A knife flashed towards his head and time slowed down, refracting off the shimmering blade like his whole life spread out like a map, like a long tendon of night.
In the century of the next second Roddy Beaubois moved like a bolt of lightning.
He ducked, threw an elbow into someone's solar plexus, took another in the head with a whirling roundhouse, the dance of death. Dodged a broken half-beer bottle slashing for his cheek, felt his thudding fists cracking a rib or two, in the darkness. Then they were all down.
Roddy breathed and bled, breathed and bled. Silence, at last. Another night over.
The Next Day. Post-game.
"Hey Boobs, we're going to Denny's, you coming?"
Roddy, sitting at his locker, looked up, flashed a quick smile. "Sorry mes amis," he said, "I should work on my jumper a bit, no?". Dirk smiled, affectionate. Those were the good days. "Practice as much as you want, you'll never catch me, Frenchie."
They left, the whiff of cologne and starched shirts mixing with the smell of sweat and victory in the humid room.
Once they were gone-once he was sure they were gone-- Roddy put on the mask and walked out into the darkness
When he'd first come to America from peaceful Guadeloupe, he'd been shocked at what he'd seen. Crime. Injustice. Violence. At first, he tried to ignore it, tried to focus on his game. But somehow, sometime after that famous Golden State game he just couldn't do it. It got into him like a virus and he just couldn't let it pass, not and look himself in the mirror. Basketball was an empty life, meaningless. Better the short, sharp violence of risking it all to make this world better. Better trying, and dying, than nothing.
It happened gradually. But it happened. And then, when the games were over, he became...The Frenchman. Using skills cribbed from the Guadeloupe Shaolin who had raised him, he became a thing of the darkness. And the world got a little better, bit by bit, every night he made his rounds.
Night scrapes. Early morning tussles on cold rooftops. They took their toll, how could they not? Showing up to games exhausted, unshowered, sleepwalking through practices.
One night Carlisle called him into his office. Roddy had expected to get the axe, knew he deserved it, but Carlisle surprised him. Sat him down, told him he knew what he was doing. "And I support it," he said. Roddy was shocked.
"God knows this dirty world needs it," Carlisle continued, looking out the window, speaking softly, almost to himself. "Needs a real bath, a cleansing. A dark judgment. A fiery purge. An inquisition of souls. An evil barbeque. The fiery fist of an angry god, wiping this putrid planet off the..." He shook himself. "But I'm worried about your basketball career, Rod. Not just for the team. For you. You can't be a vigilante forever."
"Coach," he began, searching for the words. "Coach..."
Carlisle heaved a heavy sigh. "I know, Roddy."
"I'll die, coach. So much evil. And me doing nothing. I'll die..."
"I know. I know. Okay, Roddy. Just...see if you can find some balance, alright?"
He tried. And for a while it worked. Then had come that awful night, in August 2010. They jumped him in broad daylight. He took them out, of course he did, he was an immaculate fighting machine. But not before he broke his foot, kicking one of them in the face so hard there was barely any nose left. The doctor told him he'd miss six months of the season.
He'd gotten too big. Too noticeable. He knew he'd made mistakes.
"Roddy's been injured practicing with the French National Team," Carlisle told the press, and he sounded annoyed. But if you looked close, you could see he'd been weeping.
Time passed and eventually he hit the court again but it wasn't the same. The nights grew larger, darker, longer, eating at his life, hollowing it like a cored apple until there was nothing left. He couldn't concentrate at practices, learn the plays, he was too tired. His girlfriend left him, then his jumpshot. The injuries mounted.
He had to make it look plausible, and it was excruciating. He'd take a kick from a gang that broke a bone in his foot and have to run out on the court to fake rolling his ankle instead. Running around to fake rolling an ankle on a broken foot? They'd never know what that took from him.
He became known as "injury prone" which made him laugh. Are you "prone" something you go looking for every night?
Standing on a Dallas rooftop in the middle of July, he felt cold. He knew it was nearly over.
It wasn't too long, less than a year, before Carlisle called him in again. Roddy felt like he hadn't slept in a week and all of his muscles ached. He'd even grown a facial hair.
"The Yakuza know," Carlisle said, and that was that. "They know what you're doing. You have to get out of town, start a new life. I know you can't stop, but you have to start over."
Roddy smiled. "It is a good thing I've been awful at basketball lately, eh?"
Carlisle tried to smile, a lump in his throat. "You were the best, Roddy. The very best."
Just like that, he was gone. The Mavs announced that he was looking for other opportunities. They didn't say why.
To thee I pledge my life, my mid-range game, my sacred honor Roddy whispered to the moon, the only one awake on the train taking him out of town. My father was right. A man can only give everything to one woman. Oh well, oh well. I've made my choice.
He smiled to himself. C'est la vie.
The rooftops called, the night howled. Somewhere else. Roddy Beaubois was gone.
The Frenchman lives on.