Detail from the Cover of Last Shot A Final Four Mystery
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Sports writer John Feinstein offers a story for young readers: Eighth-graders Steven Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson have won a contest for young sportswriters. Their prize is to attend the NCAA Final Four championships, with full press credentials. When they overhear a player being ordered to throw a game, they realize they've stumbled onto a scoop. Feinstein throws in guest appearances by such sports figures as Tony Kornheiser, Michael Wilbon and Dick Vitale.
Excerpt: Chapter Five
"Nothing here," Susan Carol said. "I guess we—" She stopped in mid-sentence. "Hey, look who's here."
She pointed across the dark, open area to the outside door. Stevie could see a group of young men in purple-and-white sweats coming through the doorway. "Straight down this hall to the end and turn right gentlemen," someone they couldn't see was saying. "Your locker room is the first one you come to on your right."
"As if they can't read the signs," Stevie said.
"He must have forgotten that they're student-athletes," Susan Carol said.
Stevie laughed. He hated to admit it, but she was kind of funny.
"Well," she said. "Should we head—"
She stopped in mid-sentence again. Stevie turned and saw one final purple-and-white suited player walk through the doorway, peering around as if to make sure no one was there. Stevie recognized the floppy blond hair right away. It was Chip Graber. Right behind him was a man in a charcoal gray suit who was also looking around in a suspicious way. Instinctively, Stevie took Susan Carol's arm and stepped back so they were hidden behind some rolled up Astroturf.
Graber and the charcoal suit finally seemed satisfied they were alone, then walked towards the loading dock until they were almost directly below Stevie and Susan Carol—who were both frozen with surprise and curiosity.
"Okay, Chip, we've got about two minutes to get this straight before the press conference," the suit said. "You can't get cold feet now."
"I never had warm feet," Chip Graber answered in a stage whisper, still plenty loud enough for Stevie and Susan Carol to hear. "What if I won't do it?"
"Then the team gets stripped of all its wins and your father gets fired. We've been through this. . . ."
There was a long silence. Stevie wondered if perhaps the conversation had ended, but there were no signs of movement below. Susan Carol started to open her mouth to say something, but he put a finger to his lips to indicate she should stay silent.
Just when Stevie thought he was wrong, he heard Graber's voice again. "This is unbelievable."
"Hey, Chip, the world's a cold place sometimes. Cooperate and you'll be a millionaire in a couple of months. Your dad will get a big contract extension for making the Final Four. Quit whining, do what you need to do, and we'll all walk away happy."
"But what if we lose Saturday? There's no guarantee we'll win that game. Why does it have to be Monday?"
"That's not something you need to worry about. You just play your butt off against St. Joe's and choke against Duke. We'll take care of the rest."
"I'll get you for this. All of you."
"Please. You don't even know who we are. And if you try anything with me, the roof will fall in on you and your dad. Now let's go. You've got a press conference."
This time they could hear footsteps walking away. Stevie and Susan Carol stood stock still for a moment looking at one another.
"What did we just hear?" she asked finally.
"Well, unless I'm crazy, we just heard the best player in the country being blackmailed to throw the championship game."
"Yeah, that's what I heard too. But he has to win tomorrow. Isn't that weird? I don't know very much about gambling, but if someone is trying to make a lot of money by betting against Minnesota State, why wait until Monday?"
"That's what Graber asked. There's got to be a reason why it has to be Monday. And he said he had to lose to Duke on Monday. How's he know Duke will win tomorrow?"
For the first time since they had met that morning, Stevie thought Susan Carol looked lost. "What do we do?" she asked.
Stevie shook his head. "I don't know. Tell someone?"
"But who?" she asked. "Who'd believe us?"
"Good question," he said. "I barely believe us. Man, I wanted a story no one else had, but this is insane. Let's get out of here. It's spooky."
She didn't argue.
As they opened the doors that led back to the hallway and the bright lights hit Stevie's eyes, he felt like he was leaving a movie. But there was no leaving. Now he and Susan Carol were part of the movie.
From Last Shot, copyright John Feinstein. Excerpted with permission from Knopf Publishers. Audio courtesy of Random House Listening Library.