The tall Frenchman extended the full length of his body across the sofa. Gentle sunlight warmed him just as the glass of expensive Condrieu cooled him. Each blessed second of pastoral serenity, he tried to relish, for he knew that those seconds would eventually run out. The All-Star break would soon be ending, and he would have to depart from his luxurious Auvergnese estate and return to the daily rigors of the NBA lifestyle.
“A package for Monsieur Gobert!” squeaked an annoying voice which fully broke Rudy Gobert from the reverie that had already been slipping away from him. The sudden noise startled a peacock that had hopefully wandered from the garden onto the porch; it ran back into the hedges before finding out if Rudy was keeping any blueberries in his pockets (he was, for that was the preferred treat of all the peafowl on the estate).
Rudy got up slowly and with some effort. The extreme plushness of the sofa made it hard to make deliberate movements. Once he was upright, he affixed his blunder-prone, pointy-faced, short-statured servant with a glare. “Remi, there is no need to be so loud.”
“My deepest apologies, Monsieur,” Remi whispered, taking one hand off the heavy package to push his glasses back up his nose.
“Careful!” Rudy warned, but it was too late: the package fell to the ground, where it bounced dully. A faint sound of breaking glass was heard. Remi winced and looked ready to run away, but he nervously stood his ground, awaiting the wrath of the estate-owner.
“You bumbling fool! You blithering mooncalf! Do you have any inkling in that rat-brain of yours how precious this package is to me? Any inkling at all?”
“N-no, I do not, sir,” Remi whimpered.
Rudy up the cardboard box and shook it lightly. Nothing could be heard rattling inside, so the contents were still securely packaged, even if some had sustained damage from his careless manservant’s butterfingered mishap. “This is the package that changes everything, Remi.”
Remi looked up at the much taller man, met his gaze for the briefest moment, then resumed looking at his feet. “I do not understand, Monsieur.”
“Do you remember the room in the basement that I warned you never to enter?” Rudy asked.
“I do, sir. I have been very careful not to go in, even though the room is certainly quite dusty by now, because I understand that upholding the secrecy of the room is very important to Monsieur Gobert.”
“That is the room we are going to now. Follow me, Remi, and try not to break anything else.”
The two men, one tall and one short, entered the sterile white lab which was in a sub-basement underneath the east wing of the estate. Rudy took the package to a workbench while Remi stood uncertainly at the door. He carefully undid the packaging until he was able to withdraw the precious items: a set of ten vials, each the size of a finger. One was empty, shattered at the bottom. The others were filled with liquid.
“Do you know what we have here, Remi?”
Remi reluctantly came closer to inspect the vials. “It looks like water, sir.”
“Not water, Remi. These vials contain a most deadly virus imported from the far east.”
Looking alarmed, Remi exclaimed, “But one is broken, sir! We will surely perish now, and the fault of our demise will lie at my feet!”
“The virus is dormant,” Rudy answered calmly. “In this laboratory it will be reactivated and…selectively deployed.”
“I do not understand, Monsieur,” Remi said for the second time that day.
A rolled-up printout, like a world map one would find in a high school classroom, suddenly unfurled itself on the wall next to where Rudy stood. Remi jumped at the unexpected rattle, then scrutinized the picture that had appeared. After a minute, he said, “But sir, what does the inferior player Ed Davis have to do with this?”
“That is not Ed Davis, you insufferable idiot,” Rudy answered coldly. “As much as it must befuddle you, please try to keep my teammates organized in that half-empty skull of yours. That is Donovan Mitchell.”
“You have said the name before,” Remi said slowly. “In the media you are friends with the man Mitchell, but in private, you are the bitterest of enemies.”
“Correct, Remi,” Rudy said, turning again to look at the vials which would serve as the genesis for an acute respiratory syndrome. “It is the throne of the Jazz over which we feud, a defensive centerpiece against an offensive centerpiece. For months, the battle has been at a stalemate, but an infection unknown to and untreatable by Western medicine will swing the pendulum decisively to my side.”
“A brilliant ploy, master,” Remi said ingratiatingly.
Rudy took one more look at the image of Donovan, then, overcome with glee at his ingenious plot, loudly laughed until his laughter turned into a hacking cough. “A handkerchief, if you please, Remi,” he sputtered. “I believe I am catching cold.”