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Authors: Jen Estes

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Curveball

BOOK: Curveball
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CURVEBALL
A Cat McDaniel Mystery

 

by
Jen Estes

 

 

 

Published by Camel Press

PO Box 70515

Seattle, WA 98127

For more information go to: www.camelpress.com

www.jenestes.com

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording,
or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from
the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents
are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Cover design by Sabrina Sun

 

Curveball

Copyright © 2013 by Jen Estes

 

ISBN: 978-1-60381-895-7 (Trade Paper)

ISBN: 978-1-60381-896-4 (eBook)

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2012938472

 

Produced in the United States of America

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold
or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person,
please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading
this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then
you should return to Camelpress.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting
the author's work.

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

For Mom, who taught me how to read, write
and everything in between.

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the following people for their help and support.

Thanks to Catherine and Jennifer at Camel Press for your enthusiasm, support and red
ink.

Muchas gracias
to the kind locals of Santo Domingo for sharing with me your culture, traditions
and slang.

Kudos to Braden Eggers, without whom the Soldiers would be stuck with blank jerseys.

And of course, many thanks to my family and friends for not strapping me into a straitjacket
when I spoke about these characters as if they are real.

 

 

* * * * *

 

 

Chapter 1

Cat McDaniel took a moment to appreciate her situation while she scraped the salt
and melted snow off her knee-high leather boots using the thin metal leg of the plastic
chair. She peeked out the window to steal a glance at the early morning in Buffalo,
New York, but couldn’t see anything but fuzzy sunlight streaming through the layer
of frosted glass.

Pulling a compact mirror out of her purse, she tried to smooth the frizzy auburn tendrils
that framed her face. The ill-timed pelting of a snowflake had caused her mascara
to run. She licked her index finger and rubbed the brownish-black streak from her
pale cheek, leaving a red blot in its place.

Sitting next to a dying fern in the front office of the Buffalo Soldiers Dome waiting
for a job interview wasn’t her favorite way to spend a Friday morning, but it sure
beat sitting next to the dead fern in her Las Vegas apartment waiting for someone
to read her résumé—her main activity during the last four months.

After she outed the owner of the Las Vegas Chips for doping his players with a designer
PED, she didn’t expect the commissioner to put her in the Hall of Fame, but he could’ve
at least done more for her career than a generic letter of recommendation. Though
the officials had publically declared their gratitude, she wondered if the industry
didn’t secretly resent her meddling, especially since it had resulted in the demise
of the Las Vegas franchise.

Cat took a deep breath. She might be grateful to be here, but that didn’t make it
any less nerve-racking. There were magazines and sports journals scattered throughout
the waiting room but she didn’t want the distraction. She needed to rehearse her responses.
However, it was difficult to ignore the fragrance of buttery sugar wafting through
the air. Her stomach growled as she spotted the fresh box of donuts sitting atop the
vacant desk. How she wished she had opted for a bigger breakfast than an iced mocha
and breath mints.

“Ms. McDaniel, is that you out there?”

The deep voice spoke louder than her stomach. She snapped out of her Krispy Kreme
trance and scanned the room for its owner.

“Yoo-hoo, over here.”

She popped out of the chair and craned her neck around the assistant’s desk to look
through the cracked door behind it. Sure enough, Roger Aiken waved from behind his
desk.

“Pay a lot of attention to the man behind the curtain.” His booming voice contained
a soupçon of humor.

Ignoring her insistent stomach, she pushed open the door and stepped into the equally
sunny office. Roger Aiken scurried around his cluttered desk to shake her hand.

“Good morning, Mr. Aiken.” Cat had owned the former big leaguer’s baseball card since
dealing a shrewd trade in the fifth grade with a clueless sixth grader. As such, she
wasn’t surprised when a smile spread across his tanned face—hardened from years of
playing ball in the sunshine—and exposed a large but jovial gap between his front
teeth. That smile, and his effortless batter’s swing, were Roger Aiken’s trademarks.
His hand enveloped hers like a ball in a baseball glove.

He poked his head out the doorway and rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry, I guess my secretary’s
missing in action again. The season ends and she thinks the fact that the stands are
empty means there’s nothing to do here.” He shut the door behind him. “I have to keep
her around because she knows all my dirty secrets.”

Cat forced a laugh. It was the sportswriters’ unspoken rule of dealing with ballplayers,
managers and GMs: always laugh at their jokes. It also came in handy for job interviews.

He gave her a playful wink and gestured to the flimsy armchair in front of his desk.
“Have a seat.” He pulled his own chair out and plopped down. “Can I get you anything
to drink? Tea? Juice? Java?”

She smiled and shook her head. “No thanks.”

Roger took a sip from the Soldiers mug on his desk. “Ugh.” He turned his nose up at
the mug before setting it on top of a stack of papers. “Smart move. Add ‘poor coffee-making
skills’ to the list of Aimee’s faults.” He flipped open a manila folder and made a
tsking sound with his tongue while he glanced over it. “Okay, now, let me get a look
at this here. I’m not going to ask you a bunch of meaningless questions like ‘What’s
your five-year plan?’ or ‘If you were a cookie, what kind of cookie would you be?’
I think we both know those are just bullshit tricks designed to make the interviewer
feel like the tiger and the interviewee feel like the helpless gazelle.”

A nervous giggle escaped her lips. “Okay.” It wasn’t. Cat would’ve preferred the option
to choose between snickerdoodle or chocolate chip versus explaining what happened
at her last job.

“Pitchers try to pull those mind games and if there’s one thing I ain’t, it’s a pitcher.”

“No, sir.” He might as well have told her Dodger Dogs aren’t vegan. In his heyday,
Roger Aiken had been one of the league’s best hitters. Just the sight of him practicing
his swing in the on-deck circle made pitchers sick to their stomachs.

He closed the manila folder and folded his hands on top. He returned her nervous smile
as he met her eyes. “I’m also not going to play coy. Commissioner Ramirez kept his
cards close to his chest, but everyone with a Louisville Slugger knows what really
went down in Las Vegas with König and the Chips.” He focused his gaze on her. “And
you.”

Cat nodded firmly. She tried to read his face. Her answers were always so much better
if she had an extra second to plan her line of defense. Or rather, lie of defense.

If Roger Aiken wasn’t a poker player, he should be. He held her gaze for several moments
without so much as a flinch. Then he unfolded his hands and leaned back in his chair.

“That’s the reason you’re my first interview today.” The boyish grin resurfaced. “I
like rabble-rousers.”

Her heart lunged into her throat. She groped for the right words, finally finding
her voice. “Really?” She couldn’t suppress the smile stretching across her face. It
was all she could do to stay in her chair and not wrap her arms around him. “I’m so
glad you said that. To be honest, you’re the first general manager to grant me an
interview. I was beginning to think I’d been blackballed in the league.”

“König had a lot of friends.” His smile dimmed and turned vaguely cynical. “But I
wasn’t one of them. As a former player, it makes me physically ill to see how he used
those young kids. It’s bad enough when these players are talked into doping, but to
be drugged against their knowledge with something experimental and potentially lethal?
I hope that bastard rots in prison.” He cleared his throat and tapped on the manila
folder. “But anyway, that’s in the past. Now, I’ve read samples of your work, both
in the minors and in Las—”

His intercom buzzed. A woman’s nervous voice jittered through the speaker. “Mr. Aiken,
I’m sorry to interrupt.”

He pressed a button on his phone and gave Cat a teasing smile. “Aimee, so pleased
you could join us.”

“Sir, you have an urgent call.” She paused. “From Fillmore University.”

The jovial expression faded from his face. “Put it through.” He held a finger up apologetically
as he grabbed the phone’s receiver. “This is Roger Aiken.”

Cat watched him carefully. She folded her hands in her lap and crossed her legs, tapping
her toes against the carpet.
How to Ace an Interview
guidebooks didn’t cover interruptions by way of awkward phone calls. Judging from
the dread on his face as he listened, it would be best to give him privacy.

I wonder if there are any donuts left on Aimee’s desk?

As she started to rise from her chair, he shook his head and covered the phone’s mouthpiece.
“No, please stay. This will only take a sec—” His eyes widened and he ripped his hand
off the phone. “She what?” The same hand moved up to his wrinkled forehead, rubbing
like he was trying to smooth out the deep crevasses that spread from temple to temple.
“Are you sure she was the one that—”

Cat could make out the distant voice of an agitated female. She pretended to examine
a hangnail while attempting to decipher the other side of the conversation, but all
she could hear were chirps.

“I see. Yes, someone will be there before then.” He closed his eyes. “Thank you.”
Slamming the receiver down, he groaned. “Aimee!”

Cat stiffened and shifted in her chair. She studied her boots, noting the salt spots
that kept reappearing on the leather no matter how many times she wiped them off.
That shout had just escalated this interview past awkward and beyond embarrassing.
Awkward would be forgetting your interviewer’s name. Embarrassing would be coming
in with broccoli wedged between your front teeth. This interview was one wardrobe
malfunction away from humiliating.

I’d kill for a question about which cookie I’d be. Right now I’m thinking fortune
cookie. Perhaps if I stick my tongue out, there’ll be an inscription saying my everlasting
patience will be rewarded soon.

The door creaked open and the top half of Aimee’s head appeared through the crack.
“What is it?”

Cat could only see Aimee’s tentative eyes peeking out from her short brown hair but
it was enough to reveal that the secretary was expecting nothing good to come from
this request.

“That was the dean. It’s Paige. She pulled some sorority stunt, the school caught
her and they’re threatening expulsion again.”

Aimee blanked for a second before offering her boss what he obviously wanted to hear.
“Oh my!” She sold the insincerity with comically wide eyes.

If he could tell her reaction was the disingenuous obedience of a well-compensated
sycophant, he didn’t show it. “I know.” He threw his hands up in the air. “And she
has to be off the campus by noon.”

Apprehension flashed across Aimee’s eyes. “Doesn’t she live in the—”

“The Alpha House. On campus.” He leaned an elbow on the table and rested his head
in his hand. “I need to smooth things out before noon.”

“You’ve got the—”

“The press conference, I know. And after that, I’m scheduled to be on 106.5’s pregame
show. There’s no way I can make it. Do you think you could—”

Aimee’s head wobbled between the door jamb and the cracked door. “I can’t. I’m supposed
to take the Toy Soldiers around the stadium for a tour and a picture on the field
with Hank Snyder.”

He began to rub his temples. “Isn’t there anyone else who can do that?”

“Joni’s out sick today.” Her voice became high and thin. “It’s been planned for weeks
and if I miss it then those kids will just—”

BOOK: Curveball
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