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Deal Breaker (Myron Bolitar #1)
Author: Harlan Coben

Chapter 1

Otto Burke, the Wizard of Schmooze, raised his game another level.

“Come on, Myron,” he urged with neoreligious fervor. “I’m sure we can come to an understanding here. You give a little. We give a little. The Titans are a team. In some larger sense I would like all of us to be a team. You included. Let’s be a real team, Myron. What do you say?”

Myron Bolitar steepled his fingers. He had read somewhere that steepled fingers made you look like a thoughtful person. He felt foolish.

“I’d like nothing more, Otto,” he said, returning the pointless volley for the umpteenth time. “Really I would. But we’ve given as much as we can. It’s your turn now.”

Otto nodded vigorously, as if he had just heard some philosophical whimsy that put Socrates to shame. He tilted his head, angling the painted-on smile toward his team’s general manager. “Larry, what do you think?”

Taking his cue, Larry Hanson pounded the conference table with a fist hairy enough to be a gerbil. “Bolitar can go to hell!” he shouted, playing enraged to the hilt. “You hear me, Bolitar? You understand what I’m telling you? Go to hell.”

“Go to hell,” Myron repeated with a nod. “Got it.”

“You being a wiseass with me? Huh? Answer me, dammit! You being a wiseass?”

Myron looked at him. “You have a poppy seed stuck in your teeth.”

“Goddamn wiseass.”

“And you’re beautiful when you’re angry. Your whole face lights up.”

Larry Hanson’s eyes widened. He swung his line of vision toward his boss, then back to Myron. “You’re out of your league here, Bolitar. And you fucking know it.”

Myron said nothing. The truth of the matter was, Larry Hanson was partially right. Myron was out of his league. He had been in sports representation for only two years now. Most of his clients were borderline cases—guys who were lucky to make the cut and grabbed the league’s minimum. And football was far from his specialty. He had only three NFL players, only one of whom was a starter. Now Myron sat across from thirty-one-year-old wunderkind Otto Burke, the youngest owner in the NFL, and Larry Hanson, former-football-legend-turned-exec, negotiating a contract that even in his inexperienced hands would be the biggest rookie contract in NFL history.

Yes, he—Myron Bolitar—had landed Christian “Hot Prop” Steele. Two-time Heisman trophy—winning quarterback. Three straight AP and UPI number-one rankings. All-American four years in a row. If that wasn’t enough, the kid was an endorsement wet dream. An A student, good-looking, articulate, polite, and white (hey, it mattered).

Best of all, he was Myron’s.

“The offer is on the table, gentlemen,” Myron continued. “We think it’s more than fair.”

Otto Burke shook his head.

“It’s a load of crap!” Larry Hanson shouted. “You’re a goddamn idiot, Bolitar. You’re going to flush this kid’s career down the toilet.”

Myron spread his arms. “How about a group hug?”

Larry was about to offer up another expletive, but Otto stopped him with a raised hand. In Larry’s playing days Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke couldn’t stop him with body blows. Now this one-hundred-fifty-pound Harvard grad could silence him with but a wave.

Otto Burke leaned forward. He hadn’t stopped smiling, hadn’t stopped the hand gestures, hadn’t stopped the eye contact—like an Anthony Robbins Personal Power infomercial come to life. Disconcerting as all hell. Otto was a small, fragile-looking man with the tiniest fingers Myron had ever seen. His hair was dark and heavy-metal long, flowing to his shoulders. He was baby-faced with a silly goatee that looked as if it’d been sketched on in pencil. He smoked a very long cigarette, or maybe it just appeared long against his tiny fingers.

“Now, Myron,” Otto said, “let’s speak rationally here, okay?”

“Rationally. Let’s.”

“Great, Myron, that’ll be helpful. The truth is, Christian Steele is an unknown, untested quantity. He hasn’t even put on a pro uniform yet. He may be the bust of the century.”

Larry snorted. “You should know something about that, Bolitar—about players who amount to nothing. Who crap out.”

Myron ignored him. He had heard the insult before. It no longer bothered him. Sticks and stones and all that. “We are talking about perhaps the greatest quarterback prospect in history,” he replied steadily. “You made three trades and gave up six players to get his rights. You didn’t do all that if you didn’t believe he has what it takes.”

“But this proposal”—Otto stopped, looked up as though searching the ceiling tiles for the right word—“it’s not sound.”

“Crap is more like it,” Larry added.

“It’s final,” Myron said.

Otto shook his head, the smile unfazed. “Let’s talk this through, okay? Let’s look at it from every conceivable angle. “You’re new at this, Myron—an ex-jock reaching for the executive brass ring. I respect that. You’re a young guy trying to give it a go. Heck, I admire that. Really.”

Myron bit down. He could have pointed out that he and Otto were the same age, but he so loved being patronized. Didn’t everybody?

“If you make a mistake on this,” Otto continued, “it could be the sort of thing that destroys your career. Do you know what I mean? Plenty of people already feel that you’re not up to this—to handling such a high-profile client. Not me, of course. I think you’re a very bright guy. Shrewd. But the way you’re acting …” He shook his head like a teacher disenchanted with a favorite pupil.

Larry stood, glowering down at Myron. “Why don’t you give the kid some good advice?” he said. “Tell him to get a real agent.”

Myron had expected this whole good-cop, bad-cop routine. He had, in fact, expected worse; Larry Hanson had not yet attacked the sexual appetites of anyone’s mother. Still, Myron preferred the bad cop to the good cop. Larry Hanson was a frontal assault, easily spotted and handled. Otto Burke was the snake-infested high grass with buried land mines.

“Then I guess we have nothing more to discuss,” Myron said.

“I believe a holdout would be unwise, Myron,” Otto said. “It might soil Christian’s squeaky-clean image. Hurt his endorsements. Cost you both a great deal of money. You don’t want to lose money, Myron.”

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