The Abduction(6)

By: Mark Gimenez


The other dads were running onto the field and bear-hugging their daughters. But not her dad. Sometimes, like this time, Gracie wanted him to be more like a dad and less like a big brother who played Nintendo with her and took her and Sam to Krispy Kreme every Saturday morning and giggled until it hurt when Mom caught them throwing water balloons from the balcony off her bedroom at Ronnie and the other boys rollerblading down the sidewalk, and whose worst threat of punishment was to eBay her. Just once, she wanted him to be a real father, to scoop her up and bear-hug her like he hadn’t seen her in years—to be her grownup manly DAD, for Pete’s sake! She looked for him.

“Stupid, stupid rat creatures! Lou, you tell those brain-damaged bagbiters I’ll take my IPO and go home!”

A shrill whistle interrupted John R. Brice’s rant. He glanced over to see the girls formatting themselves in a linear sequence in the middle of the field while the parents were forming parallel lines and joining hands overhead to configure an arch. Cripes, the victory arch, a post-game protocol that required social engineering, interpersonal contact with the other parents. John was thinking, Maybe I’ll give it a miss this week, when he spotted Gracie giving him the eye and gesturing for him to get out there! Beam me up, Scotty. He much preferred interfacing with AI systems over liveware, not that he was antisocial in the extreme; he was just uncomfortable (Elizabeth would say inept) when exchanging content in an offline mode, like most hackers who had spent the vast majority of their lives interacting with a cathode ray tube rather than with human beings. Part of the firmware.

He sighed and said to the phone, “Time out, Lou … the arch thing.”

John jogged over and joined camcorders and cell phones overhead with a GQ dude who was everything John was not: tall, handsome, Hollywood hair, athletic build, wearing a starched white shirt, a stylish tie knotted like he knew how, and a beeper clipped to his belt—a college jock upgraded to real estate, no doubt. Another football dad.

“Great game, huh?” the dude said through outstretched arms.

“Yeah, great.”

“Who’s your girl?”

John sighed again. He never missed Gracie’s games, and he couldn’t help but enjoy himself, his daughter the star player, particularly since he had never been much of an athlete himself. Fact is, he was so lame at sports that back in grade school the girls were picked for the recess teams before he was. Little Johnny Brice. He was ten years old before he realized Little wasn’t his first name. Fast forward twenty-seven years and now Little Johnny Brice was standing in the middle of a soccer field across a victory arch from one of those guys who was picked first for every recess team and the dude’s asking him who his daughter is and his daughter is the best athlete on the field but he doesn’t want to tell this room-temperature-IQ lamer that because he knew all too well what was coming next. John braced himself.

“Number nine,” he said.

“Gracie?”

The dude’s thick eyebrows shot up, and he looked John up and down with that familiar bemused smile.

“Gracie’s your daughter?”

It wasn’t the first time John had suffered that bemused smile at one of Gracie’s games. Point of fact, it had become an every game thing ever since the football dads started attending the girls’ soccer games. Five years ago when Gracie had first started playing soccer, John had been the only dad at the games, the football dads no doubt thinking, What’s the point if the girls can’t even hit each other? But now, Elizabeth had informed him, federal law required gender equality in college sports, so girls were getting scholarships to play soccer, softball, volleyball, and just about every sport but football. And that had brought the football dads to their girls’ soccer games like sleazeware to cyberspace: Suzie might not be able to play middle linebacker at the University of Texas, but if her soccer skills could save dear old daddy tuition and room and board for four years, he’d dang sure make her games.

Problem was, these high-testosterone dads brought their football instincts with them to the soccer field, yelling and screaming and getting into fistfights with other dads whose daughters were trying to steal Suzie’s scholarship. The quest for college scholarships had turned youth soccer into a ruthless competition among the parents. So John always stayed to himself down the sideline and never commingled with the other dads, except for the post-game victory arch and the inevitable bemused smile. After next week’s game, John R. Brice would throw his narrow shoulders back, look the dude straight in the eye, and say, Dang right, she’s my daughter! And I’m a freaking billionaire!—a response guaranteed to wipe that bemused smile off his smug face. But this week Little Johnny Brice just shrugged.

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