CHAT 8 – DEANO TO JOEY
DEANO: S’up little bro?
JOEY: Hanging w/strippers, sipping Dom. The usual.
DEANO: I saw those pics from Tampa, dude. Might want to slow down a bit.
JOEY: What? And disappoint the fans of the Looch? Ruin his reputation? Not gonna happen.
DEANO: yeah, well, *the looch* can be kind of a dick.
JOEY: love you, too, bro. 😘
DEANO: I’m just tryna look out for ya.
JOEY: I know. & I appreciate it. But I’m great, I promise. Gotta go. Candy and Tiffany are starting w/out me.
DEANO: 🍆 🍆🍆
Liam sighed and swiveled back and forth on his desk chair. “I don’t know why you think I can make him do anything,” he said to Gina’s image on his computer screen.
Six other faces stared out at him from smaller boxes in the corner. What Liam had been calling ‘the Joey situation’ must have been getting serious if they had all managed to coordinate a time to talk to him. He glanced again at the tweet displayed on his second monitor.
The tweet had originated from some random guy, but had a few thousand retweets by the time Liam had seen it. He’d never really gotten the hang of social media—not the way the young guys did. The only reason he’d even seen this one was because every single one of the gang had sent it directly to him.
The post contained three blurry photos of Joey, all taken on the night they’d been in Tampa. Liam knew it was that night because Joey was still wearing his pirate costume.
The first one showed him next to Snoop Dogg behind a DJ setup. Glasses and bottles littered the area and scantily-clad men and woman crowded the stage. In the second one, Joey was passed out on a sofa in some red-curtained room. In the third, Joey leaned heavily against a very large African-American man in a suit. The guy practically had his arms around Joey.
“He worships the ground you walk on,” Sophia said. “He always has. You’re the only one he might listen to.”
“What’s he been saying about what’s up with him?” Deano asked. Tampa was his home base. He’d told the gang that he’d heard a bunch of stories about how Joey could barely walk and had been alone with some guy in the VIP room.
Liam reached for the Joey Luciano Funko doll which Joey had given him as a joke last Christmas. The four-inch tall vinyl doll barely resembled Joey. It wore his uniform, had his name and number on the back, but without Joey’s trademark smile it didn’t come close to capturing the real thing. Liam stared into the toy’s big blank eyes as he shook it gently back and forth, something he’d often wanted to do to the real Joey.
“He hasn’t said anything to me,” Liam said. “It’s not like we talk that much.” He knew he sounded defensive. Maybe he hadn’t called Joey that often, but it wasn’t as if Joey had been burning up his phone either.
“Damn Judy, that’s cold,” Patrick said. “Is this going to be a pattern with you? Fuck him, then ditch him?”
Every single one of them laughed before he could finish the sentence. Goddamn it, family sucked sometimes. There were no secrets, and nothing was off limits.
“Bathroom doors aren’t sound-proof,” Gina said with a lift of one eyebrow.
“I was going to say I didn’t ditch him. I’ve texted. The phone works both ways, you know.”
“Wow,” Angie, the next oldest O’Reilly sibling, chimed in. “You sounded just like Dad there.” She sat in her favorite chair in her comfy living room. She, Kellen, and their three kids lived in a suburb about forty minutes away (depending on traffic) from the O’Reilly ancestral home. She claimed it was the perfect distance. Close enough for visits, but not close enough to encourage unplanned drop-ins.
“Who sounds like Grandpa Bob?” a girl’s voice asked. One of Angie’s eight-year-old twin girls popped her head in front of the camera. “Hey, Uncle Liam!”
“Hi, Sweetie!” Liam prayed she would be satisfied with that vague greeting.
She wasn’t. “Ha! You don’t know which twin I am!” She laughed and pointed at the camera.
She was definitely an O’Reilly. No mistake left unmocked.
“Come closer, let me look at you.”
His niece leaned closer, her face filling the entire screen. “Hmm.” Liam rubbed his beard, pretending to think. He tilted his head. “Braids. Dark red hair. Still missing a baby tooth in front. I’m going to go with Saffron.”
“That’s not my name!” The girl rolled her eyes at him. That meant it was Jasmine. Rose, the other twin, was more shy with him and would have covered her mouth and giggled.
“Dandelion? Tulip? Geranium?”
“Uncle Liam! You know who I am.”
Jazzy was starting to look upset so he took pity on her. “Of course I know you. You’re my beautiful and talented niece Jasmine. How you doing, peanut?”
“Mom says you have a really nice house in Seattle. Can we come visit? Do you have a pool? Do you have a dog? Can we get a dog?”
Liam laughed. “Yes, you come and visit. Yes, I have a pool and it’s right on the beach. No. No dogs. I’m not home enough to have a dog.”
Angie shooed her daughter away and waited until she was out of earshot. “So will you at least talk to Joey?” she asked.
“I really don’t know what you want me to say. What am I supposed to do? Yell at him? Spank him?”
Gina glowered from her small rectangle on the screen. “Sometimes I think he really could use a good spanking. I love my little brother more than anything that he can definitely be a handful.”
“Any more news on the trade to the Thunder I keep hearing about?” Patrick asked.” That would be a great idea. You could really keep an eye on him then, give him that spanking.” He laughed as if it were the funniest thing he’d heard in a while.
Liam sighed and scrubbed both hands through his hair. It was getting long, he barely had time for anything outside of hockey. He needed a haircut, he needed to get some things to the dry cleaners, and he needed some food in the house. He was getting tired of eating out all the time.
“Look, even if they did make the trade, something I have no control over at all, I can’t be Joey’s babysitter and I’m not his dad. He’s a grown-up who makes his own choices, and he’ll have to live with the consequences of those choices.”
Liam said that, but the words coach Williams had said to him about helping Joey become the man they both knew we could be, echoed in the back of his mind.
“Yeah, no,” Patrick said. “I didn’t mean it like that. But, if he did get moved out to Seattle, which would be fantastic because then maybe I’d get to see him every now and then, he could live with you. You’re bouncing around in that big house all by yourself. There’s plenty room.”
Oh holy hell. He and Joey living together, now there was a thought. That option hadn’t even crossed his mind. That was a disaster waiting to happen. “No,” he said. “That’s not going to work for me.”
“That’s a great idea, Paddy,” Deano said over Liam’s objections. The rest of the family agreed.
It was time to end this conversation before Liam said something that was really none of their business. “I’ll do what I can, okay? I’m only the assistant coach. I’m the youngest person behind the bench and the newest on the team. I have no power to make any kind of decisions like that. If it wasn’t for Andy, I wouldn’t even I have this job, and you guys know it. I’m hanging on by the skin of my teeth.”
“Don’t say that,” Angie said. “Yeah, Andy is your friend, but there’s no way he would have hired you if he didn’t think you could do the job.”
Patrick nodded as he bounced a mini hockey puck off the blade of a toy stick. “All I’ve been hearing is good things about you. I think half the time the guys forget you’re my brother. But everybody on the Lightning who’s gone up and played with you liked working with you a lot.”
Hearing that made Liam feel a little bit better, but he wasn’t going to put too much weight behind the words unless they came from Andy or the people above him. Let the GM make him an offer for next year, then he would believe he was doing a good job.
“Ok. I’ll reach out to Joey. And I’ll talk to the coach. That’s the best I can do. I can’t go over his head, but I’ll put in a good word for Joey.”
“And call him,” Gina said her broad Boston accent thickening with concern. “He’s a good boy. I don’t know what’s going on with him right now, but I don’t like it.”
“I’ll call him. I promise.” After ten minutes of goodbyes and last-minute reminders about birthdays, anniversaries, and potential summer plans, Liam disconnected the call. He’d talk to the coach tomorrow.
As a coach, Liam spent more time in the locker rooms and offices than he had as a player. Since Andy liked to be at the office by seven-thirty in the morning, Liam liked to be in the office by six-thirty, so he could get in a workout and be mentally prepared for the day. He liked the quiet time alone in the exercise room.
After a quick shower, he would fire up his laptop and go over the clips the video coordinators had put together over night. He’d view the Thunder’s previous game and the games of the clubs that had been assigned to him for advance scouting.
Players started rolling in at around eight-thirty or nine for the eleven o’clock morning practice. They would eat breakfast, chat with the doctor and physical therapists. Work out, maybe get a massage, or therapeutic soak in the hot tub before getting dressed to hit the ice.
Liam liked to take the time to grab some breakfast and his third cup of coffee and talk casually with the players, get an impression how they were feeling about the upcoming game and listen to whatever concerns they had.
Andy held a team meeting each day about an hour before practice, and then the coaching staff and players split up to work on whatever individual skills and drills they had agreed on earlier. After practice, players hit the workout room again for a cooldown on the stationary bikes or whatever their preferred method was.
Andy and Liam would meet with whatever media was scheduled for that day, and then Andy would put in a call to GM for a few minutes to talk about the lines and any injuries or callups that needed to be made. Though it wasn’t technically his job, Andy actively encouraged Liam to sit in on these discussions. Part of the job was figuring out who would be dressing for the game later that evening.
Not all of the players on the team would be on the ice tonight. They were twenty-three players on their active roster, not counting the men on the injured reserve list. League rules said only twenty players could be dressed for games and two of those had to be goalies. So every game, three unhappy guys landed on the healthy scratch list. Being a healthy scratch basically meant being told that you weren’t playing well enough and that someone better would be taking the ice in your place tonight. Deciding which players weren’t going to be on the ice that night was one of the worst parts of the job, and Liam was glad that he didn’t have to make that call.
It made guys feel like shit, and they skulked around the corners of the locker room and the exercise rooms in the hours before the game. The smart ones took it as a learning opportunity and worked twice as hard during those hours.
Being scratched had happened to him only twice in his career, but he remembered the exact dates and how he’d felt in vivid detail. Angry and disappointed in himself, frustrated with having to watch the game instead of skating in it.
Since they had a home game that evening, after the team lunch, most of the guys had gone home for naps and to do whatever pregame rituals they had. The coaching staff had a break as well. Liam had spent his pacing up and down the beach behind his house, trying to figure out the best way and the best time to bring up the subject of Joey Luciano.
Now seemed like a good as time as any.
Steam hissed from the cappuccino machine as Andy made two perfect lattes. He and Liam were alone in the team rooms in Seattle’s Key Arena. “I should have been a barista,” Andy joked.
“Thanks,” Liam said as Andy handed him one of the coffee cups. “I was wondering if you’d heard any more about the possibility of Luciano coming over to us?”
Andy’s long silence was not encouraging. He took a sip of his coffee and nodded his head for Liam to follow him down the hallway to the office. “Shut the door,” he said. “I gotta tell you right now Semerad isn’t too thrilled about the possibility.”
Hank Semerad, the GM, had called Liam at Christmas to get Liam’s opinion on Joey.
“Your boy’s not doing himself a lot of favors right now.” Andy opened up some files on his computer with the click of a mouse. One file held Joey’s stats for the season. The second folder was filled with various social media posts and news articles about Joey’s behavior.
Liam took a sip of his coffee, giving himself a moment to gather his thoughts. It certainly didn’t look good when compiled like that, but he knew that was only part of the story. “Yeah, I know. But there’s more to him than his media presence. I think something is going on with him, and I’d like to get to the bottom of it.”
Andy looked skeptical.
Through the closed door, Liam could hear the rest of the coaching staff going through their prep, and the rumbling voices of the players as they filtered in. Someone was going to be looking for them any second.
“I won’t take up much of your time,” Liam said. “I don’t know if it will make any difference, but I very strongly believe that Joey would be a great addition to this team, and I’m willing to take personal responsibility for him. If Joey screws up, you can fire me.”
Andy raised his eyebrows and rubbed his ear as he stared at the screen. “You don’t have a contract for next year yet, do you?”
Liam shook his head no.
“And Luciano’s a restricted free agent at the end of the season?”
“Unrestricted,” Liam corrected. Under the most recent collective bargaining agreement, a player was considered an unrestricted free agent when their contract expired if they were at least twenty-seven years old or had at least seven years playing. Though being an unrestricted free agent meant that Joey and his agent were free to meet with any team to discuss potential contracts, it also meant there was a minuscule possibility that Joey would not have a position by the beginning of the next season. What was more likely was that his off ice behavior and bad reputation would drive his asking price way down.
“You feel that strongly about it?” Andy swiveled in his chair to look directly at Liam. “I’m asking this as your friend, not as your boss. Do you really think Joey can pull himself together? Are you willing to risk your reputation on that belief?”
Liam took a deep breath, held it, and then met his old friend’s gaze square on. “I do. I really do.”
Andy searched his face for a second, then nodded, apparently satisfied with what he saw there. “Okay, then. I’ll back you on this play. Next time I talk to Semerad, I’ll put in a good word for Luciano.”
It was the best Liam could have hoped for. “Thank you,” he said. “Who knows if it will even happen?”
“You know this game, you and Luciano might find out same time I do. No one ever knows what’s going on.”