Rahming blows out a mouthful of air. Another woman looks up from her handwritten notes and says, "I'd like him to come to the point."
They don't know: Richard Williams can't be rushed. When, in 1994, the 14-year old Venus was a week away from making her long-awaited debut in a pro tournament in Oakland, Macci urged Richard to allow him to crank up the intensity of her practices. Richard agreed but then called Macci the next day to announce that he was taking the family for a weeklong trip to Disney World.
Meanwhile Davis, Richard's legal adviser, urged him to sign a sneaker deal before the tournament, in case Venus's debut was a disaster. "But Richard said he wasn't going to do anything right then," Davis says. "I thought he was taking a serious gamble. He proved us all wrong." Venus won her first match and pushed Sánchez Vicario to three sets in her second. As soon as the tournament ended, Richard began entertaining offers from shoe companies entranced by Venus's showing. Seven months later she signed a five-year deal with Reebok worth a reported $12 million, unheard-of numbers for a player with her limited experience.
There are, Richard says, many prominent as well as obscure charities in which he has taken an interest as his daughters' income has increased. Over the past two years he has directed nearly $60,000 to a family developmental center in Pahokee called Concerned Youth for Community Improvement (CYCI). "They kept us alive; they kept feeding us," says CYCI founder the Reverend Patricia Wallace of the Williams family. Richard says he and his daughters also help finance the Venus and Serena Williams Tutorial/Tennis Academy in South Central Los Angeles and other educational programs in Winston-Salem, N.C., and West Dallas, Texas. He adds that in the past week alone, Serena has "donated" $110,000 to his charity efforts, and Venus has "donated" $115,000. But pinning down Richard on the specifics is no easier for potential beneficiaries of his largesse than it is for tennis officials, journalists and his own advisers.
"So," Rahming interrupts again, "when are you going to know the plan? When are you going to know if it comes together?"
Richard hedges. "I don't know if it's going to work," he says. "I don't want to promise anything.... I'm so very busy." Recently Rahming talked to a woman in Richard's office and was told that Richard would set up something for Fort Pierce by the end of the school year.
Driving home, Richard stops for gas. The front page of the Palm Beach Post features a story on his new bus company, complete with a color picture of him. Richard buys three copies. "Most people don't know nothing about me 'cause when I'm talking I always talk like I'm stupid," he says. "I prefer people to think I'm stupid."
Big day for the Williams family. It's May 6, and Venus and Serena are in Rome for the Italian Open, playing in the same tournament for the first time since their Lipton final. Venus has just trampled Kournikova 6-2, 6-2, reducing her opponent's usual haughtiness to meek confusion. "She's all arms and legs," Kournikova says. "She was always a step faster than me."
"Serena!" Venus shouts from 50 feet away. She's coming down the narrow hallway under the Foro Italico, and Serena's eyes widen as she waits with her mother and sister Isha. Venus rushes up, kisses Oracene on the cheek, and she and Serena lean together and rush off, arms, hips, sides bumping in a giggly tangle. The sisters' tight bond has been depicted as twinlike and rudely exclusionary, and they make no apologies. "We're the same people," Serena says. "We have two separate hearts," Venus says. "At least I think so." When Venus traveled to Hamburg without Serena before the Italian Open, she fell quiet and calm. The moment she arrived in Rome, though, "I was just out of control," she says. "When we get together, I just get, I don't know, crazy."
Oracene trudges down the hallway, saying little and watching all. Because Richard is staying home all spring and summer, Oracene, who also learned the game from Richard, is serving as the sisters' coach, butting into their practice sessions against a male hitting partner with a soft word, sitting through all the matches. Oracene is the family's quiet authority. She balances Richard's bombast with her strong faith (Richard is the only non-Jehovah's Witness in the Williams household) and clear-eyed judgment. After Richard complicated Venus's run at the 1997 U.S. Open with his inflammatory comments about Spirlea, Oracene told him he had been wrong to spout off. "He didn't say anything, but he hears me," Oracene says. Richard publicly apologized for his remarks.