Leah James, an assistant marketing director for a professional basketball team, is in love with Josh Kennedy, one of the team's star players. Unfortunately, she has no idea he has made a pact with the devil—and that she is about to suffer the consequences for it.
After Leah's body is found lying among the washed-up trash of the river, detective Joe James wants nothing more than to catch the animals who took his daughter from him. Known as a legend on the Philadelphia police force, Joe sets out on a dangerous journey as he attempts to discover what or who caused her to be unwillingly tattooed, suffer sexual trauma, and subsequently drown. As he slowly begins to uncover a nest of illegal syndicates, game fixing, and deadly coercion in the world of professional basketball, Joe summons the help of a well-respected rookie player, a conflicted tattoo artist, and a quirky Las Vegas bookie to avenge Leah's murder. But what they find in the process will surprise all of them.
A Slam Dunk shares the compelling tale of what happens when money, power, and brutality become intimately acquainted in a world where professional athletes want nothing more than to get away with murder.
Tito's eyes locked on the woman the moment she began to haltingly step down the long flight of stairs into the club proper, her silk dress fluttering slightly as the combined heat and humidity of dozens of sweat-soaked, pulsing bodies struck her all at once. She wrinkled her nose, probably because the scent of sweat and sex on such a massive level was foreign to her. If she had hoped for an open space to survey the scene, it was dashed as the mass of bodies churned and moved in a great swell throughout the private club. Arms quickly reached out from the mass and pulled her towards the writhing center. Whether the woman wanted to move with the dancers was of little consequence. The mass swayed, jumped, and moved in synchronous patterns, the heat and the weight of the dancers making the fabric of her sheer outfit cling to her skin just a little more than was decent, her hair falling loose from its loose braid. Just as suddenly as she had been pulled into the fray, she disappeared beneath the sea of limbs and was submerged for so long that Tito found himself hoping she had managed to leave, to save herself.
A few minutes later, he caught sight of her leaning against the wall, her eyes wide and unfocused. Now disheveled, she was supported by a group of women cooing soothing words into her ears and placing soft kisses on her cheeks as if she shouldn't be concerned about her vulnerable state. Tito looked away as she was suddenly raised and buoyed through a crowd eager for carnage. As the mass realized that tonight's victim had been selected, the volume in the club furiously rose.
Tito ignored the wild look of panic in the woman's eyes and the leather straps that bound her to the table like a sacrificial lamb. The neurotoxin in her drink had done its job. She was completely paralyzed, her muscles unmoving yet completely receptive. Tito knew that though she couldn't scream or thrash, she was completely aware of her surroundings and would feel everything he did and everything the others would do after him. While he tried to focus on the movement of his hand, nothing could compete with the chaotic energy of the nightclub, pumped ever higher by the swirling masses anticipating an erotic spectacle. Tito narrowed his field of vision to a four by four square of pale skin so that he could singularly focus on the quality of his art rather than what was emerging around him.
Tito had never asked the name of the girl on the table before; he didn't want to know who the victim was. But for some reason, this evening he did. Janine, the ringmaster of tonight's events, whispered softly into his ear, “Leah, Leah James.” Tito hesitated for a moment and looked away from Janine.
Once Leah's bra was clipped away, Tito prepared the upper portion of her left breast for tonight's insignia. The unruly crowd writhed and seethed around the edges of the table, a few performing various elicit acts to the applause of the captivated crowd, the entire scene stinking of sweat, hormones, and fear. The nightclub was packed with hundreds of feverish patrons, all of them riveted by the scene taking place on the slightly raised dais. The crowd roared and cooed as Tito's needle did its work; they cared nothing for the tears flowing from her eyes as the tattoo machine began to pierce her skin. The other four times Tito had been told to perform this gruesome work, he tattooed quickly so he could leave before the circus began. But tonight he took his time, hoping that somehow Leah would get a reprieve. It never came. That's why tonight's design needed to be one of his best.
Once Tito finished his work, he was pushed aside, which was usually his cue to exit. But this time his feet took root to the floor, and he watched the ritual take shape. Leah's panties were slipped from her body, and she was positioned so that her pelvis extended beyond the edge the table. The world spun out of focus and into slow motion as Tito saw the first naked player moving towards Leah, and the mechanics of the situation were finally and unwaveringly obvious. He bolted from the room. It was, however, too late; her blood was on his hands.
In the quiet dark of the early morning, Tito sat bolt upright in his bed, his mouth open in a silent shout. For an instant, he cast about vainly in the dark, struggling to stop the events that played over and over in his psyche. He eventually realized that he was alone in his room, alone with the ghosts of the five women whose lives he had helped to effectively ruin.
He ran a hand through his wild hair, his clear and penetrating black eyes focused on the peeling wallpaper that winked back in the darkness. It was a good minute before he tasted the blood in his mouth and realized that he had bit into his cheeks in his sleep.
Tito sighed and lay back onto his sweat-soaked sheets, his teeth tracing the grooves that had been ground into the flesh of his cheeks during the dream. The night air that wafted through his window was somehow comforting as it pricked the moisture on his naked skin. Tito muttered to himself, but no matter how hard he tried to banish the dream that haunted him, sleep refused to return.
Roger Arsht taught for seven years in Park City, Utah, where he had the good fortune of learning about life, love, and dreams from his students. He is married and has two sons in college; he loves spoiling Pumpkin, his golden retriever.
Caitlin Hawker was born in Salt Lake to an artist and a cowboy. She began writing seriously after a mentor, whom she horrified with her short stories, asked her to work with him. She is married to an artist and enjoys gallows humor, chocolate ice cream, and the thrill of horrific fiction.