, she’s significantly younger than I am, but she’s very much of age. That’s hardly unique. Your own wife is more than a decade younger than you are, need I remind you. So, get off this betrayal of the organization bullshit. Also, there is absolutely nothing in the league rules about women I can date. Jesus, man. You’re making me out to be some kind of damned pervert when I’m not.”

Randy sits back in his chair with a puzzled look on his face. “What the fuck are you talking about, Dawson?”

I share his confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“You first.”

“Isn’t this about the girl I’ve been seeing for a little while now?”

“Uhh… no. Why would I give two shits about who you’re seeing?”

“That was my goddamn question,” I snap. “Now, what the fuck are you talking about?”

“The story that broke this morning—somebody’s alleging that you’re using PEDs, Dawson. They say they sold them to you directly.”

His words are like a cold slap across the face, and I recoil, staring at him with a look of utter confusion on my face. What he just said makes absolutely no sense.

“What are you talking about, Randy? I’ve never done PEDs in my life.”

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