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See Where That Old Demon Lives

June 6, 2012

I’ve started part two.  I’m trying to minimize the expository stuff, or parcel it out, to explain what all has happened to Caroline in two years.  It’s a bit difficult but I’m content to be getting the content itself down, the facts of the story that need to be there in one form or another.  I need to build the body now, and later on I can go back and fix its hair, hopefully with the help/advice of an agent or editor.  For now, it’s just good to be pushing that envelope, breaking through to the next part.

SEVEN

“We’re lucky so many team colors are red, white and blue,” Marc noted. “That’ll minimize the number of skins we have to manage.”

“It would if they were identical, but the combos are different,” Claire added. “The Giants are mostly blue, for the Patriots you really need more silver to emphasize the team identity since there’s so much in the helmets. So there’s a color percentage that varies from team to team.”

“Don’t forget the Pantone variations,” I added, pointing at the poster of NFL team logos. “If you’re a diehard fan, you’re going to notice the difference between one blue and another.” I looked at Neil, the statistician. “What did the survey say, is it worth it?”

He nodded. “The poll was offered to the most frequent visitors, and we got a really high response rate. 70% were somewhat or very enthusiastic about team skins on the site.”

“So 30% didn’t care?”

“That’s the 30% who wouldn’t care if the whole site looked shitty,” he added and we all laughed, knowing the type. “As long as the numbers are right.” The overall ugliness of most sports betting sites was still a wonder to me.

“So legal,” I asked Cherisse. “If we’re not using the logos, are we okay?”

“I think so. We could use the logos but it would cost us since we’re for-profit. I don’t know if they can claim ownership of a color. T-Mobile owns magenta, for instance, but I don’t think that’s a problem.”

“No, magenta’s not a problem in the NFL, fortunately,” I said. “Can you look into it some more?”

“I’ll get it on it now.”

“Okay. I’m going to spare us all any more meetings and emails and say let’s go ahead, if Cherisse clears it legally. Claire, you got anything going right now?”

“I’ve already started tinkering with the look and feel of the skins.” She looked at Marc. “I’m not sure if we might need to adjust some of the spacing of different elements, whether or not it’s worth it at this point.”

“Let’s try and stay away from any recoding that might screw up the site, even temporarily. It’s October, after all. Can you keep it simple enough that you’re just working with the existing white space, headers?”

“Sure. We can always go back in the spring and jazz it up more for next season.”

“Okay, everyone, that’ll do it. What was the time on that?” I asked Neil.

“Fourteen and 20,” he said, looking at the stopwatch on his phone.

“Awesome. Forty seconds to spare. Thanks all.”

When we’d started the website, Dad had declared a fatwa on all meetings longer than 15 minutes unless they were grievance airings or bull sessions. I was more than fine with that, and so were our employees, and since there were only six of us there was no call for them to be any longer.

It helped that I had executive power, along with Dad, and since it was tech, nobody cared that I was 19 years old and giving orders, since I knew what I was doing.

I always wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t put down all our website ideas on paper – if they’d gone into the phone or the computers that the law had taken when I lost Alex. Someone at some corporation somewhere, whoever ended up owning Alex, would have found a way to steal the idea, claimed it as part of the intellectual property associated with Alex. Dad had warned me not to tell Christopher, which also meant not to tell Alex, and I hadn’t.

The website was really a product of all that, in a lot of ways. I don’t really want to talk about how depressed I was when that hole opened in my life, when my only friend betrayed me and my only companion was taken away. Sometimes time heals all wounds, but sometimes the wound is like a hole that gets wider as time goes by, as if every moment you spend thinking about it, or trying not to think about it, makes it bigger – a thing that grows by becoming ever more empty, if that makes sense.

Dad saved my sanity, by refusing to let me go down with the ship. He made me go against all my natural instincts and learn enough math to help him turn our idea into a reality. Like most great ideas, it was so obvious, we couldn’t believe nobody else had thought of it. Get people to make their football picks online, just like they would every week if they were bettors or in online pick ‘em tournaments, but then, let the best pickers sell their next week’s picks to the rest of the world 20 times cheaper than the pro pickers charged. All we had to do was get a slight statistical advantage over the pros, which had involved buying an awful lot of picks over the last season to see how they were really doing, as few of the pros ever posted full disclosure on how well they were doing other than to spin it with “We are on a four week winning streak with our SEC picks!” when they were getting their ass beat on all their other picks. Dad had somehow been approved for a huge-ass limit charge card, and that had “paid” for all our startup costs.

Now we were charging punters a measly $5 per week for the best picks from our other not-so-amateur handicappers, and splitting it 50/50 with the ace pickers. This was our second year, and we’d just cracked 100,000 steady players. That was a lot of money every week.

Li, our office manager, stuck her head through the open door of my office. “Do you have time for something before school?”

“Sure, come on in.”

“School” was a misnomer, really. I was taking one history class, as a non-degree student. College had fallen by the wayside pretty quickly after the site took off.

“I’ve got some resumes from some basketball types for you to look at.”

“Have you culled them yet?”

“Absolutely. I would not let you see a resume that says ‘I have Master degree.’”

“Did you really get one of those?”

“I’m afraid so.”

We took a look at a half dozen resumes. Dad and I did most of the football writing for the site, but since we’d made it so “social” the majority of the content came from the customers. Mostly, all we did was screen the comments for “u r a fag” or some such and terminate the user’s account. Really, it’s amazing how civilized people can be when their ability to access a money making proposition depends on not being an asshole.

Basketball was something neither of us followed, but when it came to betting, there was some serious money there, and adding it to the site would keep our pockets full during the football off-season.

“I like these two. Neil’s a basketball fan, so let’s run them past him, he’d know what some of this means.”

Li hesitated. “It’s just my two cents, but I think you might need to learn a bit about the sport to manage your expert.”

“You’re right, I know. Hey, I learned math when I had to, I can do that too.”

Li wasn’t our first office manager. I’d made my own rookie mistake by trying to be best friends forever with our first one. I’d told her a lot – not about Alex but enough of my thoughts and feelings to be embarrassed if not mortified when she started screwing up. How could I discipline a friend? Well, you can’t. You’re a boss or a friend and you can’t be both. Ending that had not been pretty.

So yeah, as you might have gathered, I still didn’t have friends. If I had, I wouldn’t have tried to make a coworker/subordinate into one. I had an excuse, of course, the great American get-out-of-anything excuse, “I’m SO BUSY AT WORK right now.” It’s a fantastic excuse for not having a life.

We all went out for Monday Night Football, it being the end of our week, and had a few beers – nobody had many, just as many as you could reasonably have with your boss watching. And I’d hear the conversations and wonder what was wrong with me. Everyone else seemed to have time to train for and run marathons, make plans to go on bike rides after a long day at work, throw parties, all on top of the crazy hours they worked. I just wanted to go home and rest.

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