Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled The Price of Victory. Loosely inspired by this prompt: https://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/soccer-threat. Please enjoy.
It was an insult. A travesty. An outrage. To do such a thing to the world’s greatest goalkeeper, Juan Carlos Gabriel Martinez was unforgivable.
They were bluffing. They must have been. The very gall, the very cheek of merely threatening to conduct such a heinous crime to an unparalleled star was a slap in the face. To actually go through with it was inconceivable.
He was having perhaps the greatest performance of any a goalkeeper, nay, any player in World Cup history. The man had not surrendered any goals during the entire tournament. This included penalty kick goals as he did not even surrender one when two of the games he played in during the knockout round went into penalties. This was an unprecedented feat. For Juan Carlos, it was another accomplishment in a young but already storied career.
Multiple Premier League championships as part of the Manchester City Football Club, a UEFA Championship, and a World Cup victory for his home country of Spain demarcated an emerging yet extraordinary career. A second World Cup title for the defending champion would be another proverbial feather in his cap.
Standing in his way was Digo Cardosa Rocha, a star of the Brazilian team and long considered the greatest goalkeeper in the history of the sport. Though the man was in the twilight of his venerable career, he was still a top-flight player and a formidable foe.
The World Cup Finals was something of Rocha’s Magnum Opus. While Martinez certainly played at an exemplary level, the older player was his equal that day matching him save for save. Rocha managed to pull off a couple of saves that even made the younger man question whether he would have been able to do the same. Of course, Martinez quickly concluded he would have been able to, it was silly to think otherwise.
And so it went during the entirety of regulation and the two halves of extra time. Neither side allowed a goal. It was time for penalty kicks.
Before the game, sportswriters speculated that this match could prove to be the “passing of the torch” moment from Rocha to Martinez. As they headed into the eleventh round of penalties with the score still knotted at 0-0, neither side able to get the ball into the net due to some unprecedented feats of athleticism and skill exhibited by the two men, it was clear if Martinez wanted the cliché from Rocha he would have to take it by force.
A player from his Spanish side was lining up for his penalty kick when Juan Carlos received the news. He wasn’t sure what it was at first. All he knew was someone had hit his head with a wadded up piece paper from the stands. He was about to discard it when he noticed the fresh bright red ink and frantic handwriting. Curiosity got the better of him, so he decided to open it up and read.
“I’ve kidnapped your wife. A lot of money has been wagered. If you don’t throw today’s match, you will never see her again.”
Anger filled his breast as he looked towards the stands where his wife normally sat. The Norwegian beauty was nowhere to be found.
How long she was gone, he could not say. Martinez had neglected to look for the woman prior to the game, a habit he formed during his amazing streak of games. For all he knew, she never arrived. There was a distinct possibility that the letter was a hoax.
A cheer roared from the crowd as the Spanish player celebrated his goal with his teammates breaking the scoreless tie. If Martinez saved the next shot or it otherwise did not go in, his side would be victorious. Whether it would come at the expense of his wife’s well-being was still to be determined.
Many emotions vacillated as the goalkeeper walked towards his position in the field. He was enraged due to the sheer audacity of such an action. He was baffled of how such a terrible misdeed could happen to someone like him who so good and modest. He was uncertain of what his next course of action should be as everything was happening so quickly. He was afraid for his future.
While his opponent lined up for the shot, Juan Carlos thought, for a moment, about intentionally letting him score. Was winning really worth the risk of his wife? His play during the tournament was already the stuff of legends. Nobody would blame him for the loss. Quite the contrary. Everyone would praise him for being a bright spot of an otherwise mediocre to even poor Spanish club. Even he could not be expected to win a tournament by himself.
He thought of the late nights on the Riviera with his wife, being serenaded by an operatic gondola singer Martinez had specifically picked out for that romantic night. Of snorkeling with her along the coral reefs of Guana Island. Of riding into the sunset with the woman in his yacht off the coast of Cayo Espanto, Belize. Of the Hollywood galas and his wife in her Versace dress, designer hat, and expensive jewelry. Of the simple pleasure of spending a cool summer day at his multi-million dollar estate that was built along the Costa Blanca coast sitting alone with his wife while being delivered a lemonade and a beer by one of his many servants. Martinez knew what he must do.
His opponent delivered a thundering blow with his left foot towards the left corner of the goal. It was a risky endeavor as the penalty taker was right handed but it seemed to pay off. The kick was a perfectly executed strike. A man would have to be clairvoyant to predict that is where the ball was headed.
No one would blame him for allowing the score. It was far beyond anybody’s most wild expectations. Juan Carlos Gabriel Martinez was a good player, nay, he was the best, but he was still a man after all. He was not a god.
Or perhaps he was. With the fingertips of his left hand, the leaping, diving player barely managed to push the ball over the crossbar in order to make the save.
For a moment there was silence. The crowd was momentarily stunned that such an endeavor was even possible by a human being. Once the moment sank in, the crowd shouted a deafening cheer. Martinez’s teammates, as if in response, stormed the pitch to celebrate.
As the man was being carried off on his teammates’ shoulders, Juan Carlos reflected as he stared into the cloudless azure sky. Perhaps making the save wasn’t the right thing to do.
Had the extra time extended to fifteen or even twenty rounds of penalty kicks, it may have made this match that much greater and more epic. He reminded himself, though, that part of the mystique of performance came from the fact that he did not surrender a goal, not just during regulation and extra time, mind you, but even during the penalty kick rounds. The moment had already reached its apex. Allowing the goal would have only tarnished a legendary performance.
He had no regret for what he did with regards to his wife. The man believed the note was a ruse, after all, and even if it wasn’t, losing wasn’t worth the financial risk.
True, had he lost he still would have earned a multitude of endorsements. His play warranted that much. A victory, though, ensured he would only garner the most lucrative offers and left him in an excellent position to negotiate future contracts with his Manchester City ball club or someone else if they were too cheap to foot the bill.
The goalkeeper would miss his wife, sure, if the note was real but he would be able to attract another woman in short order, equally beautiful if not more so. He was Juan Carlos Gabriel Martinez, after all.
Besides, he would miss the luxury that his career afforded him far more than a relatively trivial thing like Holy Matrimony. Any risk to the lifestyle he had grown accustomed to, no matter how small, was not worth it.
If his wife truly did go missing or worse, he would garner sympathy and even more attention from the already sycophantic media. A smile crept onto his face upon thinking this venal thought. He almost hoped the note writer would make good on his threat.
As he continued to celebrate with his teammates, Juan Carlos Gabriel Martinez knew he made the right decision for his career, for his financial well-being, and for his legacy. If his actions cost him his wife, so be it. Sacrificing her was the price of victory.
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