The door closed quietly. Mike James, applying lip balm in a mirror, did not turn around.
"I know what you're doing, Mike."
Mike smiled at the image of himself in the mirror, rubbed his perfectly bald head. He took his time before answering.
Jae Crowder stood in the doorway, a look of confusion on his honest face, his muscles glowing in the soft morning light. This wasn't going as expected.
"Larkin, Harris...you're injuring Mavericks' point guards. You're trying to force the team to take you back."
Mike's head turned on the axis of his neck, sinuous, like a snake, a perfectly framed smile curving the corners of his cheeks. "You sure you want to do this, Jae?" he said, a cold cheerfulness infusing his words like tomato-pesto.
Crowder rubbed the back of his hand across his suddenly sweating brow, somehow missing a rebound AND a three-point shot while doing so. "It isn't right, Mike! Your time is over!"
Mike took a step towards the much larger player. "Something's over," he agreed, pleasantly. A shiver ran a wind-sprint down Crowder's spine.
"Wait...Derek Fisher..YOU were the one who convinced him to leave! How long have you been plotting, you monster?!?!"
"Very good, Jae. There are many ways to make a man...miss his family."
Mike was close now, his face nearly level with Jae's chest. "And to answer your second question, longer than you've been alive." He smelled of lilacs and Ben-gay. Jae wanted to turn away, but knew, somehow, that it would be death.
"Watch yourself Jae," Mike whispered, a missed turnaround clanging off the flaming rim of Jae' s mind, his frightened smile. "I killed Shane Larkin. No one is safe."
That night, Crowder turned his ankle against the Summer League Warriors, then watched helplessly from the bench as DJ Stephens took a serious tumble. The message was clear, but so was the necessity. Crowder would be silent, but he'd be watchful, too. Patient and watchful. Patient and careful. Very careful. Or...
The rain dripped off the roof of the Thomas and Mack Center, filling the desert with creeping dread. Mike James' face in the clouds above, reminding the world what Vegas so often reminds it: There'd better be a god. Because the Devil is real.