This week’s Fiction Friday comes to you a couple of days late.

Justin settled into his seat in the fourth row of the basketball arena. This was his favorite time of the year. The high school state basketball tournament was in town. It would be wall-to-wall basketball all week.

Justin wasn’t pulling for any particular team. He just enjoyed watching basketball, and you couldn’t argue with the value of tickets to the state tournament – you got a lot of bang for your buck.

Justin took long sip of his drink, and then turned to the man on his left. “Do you expect this to be a good game?” he asked.

“The line’s Harper by ten and a half,” came the curt reply.

“Line?” asked a confused Justin.

“Yeah, the line. You know, the point spread.”

“You can’t gamble on high school sports.”

The stranger laughed. “Certainly you can. You just have to work harder for the information.”

“What kind of information?”

“Well, you have all the basics, of course. The offensive sets and the defenses that each coach likes to run. The strengths and weaknesses of each player, injuries that might cause problems, that sort of thing. Any hack can cobble together that information. But if you’re going to make money betting on the kiddies, you need to take it to the next level.”

“And, what, exactly, is the next level?” asked Justin.

“Mostly, it’s the psychological state of these kids. They are so frail at this age. A girl breaks up with them, they go into a shooting funk. They get laid for the first time, maybe they go into a shooting funk after that – or maybe they go for forty points. Point is, the more you know about what’s bouncing around inside their heads, the more of an advantage you have against the hacks who are just using statistics and computer models. ELO-Chess models are so old fashioned.”

Justin was disturbed – and yet also intrigued. “And how, exactly, do you get this information?”

“Oh, that’s part’s the easiest thing in the world. You just scope out a spy in each school. The rumors bounce around a high school faster a virus. You find a kid who doesn’t have a lot of money and you slip him twenty bucks every once in a while. He spills his guts about everything that’s going on in the school.”

“I assume that you have a spy for this game?”

“Of course. A couple of them, actually. My kid on the Harper side is the student manager. Those kids make great spies. They can’t hack it as a player, so they sit on the bench and pretend they’re part of the team. Most of them have a lot of resentment toward the players.”

“Can you share your information on this game,” asked Justin “or is that privileged.”

“Hey, my bets are all down, so I’ll share. The best tidbit is about Turner, the point guard on Harper. It turns out that his girlfriend has been sleeping with several other players on the team. Suffice it to say that his passes might not be as crisp as you might otherwise expect. The spread might be Harper by ten and a half, but you’d be a fool to take Harper.”

The referee threw the ball into the air for the opening tip and Justin and his new acquaintance ceased their conversation.

Contrary to the expectations of the gambler, Turner was a one man highlight reel during the game. The point guard racked up thirty four points, twelve assists, and grabbed nine rebounds. Perhaps most impressive were the four shots blocked by the five foot five inch dynamo. It was, by all accounts, one of the most dominant performances in state tournament history.

At the far end of the bench, the student manager smiled externally and smiled a big belly laugh internally. After a season of taking money from the gambler, he had double crossed him. Turner and his girlfriend definitively had experienced an emotional week, but not for the reasons he had mentioned. Both students has been accepted into Stanford and would have the opportunity to stay together while also pursuing an education from a top school.  This lifted a huge weight from Turner’s shoulders and had allowed him to focus intently on the game.