10 o o o 10
He had the Tampa newspaper open in his lap. What in Hell had got him to wander like a lost and sick puppy? On page one of the Sport section, there was the picture of a smiling teenager in full Devil Rays uniform with bat in hand and in the right position to dispatch a base ball up to Orlando. Below the picture, one Bill Latuque had originated under the heading: "Could this be the next Bary Bond?" the following improbable composition:
- He declares this bat he is now holding will give him home runs at will. If he can make use of it in Major League Base Ball, that is. -
Then followed Irma's tale but with all the flourishes of professional penmanship, the like as favoured by luminous publications of the National Enquire variety. There was even reference to the episode of aunt Carol purse with an added journalistic surprise. The author, it was claimed had surpassed himself and proceeded with some investigation of his own. Why, he had checked the Florida lottery and the draw for the now destroyed ticket Manuel had declared was into the money. As a matter of fact, it had been learned by the Woodward impersonating scribbler that there had been two unclaimed one thousand dollar prizes out of 100 and of those, one ticket had been acquired in one Seven/Eleven that had its place of business two streets off Paola's family residence. Bill Latuque himself had talked to the regular employee in that store and learnt that, yes, he knew Paola well and had even volunteered that he remembered having sold her that ticket, the first and last time she had ever procure that kind of product of vile speculation in his place. (Latuque's words). And oh yes sir, she was a regular, coming in one or twice a week. Mostly a bread, milk and butter lady if you know what I mean.
But there was more.
The Tampa Tribune had put into its crazy editorial head the notion to pay Manuel to assist in the Press Box to all the Devil Rays games from now on up to the end of the season and the kid was to receive one thousand dollars a week for the privilege, him in full player dressing and ready to respond to the call of duty if ever the Rays felt the need for the boy and his magic bat's services. How about that for a publicity stunt? There was also a Facebook page where the readership was invited to post its sanction of the newspaper initiative to get Manuel in a game, in a poll like fashion. At this moment, not even one day into the asking, more than 2,800 avid participants had already responded positively.
He had had a mind to call the editor and give him hell. "What, he would have said to the guy, are you out of your fucking mind? What kind of plot is this? Have you people gone mad? This circus of yours, what, it is complete lunacy…" and so on, and so on… The more the words of great affront and outrage formed in his mind, the more strong the impulse to get to the phone and shout back his way to serenity through abusing whoever was either responsible for the sorry business or would find himself at the other end of the line. That's when he heard the tune of his phone ringing. Who could that be, so early in the morning? Better not be that troublesome bulb peddler from the Institute for the blinds. The guy was pestering him every three months, getting him to buy his silly commodity that he had now a closet full of the useless junk, enough to last him two life times. He shouted angrily into the device mouthpiece:
- "What now?"
There was a bang where the caller was, like whoever it was reaching him had dropped the phone on the floor. Joe then heard the sound of a chair grating on tiles, a sigh from someone that gets to sit again.
- "Is it a bad time?"
The voice was the owner, Franck Richantall. Joe then said in a more subdued tone:
- "Is that you, Franck?"
- "Who else? You're good, Joe?
- "As good as it gets", he lied.
- "I don't know. You sure sounded a little piqued when you took that call."
- "I am O.K. So what's up, Franck?" Joe forced himself to ask.
- "Must get you to answer Bud. That way, maybe he shall leave me in peace."
Bud was Bud Selig, from the office of the Commissioner. Everybody in baseball knew that there was a feud between the two men and for the last three months, they were not talking to each other.
- "Bud will come over," Joe lied again.
- "Yep, I do hope so. The son of a bitch is a hard head, not as hard as you, though."
Joe let that one pass. From his Versaille like castle in East Hampton, one of the fifty richest individuals in the country cleared his throat and asked:
- "You saw that sport section in the Tampa Tribune?"
- "You mean that crazy business about that Manuel kid?"
- "Not so crazy if you think about it."
- "What?" Joe couldn't believe he was hearing this.
- "I mean…You are not… Why… This shit knocked me over, literally. Why, I…"
- "There are possibilities here, Franck interrupted."
- "Yea… like this organisation mixing with sorcery and wizardry. And what about me? Am I to transform myself into Santa Claus or Merlin ?
- "No need to do that, Joe."
- "Well… what are you getting at, here, Franck? Don't tell me you believe the silly nonsense ?"
- "No need to do that either."
- "This is an opportunity, don't you see? I did some thinking over that situation down there in Tampa. And some research too. I know for a fact that people will react to miracle. They will like it. And they will ask for more. Game after game after game, they will come as if we were to invite them to Christ's second coming. People are natural suckers for trick and delusion. Here, they tell me that they will eat the stuff like mad."
In Joe's head, a thought infiltrated like a pop out taking over his PC screen.
- "You are behind this crazy shit in the Tampa Tribune, aren't you, Franck?"
- "I beg to differ with your way of putting it, though," his boss kind of admitted.
- "So, you think this will work?"
- "There is nothing bad in getting a full house. After all, the Rays have a great season and there is still 10,000 seats unsold every night."
- "And you figured out that little scheme of yours will gut the place?"
- "I know so. You will see. All it takes is a little magic."
11 o o o 11
September first and the Rays had 80 wins and fifty losses. And they were still trailing the Soxes but by half a game only. As for the Tropicana, it was now packed to full capacity and more. As Franck and his minions in research had announced. Packed not only in their town but wherever the team played. It was sold out everywhere. Money from on demand T.V. was going through the roof. And there was a deal coming to broadcast the last ten games of their regular calendar plus the play offs in Cineplex movie halls all over the country, what, like the Metropolitain fucking Opera.
Franck Richantall was kid happy. Didn't remember having had as much fun in all his life and the man had a boat as big as an aircraft carrier and a plane that could rival Air Force One. And more money than he could care to count. The only thing he had ever done that was as much fun as this was when he had played the lead role in some high school play at the age of 14.
Newspapers all over the country had picked on the story and, these days, that kid Manuel was a celebrity, his renown equal both the democrat and republican candidates in the coming November election. His fame more of anything one could imagine the concept to apply to. Manuel had made the front page of Time magazine, the New York Time and all other publications worth reading in America. He also had made it abroad. Appearing in the London Time, Paris Match, Der Spiegel, La Gazetta dello Sport and so many others over the world that making a list would have been a challenge. While Hollywood studios were bidding millions for the movie rights.
Even Churches were looking into the phenomenon. The Catholics not so keen over the marvel, them looking at it as if they had some kind of exclusivity on episodes of the supernatural variety and all things miraculous. Clergymen of all denominations were baptising like crazy. Reality shows with religious content were the fancy of that summer and why not, Franck wasn't hostile to start a new one if he could find a way to make some more money out of the process. Why? Of all the artefacts that had made it into one faith or another, a baseball bat was as good as any. Who but God himself could have made that piece of wood the ultimate baseball bat? It had to be blessed in some kind of way.
As for Joe Black, if he had ever entertained the notion that he, himself, had some pre-eminence as a member of society, that was before this season started, and because he didn't know then the real meaning of the word. These days, he felt as if he had been caught in a whirlwind that had dropped him into Alice in Wonderland. He had enjoyed a kind of normal life up to now, able to get milk at the Publix in relative anonymity. Whereas, since that Manuel frenzy, there was no place on earth where he would expect to be left alone. Paparazzi were all over him from awakening till bed time. A crowd of curious gapers had taken over by assault his home on the beach, a gathering of zombie type creatures that stare cow-like through the scenery, a populace that scared him, so much alien they appeared to him in their asinine passive behaviour. His neighbors were yet keeping their thoughts for themselves but he could see they blamed him for the unsolicited attention.
Security guards and officers from the St-Petersburg police force were all over the place with their cars and sirens. Pass a Grill wasn't downtown St-Pete. Residents in Pass a Grill didn't care much for transients, bums and vagrants with rings in their noses and ears and body besmeared tattoos. Local restaurants were fed up with the nuisance, the sorry assemblage using their facilities and consuming next to nothing of what they offered. Worst of all, they were giving the area a bad name as the clientele that counted stayed home or went elsewhere.
Joe resented Franck Richantall for having originated this insane circus. And for the role his boss made him play in it. As he was the one who decided, it was said in this scenario of his, that is, the one imagined by whoever was pulling the string in this wily conspiracy against reason and intelligence. They had promised that he would retain the last and final word. What good was that supposed to do him? As if he could ever decide in favour of the kid going to the plate. The chance of that to happen? None. Zero. Zilch. Over his dead body. No way. Who were they thinking he was? Franck had said to him:
- "No reason to get excited, Joe."
- "I am not excited. I am just telling you, Franck. This boy and his funny bat, I will never manage."
- "That's for you to decide, Joe. What I suggest is you keep that decision to yourself. You don't let anybody know about that, you hear me, Joe?"
- "How am I supposed to do that? I have 1000 assholes everyday who pestered me with the same god-damned question. Will I put the kid in the game tonight and if not tonight, when will I put him in the game?"
- "Sure, Joe. That's what we like, them worrying about that."
- "I am going to put an end to their misery, tell the sorry lot that this will never happen, not on my watch anyway."
- "No Joe. This won't do. This isn't the plan."
Then, Joe had erupted.
- "I don't give any shit about no plan that doesn't initiate from the Tropicana Field. You hear me Franck. I am the fucking manager of this team. I have got a fucking contract. And you fucking know and I know and Arthur, my lawyer, remember him, he knows as we all do know that I alone make the decisions as far as this show of playing base ball in one field or the other is concerned. So this is the fucking end of it, Franck."
Then came the soothing voice of his billionaire club owner that was now probably sipping a Martini and looking at some Tropical island out from his transatlantic pleasure boat:
- "Please, Joe. Listen to me now and listen good because this is not open to discussion. Ask Arthur. He will confirm. I do agree with all you have said. You are the manager. Till the end of the season. And you will get us the division Championship and you will bring the team to the World Serie. We all know from our end as you know yourself from yours that you can do it. And you will accomplish this your way. Nobody differs on that. What you do not have authority on, on the other hand, is the politics of the company that owns the club. And this is me. And what I want you to do, Joe, is to keep an open mind about the kid. And if it means that you do not go babbling around about your heretic dispositions in a world where souls are craving for the spiritual, so be it. So, all I want you to do, Joe, is to indulge other people's beliefs. Can't you do that, Joe?"
- "And for the sake of the moronic multitude, I must let them think that this Manuel getting at bat, maybe tomorrow or later, is a possibility, a decision that I must debate at all time during a game?"
- "Don't you make it too hard on yourself. After all, it is the same on my end."
- "You mean, when you issued… this is for the manager to decide?"
- "Well, I could always respond that I will not permit you to use that Manuel fellow. You know I would never do that to you, Joe. Letting you decide the players in a game is your prerogative and yours only."
- "Nicely said. I am the one that is to be made to look like a halfwit."
- "Whatever, the way I look at it, there's nobody left to make the difference."
12 o o o 12
There was a cult like quality into the hysterical media display of excitement over so insipid an issue as his belief in Manuel's ability to score home runs. He couldn't say no because of Frank's specific command while a positive view over the dilemma was not an option either because, what, he would be asked over and over, what he was waiting to put the youth in the line-up. Therefore, he was playing with words and he, not being a lawyer like Arthur, was not so good at it, looked like a damned fool most of the time and hating the wretched feeling that it brought him.
He was on local TV everyday, snaps of him, mostly, in late night news bulletins. He was also plagued with uninterrupted solicitations to be part of shows, requests that he invariably declined, which made the blood thirsty producers double their asking by reason of the rarity of him his posture provoked. This was without counting the crowd of journalists and free lancers invading his privacy in and outside the Tropicana Field with the idiotic agenda and cliché like questionnaire.
It was now September 8. They were playing the Yankees. And silly Margaret from some west coast tabloid was asking him what Manuel astrological sign was. And the dame having the nerve to question his ability as a manager because he didn't know or cared. What, had said the ridiculous reporter, if you were to know his sign, you would learn that Jupiter goes into orbit or align itself with one planet or the other, shit like that, and in this way, he would know the right time to put the boy into a game. She had even given him the card of one Stella Galacta, that had declared herself ready to help if he would just call her. So, that was what he had to endure. That was his life nowadays. That was no life at all. It was torture.And still, in spite of everything, his team won games. In the good old and ordinary fashion. By scoring more runs than the other team. At least, he had that part well. It helped to get over the rest.
13 o o o 13
Once Barbara had landed at his place. The first time since he had moved there. After separating, they had maintained contacts to a minimum. Communications through notes or the children. There had been the knock on his door and instantly, he had known who it was.
Noc, noc… NOC, NOC…noc.
Strange the ways some do things and persist all their life to replicate the process in some kind of gesture signature. His wife was like that, asking him entrance in a way that he would remember till he died. Her own special way that dated from time immemorial. He doubted if she would knock this way for Mr. Big shot lawyer the fourth or the fifth. He got to the door and she was there.
His wife that he had not looked at from a distance that he could touch her more than three times in the last six years. What age could she be now? Who was he fooling? He knew perfectly well. She was 52 and in his eyes, still the Barbara he had dated when he was 19 and married when he was 23. The same woman that he still loved and who was now living with another man. What was she doing here? Why had she come? It was not like her to act impulsively. Between the two, he had been the sentimental. But she had loved him. Of that, he was sure. He knew it. And what they had done together, he believed that she would never do again, the same way, with another. Or so he hoped. Then, she had said:
- "I knew you had a nice place, but didn't expect this good."
- "Thanks. Will you come in?"
And he got out of her way to let her pass. From the streets, flashes of lightning exploded out of cameras that would produce pictures of the encounter for tomorrow's gruel like dispatches that an ever expanding consuming mass absorbed as if they needed the stuff to maintain themselves in a state of delirious rapture.
- "I came to say hello."
- "I am glad you did."
In his living room, there were pictures of him and the kids in all kind of activities and situations. And then, his wife's eyes caught one of her, at twenty four, in its original frame of 28 years ago. She wore the dress he had so liked at the time. She was smiling. She was smiling at him. She remembered that day this picture had been taken. They were in Maine. In Kenny Shore. In one little cottage on a side street of similar little cottages with the ocean and the splendid beach of Old Orchard at less than 300 feet from where they slept together. He had had his first job in professional baseball and those two weeks had been paradise.
- "I see you still have that one," she had said.
He had stayed silent. Then asked her if she would care to drink anything. He knew she would say no. She usually did. He drank tap water. She bought bottled water. As expected, she declined his offer. At last, she said:
- "I heard you had a rough time."
- Nothing to it. Just the routine craziness that we get at the end of all seasons. I will get by."
- "I know. You usually do."
He asked himself: did she know how he still felt for her? She couldn't. Seeing her was difficult. It was like looking at a love one through the plate glass of a prison cubicle where you communicate by phone and you know that you are there for life. He said to her:
- "Don't you worry for me. We will finish on top."
She smiled at him. Her smile was beautiful. It illuminated her face. She had perfect skin, no wrinkle and her color and scent, so good, exactly the way he reminisced, like in the picture with that light blue dress of her.
- "At the office, I am no longer the lawyer so and so. All people cared about is that I was once married to you."
The mention of once married made him wince. He hastened to hide the revealing feeling by contorting his face into a dejected sneer:
- "They say I would have beaten Reagan for President."
At that, she laughed, the sound crystalline and light. They had been happy. As happy as one can get. He knew they had. What then had come between them? She had said:
- "You would have been great at anything you tried."
He looked at her. What was that? Maybe she was sick. Maybe she had learned she had cancer and… He sensed something squeeze in his chest. With a little quiver in his voice, he asked her:
- "Everything is good for you...?"
- "Thank you for asking. Can't be better."
Would she have been sick, she would have told him.
- "I am happy," he lied.
Still, to be sure, he asked:
- "What about your health?"
- "I feel wonderful."
- "Thanks for that," his true self emitted with a sigh of relief, imperceptible to her.
- "This house reminded me of the Weaver."
It was a cottage they had rented for many years in Biddeford Pool, Maine. It had three bedrooms upstairs and one covered gallery all around and perfect front view on the Atlantic. There were pictures of them and the kids in that house all over his place.
- "I thought so too. The reason I bought it, as a matter of fact."
- So, she then concluded, it was not that difficult, us talking to each other, don't you think?"
- "I am glad you stopped by. Feel free to do it again."
- I am glad I did.
She got up and he followed her to the door. She turned toward him and offered her face to be kissed. He skimmed her cheeks with his dry lips and then she was gone. She hadn't talked about Manuel and he was grateful to her for that small mercy.
It had been early in September. Their record was 82 - 50.
14 o o o 14
The Baltimore Orioles were not at their great during that summer of 2008. Even if they counted Trevor Vaudon in their team. The organisation was losing money and the inconvenience, which had never been a concern in the past, now was. It was common knowledge that the owner Charlie Luserfelt, who was seen, up to that time, as having very deep pockets, had lost a bundle in the Lehman Brother's fiasco and for reasons he couldn't even fathom, all the get rich fast schemes they had put him on or his trust fund or his companies, all those were kind of imploding in his face all over the planet. All those nice countries he had patronised for the last six or seven years and, yes, that he had so much liked, and now, those Irish and Portuguese and Greeks that were turning on him. Those ungrateful bastards. How come they were doing that to him? He should have known better. Stay home. Don't push your luck. Play safe.
So, times were difficult for "Old" Charlie Luserfelt and he was not in the mood to lose more of what was left of his hard earned money at some sport he couldn't stand looking at for more than ten minutes in a row without being put to sleep. He knew what the problem was with his team. They were losing more game than they won them. That was it. No need to be a genius or a great financier to figure that out. That's what he was telling Billy Thorpe, his manager of six years. And that is what Billy didn't seem to comprehend. The losing so many games. What, Billy had always reasons of his own to expound on the sorry situation. Reasons that he could talk about for days and always ending up with him putting more money into that rathole. Better getting screwed by the Europeans who did it, at least, with some elegance and breeding, them always showing some count or baron on all their board of directors.
A sinking ship! That was it. He was in a sinking ship and he had to get out. These people that would be left on the boat, he didn't care for. They didn't deserve him. They didn't understand the essential of baseball. His version of it. Base ball essential. It went like this:
IF YOU WANT TO WIN, YOU MUST NOT LOSE.
15 o o o 15
Friday, September 9, 2008.
The Devil Rays had a double against the Baltimore Orioles. All the talk shows in town were on one thing only. And that wasn't Manuel. What everyone was babbling about at the start of this wonderful weekend that promised to be sunny, windy and fair was the trade, the eventual exchange of the century, and that included the last one. The exchange that would dwarf one involving Gretsky for Lemieux into meaningless unworthiness.
On that same weekend, one Indian billionaire offered through the Telegraph, in Calcutta, five million to Manuel if he would consent to visit his country and play for the Bengals, which was the town team for the game they play there and that they called baseball. That was enough for the kid to get himself an agent. From the day he had one, it was no longer possible for him to appear on T.V. shows for free. And the Tampa Tribune had to pay him 500,000.00 dollars if they wanted him to continue playing the mascot in their little publicity stunt. One five hundred thousand bucks that they made sure would be reimbursed them out of the contract Manuel was expected to sign in the major league if ever. That was a good deal that Manuel couldn't lose. Happen what may, he would still keep the money. As for the journal, they were making cash like crazy out of this and they knew a good thing when they saw one. It would have been better getting it gratis but why, one could be honest sometime.
That Friday, Tampa Devil Rays lost their two games against the Baltimore Orioles, thanks to the Wonder as he was called in the Press, that is to Trevor Vaudon, the ultra famous Baltimore relief pitcher, some said, no, most said, the best of all time for that category. His last two games to be played for the Orioles as the next day, his exile to Philadelphia and its team, the Phillies, made it into the world's newspaper.
As of midnight, that same Friday, there were now more than seven million fans in the USA that had posted their YES vote to this Tribune question:
"Do you wish the Rays to give Manuel a chance?"
16 o o o 16
To whoever cared for base ball and professional sport in general, Trevor Vaudon was, at 27, already a living legend. For most who had an opinion and an audience to deliver it to, he was the greatest of all professional sport heroes, all discipline included, reducing all that had preceded him into popular psyche to the role of "faire valoir". Not even Tiger Wood could compete with the brilliance of Trevor Vaudon.
He was known in the league under the surname of Voodo Warhead. The most phenomenal relief pitcher of all time. One that put in the dustbin old statistics of idols from the past. He could put out one candle on a birthday cake with one fast ball at fifty feet. Birds on wires were not safe if he had a mind to it and they were singing the wrong tune. It was said that his curved ball was so convoluted that it had forced the French to redesign their tire-bouchon. Nobody could hit him. He had statistics that made no sense. Just that year alone, he had struck out 36 players in a row. He was from outer space, inhuman in his perfection. He was a God out of the Greek mythology.
He was Voodo Warhead.
And this Saturday morning, September 10, Voodo was no longer working his miracles for the Orioles, thanks to good old Charlie Luserfelt who had sold him, sold in the literal sense of the word, to the Phillies in exchange of one hundred million dollars. The Phillies who could use him while he was a waste in Baltimore baseball. The Phillies who had signed him for ten years that included the three left in his Oriole contract. Fifteen million each for the last seven plus one bonus signature of 25 millions. Whereas within one week of this infamous deed, the team owner who couldn't show his repulsive face anywhere in town without risking a public lynching, peddled the company that owned the club, network and organisation for fifty million cash and no questions asked about the one hundred million that had never made it into the Orioles' bank account. Why, the new direction, one trust fund out there in the Midwest, had made very clear that they wanted to start from scratch with real players that enjoyed good old fashion baseball and didn't need nor want tricks or god like prodigies to add up wins.
So Charlie had been asked to get rid of Voodo Warhead before the deal was to go through and take the blame for it. What if he had to move out of town? Poor Charlie who would have to live up with the 150 millions he had left. Was there a place on earth where that would be enough? He might regret the crowd at the Hampshire Golf Club, though.
17 o o o 17
Lehman felt September 13. And the end of a certain way of life drew near without anybody realising it yet. It had been a bad week for Joe's team. Them losing five games in seven. They had now a record of 82 - 57 and they had 23 games left to play. They were still ahead in their division but leading by one game only. That's when he decided to make Manuel a visit. The pressure to put the boy into a game was becoming unbearable. As long as he was winning, he could survive the ordeal created by crazy fans that were all over the Internet criticising him left and right in a kind of lunatic discourse that made you question all pretension about humanity's intelligence.
As went his reasoning, if the time were to come that he would be forced to do it, as well know who he had to deal with. So, he needed to have a meet with that fellow Manuel. But, it was imperative that he proceed in organising the encounter in such a manner that the medias wouldn't know about it, otherwise, there would be no end to idiotic speculations. He thought about the matter. Then remembered that Thalya knew Irma that knew Manuel. He asked his daughter out one Monday night his team wasn't playing and had her bring Irma. At the restaurant, under the cover of absolute secrecy, he asked her if she could contact Manuel.
She said she could.
Then, he asked her if she could organise a meet somewhere private that he could visit incognito. She had measured him with eyes green and piercing. Next, she had said to him:
- "You look like you need a haircut."
- "What if I do?"
- "Mike. I could ask him to fix it. He did mine, once."
- "I do not care much about my hair, right now, young lady."
- "You did asked me a place for a meet, didn't you, Sir?"
- "Actually, I did."
- "What if, at Mike's place, you find out that Manuel, he is in the barber's chair?"
- "Oh! Now I see what you mean. Well… Who's Mike?"
- "My mother's beau. You know what I mean…?"
The lass was good. Really. He was quite impressed with her.
Neither girlish nor childish. To the point. Fast and direct. He
murmured as for himself:
- "This could do. Everyone needs a barber once in a while. Why, you think you could make this work?"
- "I know I can. Manuel will be happy to meet with you, Sir. He has great respect for you and the plight you are in right now."
- "If he really is, that makes him a very wise young man," he concluded.
18 o o o 18
September 20, 2008
89 - 60
Just one more and they would play six hundred. A comfortable number, that one. And nice to look at beside your team's name in the statistic section of your local newspaper.
Enzo's Barbershop was in a Mall that had once hosted one Albertson supermarket. Now, all what was left in the desolate surroundings were deadbeat business, small shops of all kinds, mostly food, costume jewellery and nail/ear piercing/tattoo parlour. To occupy the deserted Albertson square footing, there was now a gigantic indoor flea market. And in all these free enterprise ventures, the same hope and desire to make a living out of peddling trinkets for profit. What a pitiful existence! Was there a more rueful way for a Jack to earn his pittance?
What the place had in abundance, though, was parking space. Quite impressive and very handy if you were to look at the privilege from the point of view of a New Yorker. While in St-Pete, every store had those. That was what Joe was wondering about in his Lexus when he turned left to cross the south section of route 19 which earned him an impotent toot of aggravated outrage from one absurd lunar-like vehicle pop backing his way three feet off the ground on wheels massive and impractical. No doubt that improbable contraption of a car and all its crazy looking and useless permutations must have cost its owner a whole lot of cash, maybe even the price of the Lexus he was driving. How was that possible? So much silliness when the country that had produced such a sorry specimen of an inhabitant had put others on the moon?
Irma had told him about Al's Diner where her mother still worked waiting on tables. He found the place and then, oriented himself with the given instructions. Enzo's was at the Mall's other extremity. He parked his car where there were others that formed a little cluster and would insure his Lexus some anonymity. And from there, he walked. He passed the flea market entrance and got stopped by a beggar that asked him for spare change. He hadn't any. Money, he never carried. He started to explain but the man had already figured it all out, from his body language perhaps and while Joe was looking into the man's eyes, he saw nothing of the bitterness he would have expected to see in there. That vagrant gaze was as empty as the celestial void. He could discern no expectation of any kind into those eyes that glanced through him as if he was no longer there.
Mike was his age. He had one patron already sitting in one of his two chairs and wouldn't see Joe as he had been made to face the part of the wall that had no mirror. When Mike saw the Rays manager, he excused himself to the quite hairless man he was working on and took Joe by the arm, telling him:
- "I have all the accounting you need to look at in my office. And your apprentice is there too. Take all the time you need and please, save me some money from the tax man if you can, that is, I need to have some left if you care to be remunerated for your services."
The so called office was more like a closet in a submarine, with just enough space for one person to move around a desk and a chair. He recognised the young man from the numerous pictures of Manuel he had seen in the Media. He was a medium built nice looking fellow. He could see the kid as a good runner on bases, maybe could steal a few. Joe sat on the chair while Manuel installed himself as comfortably as he could on the desk. After a few awkward seconds of silence, Joe asked the kid as a start:
- "They tell me that you play baseball."
- "Always did."
- "And are you good at it?"
- "I could get you home runs, if it is what you mean."
- "Come now, son, not with me. There is no T.V. crew around, is there?"
Manuel looked at Joe with eyes intense.
- "So, you don't believe."
- "Why should I?"
- "I can understand that. If I didn't know, I wouldn't believe it myself."
- "What is it that you know," Joe asked.
- "Why? I know that I can hit a base ball at will and put the damned thing over the fence. That's what I know, Sir."
- "And how can you be so sure of such performance, pray, tell me."
- "You let me do it and you will see for yourself."
- "So, young man, what you are telling me is I must gamble my name, my reputation and my sanity on your word alone, is that it?"
Manuel posture contracted as if he was suddenly in pain and his features showed concern. Then, he said in a low voice that made it hard for Joe to listen to as the exiguity of the cubicle they were sharing made the other to talk in the direction of the wall.
- "You see, I have these spells. Can't say I appreciate those. Never did. Makes me look like a freak. But still, I got the damned things. Always did since I am old enough to remember having them. I kind of see things. It is not as if I had any control over the silly process. Don't ask me who will win the World Series or who will be the next President. I do not predict on demand. And I am useless for your average people's problems. Neither can I help the law to catch serial killers. I don't do tricks or magic. I do not communicate with spirits neither am I into paranormal bullshit or parapsychology, fiction science or what else."
- "So, Joe then asked with a semblance of a smile on his lips, what is the branch of the lunacy tree that you fancy for yourself?"
At that, Manuel set free a laugh of his own and for this, the fact that he showed that he had a sense of humour and a realistic take over his situation, Joe gave him some points.
- "I am very good at interpreting dreams. Mostly my own."
- "I have always found that dreamers were useless."
- "Dreams usually are. Most of mine are but, you see, some time, they mean something."
- "Yup, like aunt Paola's purse and the lottery ticket that was in it?"
- "I have plenty of similar dreams that all proved themselves true later on."
- "As that bat of yours, Joe added, that you first dreamed about and found two months after in similar circumstances?"
- "That's proof enough for me," Manuel declared in a dismissive and obstinate tone.
- "Tell me more."
- "What do you want to know?"
- "Tell me one of those dream stories. You must have thought of some. Indulge me with your best shot."
19 o o o 19
Arthuro Blazon from the Santa Monica Police Department was patrolling the little road that hugged the coast. He liked that beat, getting near the beach houses and imagining himself having one of those and awakening in the morning at the sound of the surf crashing on the sand just a few hundred feet from his back patio door. What he would do to have a place like that. He would run every morning before going to work and in that way, keep in shape which he wasn't doing much out of Culver City where he lived. Alone. In one bed, one bath condo duplex that looked over one highway or the other, take your pick. How much the places he was passing by could have cost their owners? They were not mansions. Far from it. Mostly cottages, not very big but big enough. Summer houses? Kind of. Meaning that whoever had their names on the title for those places must have some other residence in town. How come they could afford it?
Arthuro was still young and had yet a lot to learn in world affairs and the art of money making.
He was now cruising a stretch of road that was five miles long and quite level with the ocean, with nothing between him and the white sand at his right. That's when his attention was alerted by something that wasn't what it should have been. In front of him, Pacific side, he could make a picnic area and one dark compact car that was stopped near one table. On the table, there was the usual stuff one eats on similar outings plus one inert body, a woman's, her head resting on the table while her short hair moved with the wind. His first thought was, too much wine, and he searched for the Gallo container he was used to buy at the grocery. There wasn't any jar or bottle that he could see around.
He parked the big Chevy Impala he was riding in along one blue Toyota Echo with one bumper sticker that preached LOVE THY NEIGHBOR. He came near the napping lady. He could see now that she was an older woman. But all but appeared like she was sleeping and still, something was not at par. The sandwich in front of her had been left half consumed as was the bottle of soda that her right hand still touched but didn't hold. And then, he noticed her eyes and knew this instant that the excursionist was dead. He called for help and stayed there to secure the scene, getting out of the way and making sure not to touch anything.
The deceased was sent to the nearest hospital where the cause of death would be determined. At first sight, the general opinion had been some medical condition. Within 24 hours, though, there was a report on the desk of the state district attorney that stipulated that one Claire Raditch, a teacher from Holliwood, had died from a shot in the neck that had injured mortally her spinal chord. The weapon was a 22 caliber rifle, long range, and it was believed that it had been sawed off for the purpose of easy transportation and more convenient usage.
Miss Raditch was divorced at the time of her demised and rumours had it that there had been some bad blood between her and her ex. Also the couple had had two sons and one daughter, the latter, disturbed and under psychiatric therapy with medication that she was supposed to consume on a regular basis and didn't. She also had a friend that she was seeing and one older one that she no longer did and was believed to be quite pissed of by the lady dumping him. But, worst of all, she was at the time of her death member of a jury who had presided over the trial of a mobster boss. Deliberations over culpability or innocence were going on for over four days now. And what, one couldn't ignore the possibility of one crazy Ocean Drive serial killer rampaging the area. Bill Murray, the detective in charge, had a lot on his plate. The murderer could be anybody. There were so many leads and he didn't know where to begin.
So, it was a relief when, three weeks into the investigation, his office received a tip that proved itself highly useful. It was suggested that the bullet had originated from a boat two kilometres off the coast. Nobody in the department had thought of that possibility. Why? It was impossible to think of somebody seriously wanting to dispose of another human being by using such an improbable method. Firing at a target from a moving object? But what if it had been an accident? Which was this here communication's point, wasn't it?
It didn't take the police very long to locate four Marinas and 28 possible vessels carousing in the area that day when poor Miss Raditch had been dispatched into another world, accidentally or otherwise. Out of the 28 boats, from the description given in the note, they could eliminate 25. They visited the other three and, in one of them, easily located one 22 calibre rifle that matched the bullet extracted from the teacher's neck. They got from the boat's owner his declaration which was put in the file. And the file was closed. Accidental death, it was concluded. One guy trying his skills at some flying fishes or birds and one mad projectile with eyes that must have ricocheted on one wave or the other and finished its course into one very unfortunate woman's spinal column.
20 o o o 20
- "So, that was you?"
There was actual amazement into Joe's voice and composure.
- "Who else?"
- "How did you knew?"
Manuel made a move with his hands that showed extreme annoyance at what he was about to say.
- "Well, I saw the damned thing all happening. That's all. Therefore, when the story got in the newspaper, or perhaps it was on television, anyway, one way or another, I knew that it was not the crazy daughter nor the mobsters or the ex husband neither the flushed boyfriend. Why? It was an accident and I kind of was surprised that they didn't think of that possibility by themselves."
- "Tough call to make, I would say. Highly unlikely."
Joe was thinking real hard. This was too much. He felt uncomfortable. And it had nothing to do with the exiguity of the space he was in. He said:
- "Then, you saw this happen before it actually happened."
- "Can't say that much. It's possible, though"
- "How come you didn't put on some alert?"
- "Didn't knew the location. This vision of mine could have been anywhere. On the East coast, The Gulf, The Great Lakes, what, the Adriatic or the Black Sea for all it matters."
- "And still, from the T.V. or the newspapers, you were fully satisfied that you had the right event?"
- "I had a good look at the woman and the way she was dressed. No place left for any mistake. And what about the silly cliché on her bumper? Love thy neighbor! Beware thy neighbor would have been more appropriate to her circumstances, don't you think?
Joe extracted himself from the chair. All the time of their meeting, Manuel had stayed put, half sitting on Mike's desk. Now, there was no place left for both of them to move at the same time. So, he didn't move while the older man opened the door, which he couldn't do properly because of the boy's presence behind it. Before leaving, he looked at him and said:
- "Take care, son."
And then, he was gone.
Manuel waited fifteen minutes and then, he too left but not before getting on a chair and Mike giving him a clipping.