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Chapter 2: The long and winding road to Lambeau

“I have to find out who killed my season. I can’t rest until I know who did it.”

I’d seen a lot of grieving people in my time, but moneybags made them look like a casting call for Up With People. If the tears were genuine, the old boy was going to cry himself into a coma real fast. I needed to get him on track or else he might forget to keep giving me those fat envelopes.

“OK pal, you’ve got yourself a deal,” I said. “But tears don’t float my boat. You start talking and you stop when I say so. Tell me everything you know.”

And out it came. The 2003 season had been his pride and joy, but there was something wrong underneath all the beauty. Right from the start, the season was wayward, petulant and often in trouble. Wouldn’t pay attention, wouldn’t follow the plan. Hanging around with the wrong crowd, going to all the wrong places at the wrong times, just scraping out of danger again and again.

Cincinnati, Washington DC, Baltimore, St Louis ... they’d been rough one-nighters, ending with lumps galore. The family would pretend it had been another accident — just a bump, just a bruise — but the beatings continued until that final night in Green Bay. The season had already been roughed up at Lambeau back in October, but it just couldn’t keep away. It had gone back, and this time it wasn’t coming home again.

Oh, my man had known deep down that the season wasn’t the perfect child he wanted, but he’d blinded himself to its flaws. Everyone else knew it would end horribly, but he’d kept on hoping for the best. This time, the best hadn’t been good enough.

He finally stopped. “I was a fool,” he said softly, “Such a fool. But when you love a season like I did …”

I didn’t have time to feel sorry for him. Whoever killed the season had a big head start on me, and the weight of his problems was more than I could carry in the chase.

“I’ll have to get to the crime scene as fast as I can, just in case there are any clues left,” I said. “The Wisconsin cops are good, but maybe they’re not that good. While I’m there, I want you to start getting the family together: I’ll need to pump them for information when I get back. Now, go home and cry this out of your system: that sun’s coming up tomorrow and you have to be ready for it.”

He stopped sobbing, looked up at me, and said, “That’s gotta be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I might only be the second biggest geek in this country, but I know garbage when I hear it. After all, I cleared the ads for Windows XP.”

He had me there. I was a gumshoe, not Oprah. And it was time for the gumshoe to get to work. I booked a flight for Green Bay and packed an extra quart of Smooth Caramel Slim Fast. It was likely to be a bumpy trip.