In 1994, I had a short story published in a journal that no longer exists, the fate of virtually all my published works. I’ve decided to reboot it here instead of allowing its yellowing pages to languish unread in my drafty garret’s file cabinet. It’s a silly story, a mash up parody of sports fiction a la Boys Life magazine and Harlequin Romances.
So, as they say, without further ado.
The Harlequin Globetrotters
Although Skylark Keats despised Catrina Piedmont with all the hot fury of his competitive passion, she nevertheless fascinated him by being a devastatingly beautiful woman yet the pickiest basketball official that he had ever encountered. Throughout the first half, as he bounded up and down the court, Skylark could feel her eyes on him, surveying all six feet eleven inches of his muscle-ripped frame, searching eagerly for the slightest infraction so she could blow the whistle on him. In fact, this was the first time all night that he had been at the foul line. The other ref had called the opposing center for delivering a blatant karate chop on Skylark’s right wrist as he lofted a jumper that somehow had found its mark. Catrina had had a clear view of the play, yet her whistle, nestled in her beautiful full lips, remained unblown.
As Skylark’s hand gently cupped the circumference of the ball, his fingertips encountered gooseflesh, the grain of the leather seeming to prickle in anticipation. His brown almond-shaped eyes narrowed as they focused on the hoop that hovered ten feet away. If he could sink this free throw, the Globetrotters would even the score.
“We would be up by ten,” Skylark thought, “if it weren’t for that female ref.”
Determined not to let her rattle him, he cocked his elbows, then catapulted the ball in a soft, graceful arc that culminated in the sweet swish of success, the sound of petticoats rustling. Seconds later, with the score knotted at 69, the buzzer ended what had been a frenetic, high-scoring half of basketball.
As he lumbered towards the locker room, Skylark cursed himself for desiring to feast his eyes on Catrina’s delicious smorgasbord of feminine allure. A trace of her appeared in the outskirts of his legendary peripheral vision, and he felt the muscles of his neck surrender to temptation as he turned to face her, to encounter those intelligent sea-green eyes fringed with sable lashes. Catrina’s petulant mouth quivered as she met his gaze, and as her sensuous lips parted, the whistle they had caressed fell across breasts that heaved, straining against the taut black-and-while stripes of her jersey.
“Ha,” Skylark thought, fighting off the ferocious dogs of desire that hounded him, “she winded. There’s no woman who can keep up this pace for two halves. I’ll pick up the tempo in the second half. She’ll keel over, and we’ll get an alternative ref, a male, someone who isn’t so doggone onery.
Coach Krings’ kindly but faded blue eyes crinkled concern as the players huddled around the green chalkboard of the locker room. The tapping of the chalk on the slate sounded like an SOS as he furiously scrawled X after O. The Globetrotters had never lost a game. Not ever. And here they were struggling for their life against an unheralded two-bit college team from the Midwest. Obviously, these collegians had cut classes to ogle game films, and Coach Krings was setting up a new offense to throw them a loop. As important as he knew it was, Skylark had a hard time concentrating. He couldn’t get his mind off that female ref. He imagined her in the ladies’ room sponging her hot alabaster flesh with a water-soaked sponge, first daubing the high cliffs of her cheekbones, then down the face of her collarbone, ever so slowly sliding between her pert, rose-tipped-
“Keats, what in the heck is the matter with you. Pay attention!”
The fantasy burst, and Skylark was back in the locker room facing the crumpled brow of a frustrated Coach Krings.
“I don’t know, Coach. It’s that female ref. She’s thrown me off balance. She’s calling every picky ol’ thing.”
“Keats, I’ve noticed, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”
“What if we cranked it up a notch?” Skylark suggested. “I mean what if we were to really go all the way? We’d wear her out. I mean she’d be so exhausted she couldn’t muster enough wind to rattle her whistle.”
“You know,” Coach Krings mused, “you just might have something there.”
And what a second half it turned out to be. The Globetrotters and the Battling Baptists traded baskets in a frenzied orgy of slam dunks and three pointers. Ten – count ‘em – ten wide-shouldered torsos tapering into flat stomachs, slender hips, and long muscular legs galloping back and forth across the court like gladiators engaged in a life-or-death struggle, and right smack dab in the middle, Catrina Piedmont, matching the men step-for-step, her body bathed in perspiration, her referee’s jersey soaked, clinging seductively to the rise and fall of her luscious curves.
This was a heart-wrenching game for Katrina. For years she had been in love with Skylark Keats. Ever since he had visited her dying brother at Children’s Hospital. As the years rolled by, she followed Skylark’s career and sought vicariously to be near him by taking up basketball as a hobby, a hobby that soon became an obsession. At college, she got her feet wet reffing intramural games. She loved it – the power and the glamor – but above all, she sought to excel, and that meant being in superb physical shape, concentrating with all her penetrating mental prowess, and above all, being absolutely, incorruptibly impartial.
Quickly, after graduation, she rose to the highest echelon in the ranks of basketball officials nationwide, and now, as fate would have it, she was reffing a Globetrotters’ game. What a tug-of-war of conflicting emotions she had endured. How could she possibly be disinterested in a game in which the man she loved, the only man she would ever love, played? How could she be sure that her abiding devotion wouldn’t mist over her vision and color her split-second decisions? There was only one solution to her dilemma: She would bear down hard on Skylark to compensate for her adoration.
Catrina had prayed for a patented Globetrotter blowout, but no, that was not to be. It was nose to nose, neck and neck, breast and breast, flank and flank as the clock ticked down, from seven minutes, sliding smoothly and expertly over six minutes, down to four minutes, then to two minutes, to the very cusp of 60 seconds. Skylark was burdened with four fouls, so he played tentatively on defense, allowing the opposing point guard to dribble past him for a driving layup to put the Baptists up by one with only 24 seconds remaining.
Coach Krings called a timeout. The Globetrotters would play for the final shot. If they made it, they would win; if they didn’t, they would have lost for the first time in the history of the franchise. No telling what that would do to their revenues, most of which went to charities, to ailing little children across the country.
As Coach Krings mapped out strategy, Skylark flicked a glance Catrina’s way. Where had he seen her before? She was ever so hauntingly familiar. And so, so beautiful, so, so beautiful that he could almost forget those questionable travelling calls, those unforgiving lane violations she had charged him with.
The horn signaled the players back onto the court. Catrina held the ball in her gorgeous, delicate hands, so beautifully proportioned that it seemed a Renaissance master had painted them on the basketball.
She could not escape Skylark’s open frank gaze. She felt herself melting, but suddenly tensed, shaking off the languor. She tossed him the ball and backpedaled to get a more comprehensive view. Certainly, she could hold off for another 24 seconds her mad compulsion to stop play, take him in her arms, and force him to surrender to her throbbingly passionate yet absolutely pure love.
Stalling was something new for the world-renowned Globetrotters, yet they were gifted physical specimens, perhaps fifteen years older than their competitors, but more experienced and still lightening quick. They passed the ball with dizzying speed, whipping it around in the gravitational field of their expertise, as the seconds ticked off 12, 11, ten, nine . . .
With four seconds remaining, Martinique lofted an alley-oop rainbow pass, and Skylark broke for the basket, leaving the floor as he soared gracefully to snatch the ball and stuff it through the awaiting hoop. As he rammed home what might be the winning basket, he knew it must pay for it in a crunching collision with the defender.
He glanced down right before impact, and there she was, too, in their path, striving for the optimum vantage point. The collision produced a swirling kaleidoscope cartwheel of arms, legs, and zebra stripes as their bodies rolled across the padded out-of-bounds.
Somehow, he had ended up on top of her; the other player, knocked cold, lay by their side. Miraculously, the whistle had not been jarred from Catrina’s mouth. Would she call charging on Skylark, negating the winning basket and ending what might be the most phenomenal streak in the history of statistics?
His face hovered mere inches from hers, and as she inhaled, perhaps to blow the whistle, Skylark remembered where he had seen that face.
“You’re that little Piedmont boy’s sister,” he whispered, and no sooner than he had said it, the whistle fell harmlessly from her lips.
“Yes,” she moaned, “and I love you. I have loved you since that day. I shall always love you.”
Skylark studied her face as she uttered those words, and he saw there absolute sincerity, a sincerity that melted his own heart.
Oblivious to the hubbub that surrounded them, they allowed their lips to touch, at first tentatively, a gentle fluttering butterfly of a kiss. He knew he had to get up, but he couldn’t. He could feel her arms encircling his back, her tongue flicking across his earlobe, darting its tip into his ear. He crushed her to him and started to kiss her eagerly, his tongue exploring, then plundering the warm, wet cave of her mouth.
Swept away in absolute abandon, they surrendered to the tidal wave of their pent-up passion as the roar of the crowd surged over them like the sea.