"The Darkness and Malcone"
by Kevin Miller
"How long have I been at this? Jesus, I’ve been doing this for, let me see here…" He looked up at the ceiling in search of the answer. "Probably fifteen years now."
"Fifteen years?" said the detective, a single brow raised. "That’s a long time for any job."
"Well, how long you been a detective, (cough) Detective…?"
"It’s Brownstone. I’ve been a part of the police force for thirty-five years and I’ve been in Missing Persons for ten."
Now it was his turn to raise some brows, "Thirty-five years. Heh. Now that’s a long time for a job, if you ask me. Fifteen years ain’t nothing at all compared to you Detective Brownstone."
"Maybe so," He leaned back, his hands drumming on the arms of his chair. He wanted to create a comfortable environment when dealing with investigations like this: it’s important to let the suspect feel at ease. "I only say that fifteen years is a long time, Mr. Malcone, because I have to admit I’m not quite sure what your kind of job entails. Fifteen years at a job that has some fuzzy details--now that’s a long time."
"I’m a talent scout, basketball mainly," Mr. Malcone leaned back as well to match the detective’s posture. "That’s what I put on my form and that’s what I told you twenty minutes ago."
"Nah, I don’t work for the Blazers."
"The whole NBA or a college then perhaps?"
"Let’s just say that my employer is not the one under fire right now, Detective. I’m just here to answer your questions honestly, not to provide you with my life story."
Cool customer, the Detective thought with a smile; right, let’s hear some of this honesty then.
"Alright, Mr. Malcone, I understand. A man has got to keep to his own. So why don’t you start by telling me something about the very reason you were called in today: you are aware as to why we called you in, am I right?"
"Sure, Detective, you’re wondering about that Darkness kid I saw up in Northeast, yeah? You know his real name?"
"No I don’t. Not quite sure the kid’s real to be honest. What is it?"
"Hell if I know," Mr. Malcone grimaced. "I only met him once."
"Alright, that’s fine, I’m starting to think this is all a hoax anyhow. You wouldn’t believe how many false starts we get around this office."
"It’s not a hoax and this kid ain’t no runaway," said Mr. Malcone, still grimacing, "the kid may be called the Darkness, but I saw him, Detective; I can guarantee you that."
"Ok. Fill me in on the details then."
"Alright, so here’s the deal. It’s my job to follow tips, you know? You ever watch basketball or anything related to the great sport itself, Detective? (he shakes his head in reply) No? Ok well, lemme fill you in on something. There’s one thing most of these professional ballplayers do lot of: they talk. There’s two types: the ones that love runnin’ their mouths off and hearing themselves talk, and the ones that get a microphone shoved in their faces forcing them to speak. Believe it or not, my job is to listen to all of these guys, whether they want to talk or not, and find out one single real deal: Do they know of even better ballplayers that grew up around them? Did they ever play with a guy that ripped up the playground that no one’s ever heard of? Who is he and where’s he been hiding all these years? Is he really any good?"
"Alright, I’ll bite." said the Detective, "You find a lot of decent ballplayers this way?"
"Next to never, Detective," he said, shaking his head, "You know how I said that it breaks down into two types of NBA talkers? Well after that it just gets worse. It keeps dwindling down into more empty categories. When a player mentions an unknown great player from his barrio, block, hood, local Y, or whatever, I go into detective-mode myself, you see, and I usually come up with these results: A) the player may have been great at one point, but now he’s carrying around a keg of beer in his belly and he’s got five little tykes-in-tow, you know? Or B) The player just wasn’t or isn’t that good. A lot of them are too raw for the pros: they don’t have that team mentality, or they lack the necessary refined skills to succeed in a league built on rules, plays and sets. C) Their attitude just isn’t in the right place. They spend half their time thinking that they play great ball and then the other half talking and fighting over the fact that they think they play great ball. You get what I’m saying here, Detective? ("There’s some punks.") Right. There’s just too much ego there for anybody to take a risk on. My job is to find the truth. Anyways, then there’s D) the rumored great player is dead or in jail. This is more common than anyone would hope. Also, there’s E) the player’s got a great attitude, some quality skills and you can see that he was once a top player…but I get there 10 years too late. All of the results, A, B, C, D, E and so on, are just the tip of the iceberg, Detective. As you can see, my job is a complicated one, and the success of it depends on me avoiding all of these scenarios and not following too far on a bad lead."
"So what does all of this have to do with the Darkness?" The Detective was now convinced that this was a hoax call, and that this Mr. Malcone didn’t have anything to do with it, but he didn’t have much to do that day anyhow. Kidnappings came too few and far between. "What was the problem with the Darkness? Why isn’t he playing for the league right now, instead of having his name on my to-do list here?"
"You know that last kind of player I mentioned? Option E?--the washed-up great player? I went to watch one of those guys play one night up in Northeast. It was a strange address, not a court that I was used to, but as a known hoops talent scout, I’m never afraid for my safety or anything like that. No one wants to damage their chances for playing in the big leagues, you know? And besides, Portland isn’t a rough enough town anyhow. So anyways, I get out to this court at midnight up in the Northeast like I said and it’s one of those private secret courts. ("What do you mean?") I mean like it’s not attached to any sort of private property, but it’s got real high fences topped off with barbwire and it’s all blocked out from outside viewers by thick ol’ ivy and bushes and trees, you name it--a real foliage nightmare, you know? But so I enter the court, which has a security guard and everything, and I see some normal hoop action going on: a bunch of dark-skinned brothers with their shirts off jawing at their defenders, a couple of tough-looking big white dudes with their skull tattoos trying to pick a fight with anything that comes within 2 feet of them, and really just every baller, fake or not, that falls somewhere in between all those options I listed off earlier: you know, A, B, C, D, E and the rest. They’re all there. Now these guys all know that I’m a professional scout and they know that I’m coming to check out some potential pro talent. So when they finally notice that I’ve walked in and taken a seat courtside, the game begins to change immediately. Everyone is dead quiet. No more jawing at each other or trying to pick fights over every foul call. No more passing the ball around the horn or lazy, half-ass defense. Every move anyone makes out there is designed to impress me, whether it’s a dribble drive into a fade away jumper, a pretty dish off a triple team under the hoop, or a semi-clean pick out at the half-court line. It’s kinda funny really, Detective, cuz there’s just like this unmentionable fact that I’m there and that they’ve got to clean up their game if they want to impress me. This is their chance to make it in the big leagues, you know? The big money, the big house, the fast women, the fast cars, this is it."
"So when did you notice the Darkness?"
"He wasn’t in the game when I sat down. He hadn’t even showed up yet. I’d been watching my sorta washed-up guy play for about 15 minutes (he made some pretty moves around the hoop and was hitting all his open 3 balls), while I was also taking note of some potential players around him like this real quick guard with great court vision--no jumper though--and some big fella with a bit of soft touch around the rim--he looked as dumb as an ox however--when all of the sudden the game changed because of something going on over at the entrance. The players didn’t stop playing, but I could see them all checking out some commotion out of the corner of their eyes. I followed their eyes and saw there was an older gray-haired grizzly bear type talking to the security guy and pointing to someone I could barely see behind him. The security guy was obviously not happy about something and he looked a few times in my direction. I played nonchalant. This was a common thing for me, you know? Sometimes they won’t let certain players play in front of me because they are connected to gangs or because they are too terrible to be bothered with or because they’ll cause too much crap without caring that I’m there, you see? Eventually, though, the guard lets the old burly man and the other character pass by and I see right away that there isn’t much there to fear; the old man’s companion is a young man, maybe 18 years old, and as black as they come. He didn’t look threatening at all, only maybe a bit too young to be playing with these street-court vets, so I didn’t care too much after the man and boy took a seat down the bench from me."
"And was the boy or the old man the Darkness?" asked the detective.
"Obviously the boy. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘the Darkness’ was the kid’s real name; he was as pitch black as tar, Detective. I mean, there wasn’t an ounce of brown in him. He was the opposite of albino white. He was like a black panther but with ("Yeah, I got it, Mr. Malcone"), right. But so anyways, the game eventually ends and it becomes apparent that the kid is gearing up to play in the next game. After some discussion between a few of the players that were obviously in charge of the court, I see what looks to be some foul play going on: they gave the black kid all of the worst players on the floor. The quick guard, the big ox, and my sorta washed-up baller all got on the opposite squad, mixed with a few other potentials and they left the kid with basically nothing. I know ‘cruelty’ when I see it, Detective, and this looked just plain ‘cruel.’ I was not impressed. I figured they were stacking up their team just so they could show off for me, you know? I hated when players did this deliberate nonsense just to make sure they didn’t look bad in front of the scout. It was rubbish."
"But?" said the detective, sensing there was something more to the story.
"But," Malcone took a deep breath, "I was proven wrong. It was the craziest thing I’d ever seen. First play of the game, the other players feed the ball to the kid out on the wing and he just blows right past the little quick guard and hammers a windmill dunk literally on top of the big ox’s face. I’d never seen anything like it. And the most effed up part of it all was that there wasn’t any jeering, cheering or hopping around. Not a single chest-bump or any of that junk I usually see after that kind of nasty business. This was obviously commonplace with this kid. I had jumped out of my seat when it happened and let out a little squeal of surprise. I couldn’t help it."
"So he was pretty good then?" asked Brownstone.
"He wasn’t just pretty good, Detective. He was hands-down the best player I’d ever witnessed. Laugh if you want, but Lebron, Kobe, Jordan, none of those guys had or have what I saw in this kid in a few hours. (the detective didn’t laugh) I watched him play for ten straight games before everyone just got fed up and left. And in those ten games, he never made a single mistake, not a single turnover, no missed shots and no defensive miscues. He literally embarrassed the game of basketball itself. He made an absolute mockery of it. Fadeaway three-pointers from near half-court with three guys on him? Swish. No look behind-the-back passes to a wide open man 30 feet away? Got ‘em. Dunk after dunk after dunk over anyone that got in his way? Yoinkers. It was madness."
"So then you signed him, yeah?"
"Well…" Mr. Malcone fidgeted slightly in his seat. "I tried."
"What do you mean you tried?"
"I talked to the old grizzly bear of a gentlemen sitting nearby. I said to him, ‘that your son out there?’ and he says, ‘nope.’ So I asked, ‘you a friend of his then?’, still a stoic ‘nope.’ ‘What’s his name?’ I ask, undeterred of course since I knew this would be the prize find that would make my career, ‘the Darkness’ this old man says back. ‘He play for someone?’ I was praying to the Lord Almighty that he didn’t. If he did, then that meant he was already discovered and that I would have some hard bargaining to do. The kid looked at least eighteen though and so I figured he was still under the radar since I had never heard of him and sure as hell would have seen him by then. ‘Can I talk with him?’ I asked the old man. ‘Nope. He don’t talk.’---this was a bunch of bull, I knew; like I said, every ballplayer talks in some way or another, whether they want to or not. I was persistent, ‘well then, can I write him something?’ I asked, and again, ‘nope, he don’t read neither.’"
"Sounds like a surly old grizzly bear, for sure." said the detective.
"Yeah, that’s what I figured too. But then after I let the kid and the old man go--since I imagined I would find them somehow sooner or later--I talked with the washed-up baller about the kid and he told me this, ‘the kid is dumb, man, honestly dumb. He can’t speak or hear nothing. We’ve proved it with all sorts of street tests, you know? Firecrackers, guns, screaming, anything trying to ignite at least some angry yelping out of the boy, anything. It won’t work. The old man goes with him wherever he goes and he just mops the floor with anything that moves, you know? The kid is frightening to play against. They don’t call him the Darkness for the color of his skin, man, they call him the Darkness cuz he just sucks the life right out of the game. What are you supposed to do against a kid that can drain fade away jumpers from half court? I’ve been playing here for ten years, man, and that kid comes out here twice a year or so, and I tell you what, I’ve never seen him miss a shot. As far as legends go, man, that kid is it.’" Mr. Malcone stopped, looking lost in his own mind.
"So? That’s it? You didn’t go chase the kid down and wear down the old man into signing him onto the league?"
"What do you mean ‘No’? You said that this kid could make your career!"
"He’s not worth it."
"Detective, I don’t work for the NBA. I don’t work for any of its teams. I’m a very specific kind of scout."
"What kind is that?"
"The kind that would kill to keep his job a secret." Malcone stared into the eyes of the detective.
Malcone laughed. "No, I wouldn’t kill ya, a good joke though eh? Let’s just say that my employer would get no use from a kid like that, you know what I mean?"
"No, I don’t. Can you be a little more specific?"
"My washed-up player said it all really. The kid would kill the life of the game. No one would want to play against that beast. It would be unfair, like self-destructive, you know?"
"No, I don’t see it."
"I’m not going to pursue it. I love the game of basketball and I wouldn’t do that to it." Malcone rose from his seat and smoothed over his tie. "Ok, well, anyways, thank you for listening to my story, Detective Brownstone. I hope someday you’ll find that poor missing child." He left the room with a smile and a ‘have-a-good-day’ nod of the head.
The detective frowned and drummed his fingers on the arms of his chair one more time. "Roger," he said to his lieutenant after Malcone was out of sight.
"Have someone keep tabs on Malcone."
"The guy you just talked with? Why?"
"I don’t know. I’m bored, that’s why. Go get me a cup of coffee."
"You hate coffee."
"Well, I like it now. Pick me up some of Jordan’s highlights too while you’re at it."
"Yes sir, Detective."
Selected for publication as part of the Rufus on Fire Basketball Fiction Contest