No Falcon could forget the disappearances. There wasn’t a man in the locker room who hadn’t whispered about where their teammates were going late at night, and the odd smell of sulphur that permeated Flowery Branch.
So when the call came down to Keanu Neal’s cell phone, its screen fractured by repeated tackling, he knew what might await him. He strode slowly toward Dan Quinn’s office, moodily slamming staffers into walls as he went.
When he got to Quinn’s office, Neal tackled the door open, and ambled into the gloom.
Quinn sat behind his iron desk, wearing a cape with a swept-up collar. Whether he intended it to be menacing or he simply liked capes was, as with so many other elements of this mysterious bald man, unknown. He gestured Neal toward an austere wooden chair, but Neal remained standing.
The silence stretched between the two men like Julio Jones reaching for an overthrown ball.
“Candidly,” Quinn said, averting his eyes from Neal’s intense gaze, “you knocked our best cornerback out right before a critical game. Accidents are accidents, but the Great Metal Falcon does not consider intent. He, in his terrible wisdom, has consigned you to the pit of flames.”
With that, a trap door opened under Neal, and the great metal bird statue screeched with delight. Instead of falling, Neal remained standing on thin air, his expression thoughtful.
“You know,” he said, “I am a man who loves to tackle. When I was young, I would tackle lamps just to hear them crash to the ground. Perhaps I made a mistake in concussing my dear friend, but I cannot change who I am. I will accept this trial, and when I conquer the fire, I will return to tackle you who have damned me to this fate. It is justice, and in the end, justice is all Keanu Neal understands.”
With that, he plummeted, entirely without sound.
For a long time, until the great trap door rattled and slammed closed, all that could be heard was a rare and unusual noise: The sound of a man tackling fire itself. It was a profoundly unsettling sound.
Quinn and the Great Metal Falcon stared at one another. The silence between them stretched out like a medium-sized suit on Grady Jackson.
“If he gets out of that pit and asks,” the statue said at last, its voice all shards of metal, “this was your idea.”