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“And worst of all, the minute I talk to him he switches to French!” Layton added with a wave of his hands. He’d been getting more emotional with each thing he’d listed about Alfie Woods, the goalie for the Railers’ AHL affiliate team. The Rush were lucky to have him, or so Layton had begun to explain. He was an excellent goalie, with prospects, he’d added. Then he’d taken a breath and launched into an essay about how this was the fifth time photos had appeared on the internet that showed Alfie in a bad light, and the second where he was completely naked.
I waited for more, and Layton scrubbed his eyes before sighing.
“I don’t speak French, and I know you do.”
I’d seen where this conversation was heading. I can speak my native tongue, Russian, alongside excellent English, French, a fair amount of German, and had a handful of phrases I could use for most eventualities in any country I visited. That was my strength, alongside the ability to take control of a situation and make things work.
Layton knew that.
Which is why I’m now standing in the Rush’s arena, on my first day of a three-week stay, hands in my pockets, watching a practice session. I didn’t have to look hard to see the man I’d come to talk to. When I’d read his bio, Six three, two hundred pounds, it gave me a picture of someone who shouldn’t be flexible enough to move as he did. The big, dark-skinned man had a measure to his movements, a constrained speed falling into splits, and a skill that was fierce.
He was also one angry man. I listened to him shout at Taz in fierce French as he chased after the player waving his stick. Taz was laughing, which inflamed Alfie, and when they tussled, it was Taz who came off the worst when the big goalie sat on him at center ice. I waited for the whistle, and for the coaches to call Alfie off, but evidently, this was a regular occurrence because not one coach paid any attention. Alfie rolled off him, landing on his butt and laying down, laughing raucously.
“He just needs to get it out of his system,” a short, slim woman said by my side. “I’m Helen Martin, marketing,” she held out a hand, and I shook it.
“No one is stopping Alfie,” I commented, and waited for her to explain.
Just as Layton had, she sighed noisily. “He’s an amazing goalie, quick, focused, and if it wasn’t for the fact he… well… he’d be up with the Railers now or traded to another NHL team given Stan and Bryan are working so well. When he gets the anger out of his system and focuses, he’s what this team needs. It works for the Rush.” She shrugged, and I found that complacency hard to watch. There should be a rhythm to a team, a hierarchy of respect, and there wasn’t here. How much of that was due to the outgoing owner who was now languishing in jail I don’t know. But what I did know was that the coaches had to rein him in, and talented goalie or not, Alfie should listen to them.
“Hmmm,” I refused to commit to that particular summary. It clearly wasn’t working, the remainder of the team stood around watching Alfie lose his shit on the ice, laughing at him like it was all okay.
“Can I ask why the Railers sent you?” Helen wrinkled her nose at me, and I could see the defensiveness in her expression. “I had everything that Alfie did handled, sent out the press release. I followed the protocols.”
I could stand there and tell her that I outranked her, that I was here to do much more than figure out a press release and that I’d already seen areas of the team that needed fixing. I could point out that I am a fixer for all kinds of things. I didn’t do any of that.
“I’m just auditing the team dynamics,” I said, as calmly as I could, sounding almost nonchalant. “There is no reason for me to look at the marketing you are undertaking.” She visibly relaxed, believing me entirely even though I’d just told her a colossal lie.
The practice restarted, odd-man rushes to the goal, Alfie bouncing in the net, stopping most of the shots, cursing at the ones that went through. He had this habit of leaving the net when a puck got past him, skating around the net and coming back to stand ready for the next. I’d seen that before in work I’d done with two West Coast teams, goalies and their particular habits. The team moved onto close work, working on their net-front presence, Goog was the one close to Alfie, Taz the skater bringing the puck down the ice to pass to Goog.
At first, Alfie stopped the shots, and then one got through, and that was the moment it all changed. A torrent of Quebecois-French, and Goog laughing, which led to another shot getting past Alfie, which was enough for Alfie to snap.
He left the ice, smacking his stick against the wall, and I followed the trail of splintered carbon and the cursing. I was just going to observe the way the red mist descended, but he was punching the wall, and that shit was not going to continue.
“Stop!” I commanded, coming to a stop next to him.
He carried on, punching, and I grabbed him, found my center of balance and in a quick move had him pinned against the wall. He was bigger than me, but I was more in control of my emotions, and the flailing and pushing stopped after a few moments.
“Mon tabarnak j’vais te décâlisser la yeule, câlice: Décâlisser!” he yelled at my face. Telling me I was a motherfucker and he was going to beat my face in didn’t sit so well with me.
“J’m’en calice,” I said, firmly, calmly. Replying that I didn’t give a fuck in his own language shocked him, and his eyes widened. “Stop.”
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