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Target Man
Author: Annie Dyer








“Can I appeal?” I was trying to keep my cool. Desperately trying to keep my cool, because I was this close to losing the minuscule amount of patience I had left.

My solicitor, Peter Walton, also known as Payoff Pete, shook his head. “I can’t get you off again, Jesse. This is as good as it’s going to get.”

“What the fuck have I been paying you for, then?” I slammed my fist down on the table, then lobbed the ashtray against the wall. I didn’t know why the fuck there was an ashtray on the table in the first place; no one could smoke inside anymore anyway.

A firm hand pressed down on my shoulder. I shrugged it off, not needing Rhys’ attempt to be calming. Rhys was my agent, and a damn good one.

“If you got off completely, we’d lose the deal with Shuu. That more than pays for you to have a driver for six months.” Rhys sat down, looking way too relaxed for an agent with a player that had just fucked up. “They don’t want a face that looks like he buys his way out of shit.”

Or rather, fucked up two months ago and couldn’t unfuck it.

“You have a six-month ban, a twenty-grand fine, and a hundred hours of community service. You had a lenient judge. If he’d supported United or City, you could’ve been looking at a suspended sentence or worse.” Payoff Pete stood up, collecting his leather cased tablet. “There’s no way you could’ve walked away with your licence. Not after last time.”

I wanted to headbutt the table, but all that would achieve would be a headache.

I was captain of my football team. I’d captained the England side for the last two internationals. I never got involved in brawls; I didn’t fuck about, keeping company with a couple of businesswomen who had no intentions of relationships or WAG status, they just liked a night full of orgasms every couple of weeks. I stayed away from controversy.

My one vice was that I was a petrol head. A speed freak. I liked super cars, and they were my one stupid splurge. I also really liked driving them—almost as much as playing football and having sex.

Speeding on a country road where the Cheshire police didn’t have too much else to worry about twice in a three-month period wasn’t a vice I could hide very well. The second of those times I’d been clocked going just over a hundred. That made me a bad boy.

Thankfully, the media was too caught up in another football scandal involving a couple of high-profile players’ wives who were trying to sue each other or something. Another good reason to stay unmarried and single.

My speeding had managed a couple of paragraphs so far and would get a short write-up in the press later, which meant I’d been lucky. Really, really fucking lucky.

Only for the next six months, I couldn’t drive any of my cars. Anywhere I needed to go, someone would have to take me. Someone would always know where I’d been.

I didn’t have the two women I hooked up with come to mine. I usually went to their apartments or houses, occasionally hotel rooms. My house was out of bounds. Getting to see them without anyone other than the two of us involved would now be out of the question.

I swallowed. “Thanks, Pete.”

He nodded. “You’re welcome. If I’d tried to get you off, Jesse, it would’ve hit the press. This was the best I could do. My advice — when you get your licence back, don’t fucking speed. Go hire a racetrack for a day and blow off that way.”

I wasn’t going to thank him for that advice.

Pete left, leaving me with Rhys, who tapped at the table with his pen. I’d never seen him with anything to write on, but he always carried a pen.

“The judge has left it up to you to submit how you’re going to carry out the community service. He’s provided suggestions, but we can put forward our own because obviously litter picking in a public park is going to leave you open to being mobbed.” Rhys put his pen back in his pocket. “You have twelve months to complete, but given the season has ended, my suggestion is that you get as much done now as possible. How about the club’s summer soccer school?”

I nodded. “I can do that.” I had been looking forward to a summer of holidays: a tour around the Greek islands, ten days in Florida and a quick trip to the vineyard I was considering buying shares in, which was in the south of France. The last had involved me driving there, the first I’d already missed because I needed to attend this hearing, and the Florida jaunt was right in the middle of the summer soccer school.

Costa del Manchester it was.

Rhys nodded. That’s six hours a day for fifteen days. Ninety hours done. Ten hours at the soup kitchen and you’re done. I’ll let Pete know and he can get it passed by the judge.”

“This isn’t your first rodeo, is it?”

He laughed. “I grew up with Rowan Reeves. You have no idea how many bad outcomes I’ve negotiated him out of.”

Rowan was my teammate. This time last year he’d been in hot water after photos had been published of him getting his freak on with a random woman on a sun lounger. It was the last in a long line of incidents that almost had him transferred out of Manchester Athletic.

Rhys and Rowan were friends from school, Rowan getting a professional contract and Rhys turning one down, or so the legend had it. He’d done a degree in sports management and business and had become an agent. I’d gone on his books when my agent had retired.

“Yeah, well, he’s got Dee now.” Rowan was finally engaged to the sweetheart of Manchester Athletic’s women’s team. He’d only had to ask her three times.

Rhys gave a short nod. “She makes my job easier. They’ve picked up a couple of nice endorsements as a couple. Maybe you should get yourself a girlfriend.” His eyes narrowed. “Maybe that might cure some of your need for speed. Get some on the regular and you might not need to lose your licence again.”

I made a noise that sounded not unlike a hybrid of a cow and a monkey that had inhaled helium. “Not going to happen.”

“Ever?” Rhys looked curious. “You’ll never do a Rowan?”

My laugh this time sounded more human. “No. Don’t need the hassle.”

Rhys shrugged. “Fair enough. Want me to drop you off somewhere?”

I nodded, wishing again that I could throw that ash tray. This would be my life for the next six months. Reliant on lifts, taxis and a professional driver, if I gave in and got one. “Nate’s, if that’s okay?”

“I’m on my way to Rowan and Dee’s, so it’s we’ll go past it.” He stood up. “It could’ve been worse, Jesse. You did the right thing, keeping it together.”

I nodded, hearing the truth in his words. There had been a good chance that the system might’ve decided to make an example of me and I’d have gotten a harsher punishment. There had been criticism when a footballer got off with a fine and ten hours of community service a couple of months back; he’d ended up having his character assassinated in the media, which had thrown up a couple of previously well-hidden skeletons, and he’d lost at least two sponsorship deals and taken a wage cut when he’d renegotiated his contract. Pete had warned me that we had to keep our heads down and not try to justify my speed or throw my bank balance at it.

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