Authors: James Grippando
Tags: #James Grippando
A Novel of Suspense
For Tiffany. My Home Run.
THE FIRST THING RYAN FOUND WAS A HAND WITH PART…
SEVEN-THIRTY WAS GAME TIME IN PAWTUCKET.
RYAN RODE SHOTGUN AS THE TEAM CAR SPED TOWARD MEMORIAL…
Three Years Later:
THIS IS JOCKS IN THE MORNING; AND YOU’RE ON THE…
THE ADRENALINE WAS STILL PUMPING AS EMMA CARLISLE LEFT THE…
IT WAS UP TO EMMA AND THE CHIEF OF THE…
RYAN WOKE WITH ONLY A SEMICONSCIOUS AWARENESS THAT someone was…
AROUND ELEVEN-THIRTY RYAN EMERGED FROM THE BEDROOM and went out…
EMMA WAS AN HOUR CLOSER TO PAWTUCKET THAN RYAN WAS,…
FOR A GUY WHO HADN’T ROLLED OUT OF BED TILL…
EMMA HAD PROMISED HERSELF SHE WOULD NEVER DO IT. BUT…
RYAN PICKED UP AINSLEY AFTER SCHOOL AND TOOK HER TO…
EMMA ARRIVED AT TOLL GATE HIGH SCHOOL IN WARWICK AROUND…
RYAN TOOK AINSLEY FOR PIZZA AFTER THE PARK AND THEN…
EMMA ENTERED HER BOSS’S OFFICE TO DISCOVER THAT THEY WERE…
ON SATURDAY AFTERNOON, RYAN ENTERED THE GILDED AGE.
HE DID IT IN THE BLACK OF NIGHT, ALONE, IN…
BRANDON LOMAX WAS GETTING NERVOUS. THE MEETING BETWEEN Emma and…
AT 9:00 A.M. EMMA ENTERED THE MODERN DINER IN PAWTUCKET.
RUN, RUN, RUN!
RYAN’S CELL PHONE VIBRATED. HE RECOGNIZED EMMA’S NUMBER, BUT he…
BABES DIDN’T STOP RUNNING UNTIL HE REACHED ONE OF THE…
EMMA TUNED IN TO JOCKS IN THE MORNING JUST IN…
BRANDON LOMAX WAS NOWHERE NEAR A RADIO ON MONDAY morning.
EMMA DROVE STRAIGHT TO HER OFFICE. SHE WANTED TO BELIEVE…
RYAN OPENED HIS FRONT DOOR AND NEARLY STEPPED ON THE…
EMMA ATE DINNER ALONE AT HOME: MICROWAVE POPCORN, A tangerine,…
INSIDE THE DAWES FAMILY CRYPT, BABES HAD LITERALLY RETREATED into…
RYAN AND HIS IN-LAWS REGROUPED IN THE KITCHEN FOR A…
ON TUESDAY AT 1:00 P.M. EMMA LEFT THE COURTHOUSE. BABES…
BABES SLEPT UNTIL NOON. NO SURPRISE THERE. HE HAD LAIN…
AFTER NIGHTFALL, RYAN MET EMMA AT THE TOWNSENDS’ BROWNSTONE in…
YAZ WAS GOING TO KILL HIMSELF.
MIDNIGHT WAS DECISION TIME FOR BRANDON LOMAX. ANOTHER sixteen-hour day…
YAZ NEEDED ICE.
RYAN WAS PUTTING HIS LIFE ON THE LINE.
YAZ WAS NOT ABOUT TO LET BABES GO ANYWHERE.
RYAN HAD A VISIT FROM IVAN AROUND 10:30 P.M. THE…
BABES WAS FREE OF HIS BINDINGS. REMOVING THEM HADN’T proved…
A NOISE OUTSIDE HIS BEDROOM WINDOW WOKE DOUG WELLS FROM…
A PHONE CALL AT 4:25 A.M. WAS NEVER GOOD NEWS,…
BABES WAS TERRIFIED.
THE STUDIO DOOR SWUNG OPEN. RYAN KEPT TALKING INTO THE…
RYAN PRACTICALLY FLEW OUT OF THE RADIO STATION TO HEAD…
RYAN RECOGNIZED THE GAUDY HAWAIIAN SHIRT THE MINUTE HE walked…
THE CHECKER LAY AWAKE, BUT EXHAUSTED.
AROUND 11:00 P.M. RYAN PLANTED A GOOD-NIGHT KISS ON Ainsley’s…
EMMA WAS DRESSED FOR BED, RELAXING ON HER COUCH, AND…
AT SIX A.M. RYAN WAS AT THE MICROPHONE. THIS TIME…
BRANDON LOMAX’S HAND WAS SHAKING ON THE STEERING WHEEL. He…
“I FEEL LIKE SMASHING CONNIE’S FACE IN,” SAID IVAN.
RYAN WAS FEELING SMALL.
BABES WAS READY TO JUMP OUT OF HIS SKIN.
THE CHECKER HAD UNFINISHED BUSINESS.
IT WAS AFTER SUNSET WHEN EMMA REACHED THE MORGUE.
NIGHTFALL ONLY HEIGHTENED BABES’S FEARS.
RYAN REACHED THE NORTH BURIAL GROUND EVEN SOONER THAN he…
EMMA WAS THE LAST TO LEAVE THE PARKING LOT. EXCEPT…
BABES WEDGED HIMSELF AS DEEP INTO THE CORNER AS POSSIBLE.
RYAN HEARD THE GUNSHOT, FOLLOWED BY SCREAMING.
THE CHECKER SPOTTED THE GREENISH GLOW OF A CELL PHONE…
BABES GRIPPED THE GRAVESTONE TIGHTLY AS HE CROUCHED ATOP some…
SILENCE PIERCED BY SIRENS—THE SOUND WAS HAUNTING TO RYAN.
IT WASN’T OPENING DAY FOR MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL. IT WASN’T…
THE FIRST THING RYAN FOUND WAS A HAND WITH PART OF AN ARM.
He guessed it was the left hand, but it was hard to tell. He spotted the right foot on the other side of the kitchen, on the floor, next to the high chair.
God only knew where the missing eyes and ears were.
Living in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, birthplace of Mr. Potato Head, had its ups and downs. But this working-class city of seventy-two thousand on the Blackstone River was no one-spud wonder. It was also the minor-league home of one of the most storied teams in baseball.
“Hi, Dada,” said Ainsley. She was wearing only a diaper and her baseball cap—her daddy’s team, of course. The Pawtucket Red Sox—“PawSox”—were the Triple-A minor-league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and twenty-four-year-old Ryan James was their rising star. Ryan put his daughter’s partially reconstructed toy aside and gathered up Ainsley in his arms.
“What do you want for breakfast?” asked Ryan, as he put her in the high chair.
“Mama,” she said.
“Coming right up,” said Ryan.
Ainsley had fewer words in her vocabulary than most two-year-olds, and anything that she couldn’t say was either a mama or a dada. Ryan didn’t want to get Freudian about the whole thing, but he assumed the dada was a banana. He had no idea what the mama was. He selected a ripe one from the bunch, sliced it up for her, and put the pieces on the tray.
“Here you go, gorgeous,” he said.
Ainsley ate one bite, then took the biggest piece and threw it right over Ryan’s head. It landed in front of the refrigerator, where the real mama had to duck out of the line of fire as she entered the kitchen.
Chelsea sighed and put her hands on her hips. “Ryan, please don’t throw food.”
“I think you meant Ainsley,” he said.
“You said, ‘Ryan, please don’t throw food.’ I swear it wasn’t me.”
Chelsea looked flummoxed. “Oh, God. I’m already stressed.”
“Just wait till we have five of these bambinos.” Chelsea froze.
“Kidding,” said Ryan. He wanted only four. Chelsea poured a quick cup of coffee and gulped half of it down. “Why are you so tense?” said Ryan. She coughed on her java, and he immediately regretted the question. As a minor-league player, Ryan made the standard eleven hundred dollars per month plus a twenty-dollar per diem food allowance. It wasn’t enough. Chelsea supplemented their income by teaching third-grade English at one of Boston’s prestigious private schools. Three nights a week she attended law school classes at Suffolk University in Boston, a four-year program that would earn her a diploma when Ainsley was ready for first grade. If Ryan made it to the majors, she’d keep teaching; if he didn’t, she’d start a new career. Either way, money would no longer be such an overriding issue in their future. For now, however, finances were tight, and with her full-time teaching responsibilities, her part-time law studies, and an hour-long commute each way between Pawtucket and Boston, Chelsea was struggling to be the good wife and mother.
Chelsea said, “I have a very important meeting, first thing this morning, with Mrs. Chambers. The last person I want to keep waiting is the head of school.”
“You should eat something. It’ll settle your nerves.”
“At least take a dada for the road,” he said, holding up another banana.
The Ainsleyism brought a smile.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll have a dada.”
She went to him and gave him a kiss, and for a brief instant, it seemed to cut the stress. That was the great thing about marrying the love of your life. People sometimes said, “I can’t live without you” without a thought, but when Ryan said those words to Chelsea, he was quite literal. Teammates teased him for being whipped, but deep down they envied him.
“Me, me, me!” said Ainsley.
Chelsea gave her a kiss, too.
“Ainsley has speech therapy today at eleven,” she said. “Can you pick her up from day care and take her?”
“Sure,” Ryan said. “Batting practice doesn’t start until three. I’ll take her to your mother’s afterward.”
“And I’ll get her from there.”
“Then you’re coming to the game tonight?”
There was a long pause. Chelsea’s schedule hadn’t allowed her to see many of Ryan’s games this season.
“I have a two-hour criminal law class tonight,” she said.
“Honey, it’s the last game of the season.”
“I know. But the semester has barely started, and I’m already getting into trouble for missing too many classes.”
“Don’t they let you make up the class work for family commitments? Just this one time?”
“Well, I guess I could call the professor and see what he says.”
“So you’ll come?”
“I will really, really try.”
Ryan took an envelope from the kitchen counter and handed it to her. “I snagged you really great seats.”
She hesitated, and Ryan could see that he was adding pressure that she didn’t need today. But it truly was the biggest game of the season.
Chelsea looked inside the envelope. “There are only two tickets,” she said.
“Yeah. One for you and one for Ainsley.”
“What about Babes?”
What about Babes?
Babes was the nickname for Chelsea’s younger brother, Daniel. Twenty-one years old and still living with his parents, he suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, an autism-related disorder. He loved baseball and rarely missed a PawSox game. Most of the players were kind to him, but it was a bad practical joke a few years ago that had brought Ryan and Chelsea together. For laughs, one of Ryan’s teammates asked Babes if he wanted a chocolate bar, but it was really Ex-Lax. Around the seventh inning, poor Babes suddenly dropped his baseball mitt and cap and went running home from the stands, a grown man with a load in his pants. Ryan got a three-game suspension without pay for breaking the nose of the jackass who’d done it. When Babes’s sister came to thank Ryan, the sparks started to fly.
“I love Babes,” said Ryan. “But you know how he can have these meltdowns around crowds sometimes.”
“He goes to almost every game. He sits through all of your batting practices.”
“And most of the time he’s just fine. But tonight is huge. I don’t want you heading home in the second inning because Babes suddenly can’t handle the clapping, the shouting, or the sound of the guy sitting next to him cracking his peanut shells.”
“Aren’t you exaggerating a little bit?”
“No. Babes gets these fixations, and…”
Ryan stopped himself. He could have gone on, but it would have come off as an attack on Chelsea’s family—how everyone’s life revolved around Babes, how Chelsea’s parents barely knew each other anymore because it was all about Babes, all the time.
“He’ll be crushed that you didn’t invite him,” said Chelsea. “We can’t leave him out. He’s my brother.”
“Honey, that’s kind of the point. He’s
brother, not Ainsley’s. I want this to be a special night. For
She bristled. “Didn’t know the Townsend family was such a burden.”
He went to her, but she pulled away. He stopped.
“You know I don’t think that,” he said. “It’s just this one night. I promise I will do something really special for Babes. Just him and me.”
She seemed to be considering it, but the room still felt pretty chilly from where Ryan was standing.
Ainsley threw a banana slice that sailed over Ryan’s head and landed on the other side of the kitchen.
“Whoa! Did you see that? Sign her up. The kid’s got an arm!”
Chelsea couldn’t help but laugh. Ryan seized upon her smile, and this time she didn’t resist his embrace.
“Lucky for me I’m irresistible,” he said.
“Lucky for you I have a heart of gold.”
“So you’ll come tonight?”
“Yes,” she said with a sigh. “I’ll be there.”
“Let’s go, Baaaabe,” came the lone voice from the grandstands.
The PawSox’s biggest fan—with his incessant chant—was for obvious reasons known affectionately as Babes. A virtual fixture at McCoy Stadium since his middle-school days, Babes was now old enough for a brewski with his Pawdog and cheese fries, but alcohol never touched his lips. He still looked like a big kid dressed in his lucky Sox cap and jersey, his treasured old baseball mitt, autographed by the entire PawSox team, resting in his lap beneath a well-thumbed stat book. Today, as always, he came to watch his favorite player take afternoon batting practice before the evening game.
Ryan tipped his helmet and stepped into the batting cage.
At six feet three inches and 220 pounds of athletic ability, Ryan had once been in the enviable position of fighting off football and basketball recruiters before accepting a baseball scholarship to the University of Texas, where he then had plenty of fun fighting off the women while leading the Longhorns to a national title. The Red Sox selected him early in the Minor League Baseball draft. He skipped over the Single-A and Double-A teams, where every player could hit a fastball, and went straight to Triple-A, where breaking balls separated the men from the boys. He probably would have advanced quickly to the majors but for the ifs:
he hadn’t destroyed his shoulder in his first spring training,
he hadn’t missed his entire first season in rehab,
the team doctors hadn’t labeled him damaged goods.
Babes was in his favorite seat, right above the Sox dugout. He always sat by himself. That was the way he liked it.
Babes had never been one for team sports, teamwork, or team anything. His interest in baseball was purely as a spectator, or more accurately, as a walking baseball encyclopedia. He knew the batting lineups, not just of every current major-league team, but of nearly every major-league team that had ever existed. He memorized batting averages, box scores, much to the amazement and amusement of baseball fans.
What really blew people away, however, was his ability to work anagrams in his head.
“Hey, Babes,” a Sox player called out from the line of batters. It was Ivan Lopez, the team’s ace pitcher and jokester, and Ryan’s best friend. Ivan cupped his hands over his mouth and shifted to his stadium-announcer voice, as if it were suddenly the bottom of the ninth inning at famous Fenway Park: “Next batter for the Boston Red Sox, the designated hitter: number thirty-four, David Ortiz.”
The wheels immediately began to spin in Babes’s head, and he worked it out aloud, rearranging the name of one of the most famous Boston Red Sox sluggers into something else entirely: “David Ortiz, David Ortiz—Diva or ditz?”
That one just about had Ivan and the rest of the players rolling on the grass. Babes and his anagrams were a steady source of entertainment for Ryan and his teammates. The possibilities were endless. A diehard Sox fan, Babes, of course, hated that team in pinstripes from the Bronx: Yankee Stadium became “Nauseate my kid.” The great Ted Williams was “I’m still awed.” And on it went. It was such a compulsion that sometimes he was even forced to insult his own favorite team: “Red Sox win the World Series” became “Ex-losers with new disorder.”
“Say good-bye to that one,” said Ivan at the crack of the bat. Ryan had just sent his third consecutive home run over the left-field wall, this one right between the billboard ads for Honey Dew Donuts and Hasbro’s Mr. Potato Head. It was only practice, but he seemed to be on fire.
“Little wager on four in a row?” asked Ryan.
“Only if I’m pitching,” said Ivan. He picked up his mitt, but before he could take step one toward the pitcher’s mound, the PawSox manager emerged from the dugout.
“Save it for tonight, boys.”
“Come on, Coach,” said Ivan. “It’s only going to take me three pitches to strike him out.”
it.” His hands were on his hips, a surefire sign that he wasn’t kidding around.
Manager Joe Bedford was a foulmouthed, tobacco-chewing baseball relic who everyone said would probably be buried in his uniform. He was usually easygoing, but things were serious today. They were just three hours away from the final game of minor-league regular-season play—the PawSox against the Toledo Mud Hens. Since 1896 the Mud Hens had served as the minor-league affiliate of several major-league teams—the Detroit Tigers, the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians, and Minnesota Twins—but perhaps no one did more to put the team on the map than the character Klinger on the old television hit
M* A* S* H
, the diehard Mud Hen fan from Toledo whose dresses and high heels never did get him kicked out of the army. The PawSox and the Mud Hens were the two best teams in the International League, and tonight’s game in Pawtucket was seen as a preview of the postseason championship. Ivan was slated to be the starting pitcher. With a wicked breaking ball and the lowest earned-run average in the minor leagues, Ivan was without question on his way up to the majors next season. No one begrudged his success. Every Triple-A team had its share of bitterness—players who’d been passed over year after year or, even worse, who’d tasted the major leagues for a time, only to be sent back down to the minors. But even they had to recognize a future star like Ivan.
“Come over here, you two goofballs.” Bedford was smiling now, looking more like his normal self.
Ryan and Ivan jogged to the dugout. Ryan said, “What’s up, Coach?”
“Got some news for you. Wasn’t going to say anything tonight, but you’re big-league material, and you can handle the pressure.”
Ryan braced himself. It didn’t sound like he was being fired, but in the minor leagues you never knew. “What are you telling us?” said Ryan.
“John Henry will be here watching tonight’s game.”
Ryan felt a rush. Henry was the principal owner of the major-league Boston Red Sox.
The manager said, “He’s got two players on his short list. I have it on good authority that it’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”