A BANG BANG PLAY
by Jack Neary
The pitch was close.
The pitch was definitely close.
Yeah, it tailed outside at the last second, and yeah, the catcher made a too-obvious attempt to frame it and yeah, anybody else on the mound and it’s ball four and the bases are loaded. But umpire Eddie Sheehan, thirty-nine and Irish Catholic and married thirteen years and prone to fantasy, looked out on the hill and quick-scanned the five-foot-five inches of breathlessly lovely womanhood packed inside that Spandex Jericho Tavern softball uniform and did what he had to do.
“Strike three!” he called, though the sound that actually came out of his mouth was “Heeeiiike, yes!” as he lifted his right arm to the sky, grabbed his fist closed and yanked it down as if he were pulling the chain of some difficult to manipulate ancient toilet. The next ninety seconds were close to the most frightening of his life. The batter, dubbed “Boulder” by his Sharkey’s Saloon teammates, had taken two steps toward first after the three-two pitch before leaping headlong into Eddie’s face at the call, threatening him with decapitation. All the Sharkey’s players were on their feet, verbally offering varied methods of inflicting pain and/or death on the umpire. The Sharkey’s wives and girlfriends seated on lawn chairs and car hoods behind the bench made the bloodiest suggestions, which was understandable because it was they who would suffer most in the beer-soaked aftermath of a Sharkey’s loss. Eddie stared straight ahead and focused on the exquisite smile of the Jericho pitcher and told himself it was worth it. Besides, she had tossed a terrific game to this point. She had earned the close call. “Boulder,” the asshole, shouldn’t have been taking anything that close in that situation anyway.
The score was four to two, Jericho. Two outs, bottom of the seventh, which in this bar league was last of the last. Runners on first and third, two out, the Sharkey clean-up hitter, a small building named Devens, represented the winning run at the plate. Classic.
The luscious pitcher’s name was Gloria and Eddie was told before the game by the base umpire, Dick Something, that she was the best hurler in the league. She was also the only female player in the league. That’s how good she was. And this was real softball. Fast pitch. None of this medium-fast-has-to-have-a-three-foot-arc bullshit. Real, whip-action, arm-slinging, mitt-popping, if-it-hits-you-it-welts fast pitch. Gloria had given up only three hits in six and two-thirds innings. One of the hits, a bleeder that fell between the right fielder and the second baseman, accounted for the guy now at first. The runner at third had been nicked by an inside fast ball and took his life in his hands advancing two bases on the bleeder by guessing it would fall in. It did.
The other two Sharkey hits were home runs.
Both by this small building, Devens.
He had hit the homers on 3-2 pitches. Since it had been a close game throughout, Gloria obviously felt she had to come in to the guy on the full counts the first couple of times around. He’d been sitting on both pitches, and had lined each knee-high fast ball over the left-center field fence. Ropes. Gone in milliseconds. The on-deck hitter had fanned after each home run. Clearly, the Jericho coach would call to walk Devens intentionally this time. Gloria, in fact, looked into the bench for the sign. The coach, a humorless six-footer everybody called Ray who was chugging cans of Budweiser between innings, remained humorless.
“What are you lookin’ at?” he yelled out to the gorgeous Gloria. “Get him!”
Devens stepped into the right hand batter’s box and dug himself a miniature canyon for his back foot. He glanced at Eddie and seemed to smile.
“Good call,” he said, referring to the strike on Boulder, and spit on the plate.
“I thought so,” Eddie responded, not knowing or caring whether the guy was sincere. He just wanted to get in his car and bolt the premises. He made a mental note to tell Poppy, Armand “Poppy” Pare, the Umpire’s Assignment Secretary, that he wouldn’t accept any more out of town games. He preferred to have friends in the stands to walk him through the parking lot after less than hospitable contests.
Gloria looked in to the catcher and heaved a mammoth sigh appreciated, Eddie was certain, by each and every male in the vicinity with eyes. She raised her arms, ball in the left hand, glove in the right hand, brought them together over her head, then thrust them to her waist where her ball hand swept out of the bundle and into the windmill delivery. Her right leg jumped forward and the rest of her body followed. The pitch flew at the bottom of the whirlybird arc, cannoned out of her hand and exploded into the catcher’s mitt. Knee-high, outside corner.
“Heeeike!” Eddie wailed, far more confidently than he had ringing up Boulder. No argument from anybody this time. Devens had been taking all the way. The hulking batter dug in again as his teammates cheered him on.
Gloria took the next two pitches to his chin, working him high and inside, buying herself an inch or two on the outside corner. Her 2-1 pitch kissed the black on the outside, an exact replica of her first one. Eddie called it the strike that it was. Devens had yet to lift the bat from his shoulder.
“Good pitch,” he said, ostensibly to himself, though loud enough for Eddie to hear. A down payment on a favorable call, he hoped, in the future.
Gloria’s next offering was offspeed, on the inside half of the plate, but low. Still, too close to take. Devens turned on it and ripped it foul down the third base line. The beer-gutted base coach barely danced out of the way in time.
“Babe, Devvy! You’re on it, guy! Get her again, Dev! Get her again!” The Sharkey bench was alive.
“Bust him, Gloria! For Christ’s sake!” Ray shouted from the Jericho sideline as he chucked an empty Bud under the bench. “Fuck the change-up. Bust him!”
The count remained two and two. Gloria took another deep breath, went into her wind-up, and delivered the pitch. It screamed to the center of the plate, cut it in two, just above the belt. A weak hitter would have gone for it-- the high, hard one--and whiffed. Devens was anything but a weak hitter. The ball slammed into the catcher’s mitt.
“No, that’s high! Count is full!” wailed Eddie. One fantasy strike per night is enough. He had gotten his smile out of Gloria. Now, she was on her own.
Anyway, she knew what she was doing. She wasn’t going to give this guy anything to hit. Yes, he represented the winning run, but the next guy up had K’d twice already. She had to put Devens on. In the corner of his eye, Eddie saw Ray walking to the mound. Eddie called time. He waited about thirty seconds before approaching the rubber to break up the conversation. How long does it take to tell your pitcher to walk a guy intentionally? Unless the coach just wanted to get on the ump’s ass, which didn’t seem to be a strategically sound maneuver. As Eddie stepped closer to the discussion, he heard Gloria pleading.
“We gotta put him on, Ray.”
“We do what I say we do.”
“He’s on the fast ball, Ray. He’s a fucking tree. He’s got a hard-on for my fast ball, I’m telling you. I own the next guy. Come on. Let me put him on.”
“I’m sick of this shit from you, Gloria...”
Eddie intervened. “How we doin’, coach?”
Ray didn’t look at Eddie. He turned to go back to the bench. As he did, Eddie headed towards the plate. Ray spun around halfway to the foul line, stopped, and pointed at Gloria.
“You bust ‘im.”
Eddie repositioned himself behind the catcher as Devens dug in for the 3-2 pitch. Gloria stood, stunned, her arms at her side, staring at the besotted coach.
“I don’t know, Blue,” Devens said, referring to Eddie and his uniform shirt. “I think I walk me if I’m them.”
The catcher, who had remained remarkably quiet for a catcher throughout the game, said, “Our coach is a sick man.” It didn’t sound like a joke.
Gloria took two or three laps around the mound in a futile attempt to compose herself. Hoots and hollers from both benches blended into a cacophony of desperate vocal energy. Gloria stepped to the rubber, took another cavern-deep breath, wound up, and heaved the pitch.
She tried to bust him.
Devens was ready. Devens was on the fast ball.
His swing was perfect. The “whoop” became a “clang” with stunning precision. The moment he hit the ball, Devens dropped the aluminum bat at his feet and stood motionless at the plate, watching the smashed missile ride out of the park in straight-away left.
Eddie maneuvered his way to the pitcher’s side of the plate as the Sharkey players gathered at home to greet the triumphant Devens. Devens stopped short at the plate and leaped onto it with both feet while his teammates mobbed him. Eddie waited a moment to see if there was any kind of protest from the Jericho club. When there wasn’t, he slipped his ball/strike indicator into his back pocket and left the field. He glanced at the Jericho bench on his way by, but couldn’t see Gloria. He looked back to the field and saw her still standing on the mound, rhythmically kicking the rubber, letting it all sink in. Portrait of a pitcher whose coach is a sick man. Dick Something caught up to Eddie just before he reached his car.
“What were you thinking on that called third to Boulder? Man coulda de-nutted you with one swing of his bat and I don’t know if I’da blamed him. That pitch was bor-der-line.”
“I fell momentarily in love.”
“Ah. I see. She looked pretty good from the outfield side, too, let me tell you. Okay. I forgive you.”
“How do I get back to Lowell from here? Can it be done?”
Eddie was in Maynard, Massachusetts for what he hoped would be the first and last time in his life. Maynard itself was significantly rural, to put it gently, but this softball field was downright forsaken by God and most of Man. He’d had to drive off the “main” highway, wend through a...significant number of unmarked roads, down a mile-long dirt path only to end up asking some sort of colorfully scary woods dweller where Busker Field was. It happened to be just beyond a clump of trees yonder, which was fortunate, because Eddie had been fully prepared at that point to spin his Civic around and head back to where people rarely married blood relatives.
“Okay,” said Dick Something, who looked like he lived to eat, mate and give directions. Eddie listened intently for about fifteen convoluted, minute-long seconds, then decided to try to go back the way he came, regardless of Dick’s confidence that his way would “knock ten minutes” off his trip. “Got that?” Dick said.
“Yeah. Yeah. Thanks. Maybe work with you again sometime.” And maybe I’ll give myself a root canal when I get home.
“Could be. Ask Poppy to book you here. Tell him I recommend you. Great league. I love this place. Maybe you’ll get to call a few more close strikes for Blondie out there! Just give Poppy my name. See ya.” Eddie thought about asking Dick Something what his full name was, but didn’t bother.
By the time he reached his mouse-gray ‘88 Civic, Eddie saw that most of the players had abandoned the parking lot. The celebrating Sharkeys were nowhere to be seen, and two cars carrying the sullen Jerichos roared past Eddie and onto the dirt road, outa there. Two green army surplus equipment bags remained on the Jericho bench, however. Eddie popped the hatch on the Civic, sat on the edge of the car and took off his cleats. He stuffed them along with his mask and brush and indicator into his gym bag. As he unbuttoned his parochial school blue uniform shirt to take off his chest protector, a huge Ford pickup screeched towards the Jericho bench from the auxiliary Busker parking lot beyond the right field fence. The Ford braked hard behind the bench, and dust mushroomed into the air. When it settled, Eddie, now unbuckling his protector, saw Gloria get out of the truck and walk towards the stuffed equipment bags. She lifted them one at a time, dragged them to the back of the pickup, and tossed them in. She slammed the gate closed and climbed back into the passenger side. Eddie then took a closer look at the driver. It was Ray. Coach Congeniality. When Gloria closed the door, nothing happened. Ray sat motionless, looking straight ahead, the truck idling. Eddie shoved the protector into his bag and buttoned his shirt. Still, the Ford didn’t move. By this time, the playing field was empty. Dusk had all but settled. Eddie’s Civic and the pickup truck were the only vehicles around.
Ray opened his door and jumped to the ground. He smoked a cigarette and guzzled another can of Budweiser. He walked around the truck twice, each time kicking the passenger side door as he passed it. Gloria sat facing forward, not moving. Ray, on his third pass of Gloria’s door, didn’t kick it. Instead, he threw the beer can to the ground, climbed up the side of the truck to the hood, stood on it and screamed at Gloria through the windshield.
“YOU...FUCKING...LET...UP, GLORIA! HONK! HONK IF YOU AGREE WITH ME THAT YOU FUCKING LET UP ON THAT PITCH!”
Gloria remained immobile. Ray waited. Then he didn’t wait any more. He kicked his heel into the windshield in front of Gloria.
“HONK, GLORIA! HONK THE FUCKING HORN WHEN I TELL YOU TO HONK THE FUCKING HORN!!!”
He kicked. Kicked again. Finally, the windshield smashed. Gloria screamed and honked the horn. Eddie froze, having no clue what to do. Ray fell off the hood to the ground, got up quickly and rushed to the driver’s side. Gloria, who had been trying to lock the door, was still in front of the wheel. Ray opened the door, hauled himself to the cab, shoved Gloria in the face to the passenger’s side, and started the engine. Eddie watched, engrossed, as Ray took a red aluminum bat from somewhere in the front seat and cleaned out the shards of glass from the windshield so he could see as he drove away. Eddie watched as the truck skirted the edge of the outfield fence, heading towards the exit. Eddie shut his hatchback, rummaged for his keys, and got into his Civic. As he did, the Ford zoomed past him and onto the dirt road.
Eddie followed them.
He didn’t know why. Maybe it was that bangout smile Gloria threw him after he made that bush league call on Boulder. Maybe it was that “oldest child” thing that always made him feel immediately and inexplicably responsible for preventing any and all potential calamity. What if this guy ended up killing this girl? How could he live with that? Anyway, there wasn’t time to deliberate. Mr. Impulsive.
Ray didn’t concern himself with what the speed limit might be on the dirt road. The Ford truck took each bend and bump in the path with the kind of gusto usually reserved for test drivers on T.V. car commercials. Eddie did what he could to keep the truck in sight.
About a quarter mile into the ride, Eddie saw the passenger side door fling open and Gloria’s perfectly-etched Spandex leg swing out into the air. He then saw Ray reach with his right hand to pull Gloria’s fluffy blonde hair towards him. He yanked her back into the cab, and the door slammed shut. The speed and violence of it all took Eddie’s breath away.
The Ford pulled up briefly as it hit the end of the dirt roadway. The truck burned rubber and launched left out into the paved road. Eddie came to a full stop, realizing that the road to Lowell, the road home, began with a right turn. At this point, it really seemed like the way to go. But he’d never been a hero before. When would he ever get a chance to be a hero again? He took the left. He would follow the truck until he was sure Gloria was out of danger. For the moment, he would involve himself. He would enter the fray, risking trouble and physical harm, to be a hero.
This was nuts. This was suicide. Why the hell did he want to be a hero? And what guarantee did he have the he would emerge heroic? He might emerge dead. His foot was on the brake in preparation for reversal of direction. Back to Lowell. Back to cowardice. Back to where he belonged.
Before he could apply the brakes, the pick-up veered sharply off the road and down an embankment. Eddie maneuvered his car closer and stopped to watch the truck roll down the steep hill towards what appeared to be a small pond. The truck smashed into a couple of rocks and changed direction before it came to a halt at the top of a steep decline which emptied into the pond. Eddie held his breath and listened. Nothing. Birds. Breeze. Nature. Nothing from the truck.
He didn’t want to get any closer to the wreck just yet. He determined that his most useful contribution at the moment was to stay put and hope another car came by, a car with a mobile phone.
But no car came by. This was the most desolate of desolate roads, known only to in-bred Maynard, Massachusetts softball players and the unfortunate umpires assigned to work their games. Minutes passed. It got darker. Eddie finally convinced himself he had to go down the hill. He’d go down there and look in the truck so that when the police questioned him he would know what he was talking about. He looked down the steep embankment, and started to make his way towards the truck.
Then he stopped.
Because the driver’s side door was opening.
Not easily. The rocks the door had slammed against on its plummet had taken their toll. Ray--it had to be Ray--pushed three times before he was able to fling the door open. As it did open, two or three Budweiser cans fell out onto the ground. Then Ray crawled slowly and carefully out of the cab and eased himself to the pebbly terrain. He took a couple of deep breaths, then reached back into the truck. To help Gloria, Eddie assumed.
Ray emerged in less than five seconds without Gloria but with another can of beer, which he popped and chugged. He then tossed the can away, grabbed his head, sat on the floorboard of the truck, moaned, and dropped his head into his hands. He sat motionless. If Eddie were to take a guess, he’d guess that Ray was now out like a light.
Then the passenger side door opened.
Gloria was even more tentative than Ray in her measured escape from the front seat. She held onto the door, clearly in pain, as she put her feet to the ground. She turned to look up the hill. Eddie slipped behind a bush so she couldn’t see him. Gloria was bleeding from just above her eye. She wiped the blood on the sleeve of her torn softball jersey. She looked through the car to Ray on the other side. “Ray,” she called. There was no response. She made it a little louder. “RAY!”
Eddie watched as Gloria walked around the truck to the driver’s side. She lifted Ray’s head. He groaned and shooed her away, then slumped into a deeper repose. Gloria took two steps back and seemed to rear back before she screamed.
These were not people, Eddie surmised, with extensive vocabularies.
Gloria paced around the truck again. Then again. And again. Faster each time. After the fourth orbit, she stopped in front of Ray and stared at him for what had to be two minutes. Then she climbed over him into the cab of the truck.
Eddie watched with useless fascination. He satisfied himself by determining that being a witness was all he needed to be. When what happened needed to be recounted, he would be there to do the recounting. But then he figured that it might be safe to stumble down the hill and offer Gloria his assistance. With Ray unconscious, there’d be no trouble. Before he could make up his mind whether to make the move, he saw Ray’s long, lean body being dragged back into the truck from inside. Gloria had the coach by the armpits and was pulling him into the cab. It was not an easy thing to do. By this time, in his drink- and accident-induced stupor, Ray had to be dead weight. Nothing Gloria was doing made sense. The truck couldn’t be driven back up the embankment. It wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe she was just putting him back inside for safe keeping while she went for help. Eddie thought about getting into his car and driving back down the road a bit to then appear by chance as a Good Samaritan to pick up Gloria when she started thumbing. Why, at completely inappropriate times like these, did he always think about how he could get the girl? Too many movies.
That’s when he heard the horn.
It was one, loud blast. Eddie focused on the driver’s seat of the truck. Gloria had managed to drag Ray to the wheel, and she had re-taken her place next to him. She grasped him by his long, sandy-brown hair, and Eddie watched as he learned where the horn blast had come from the first time. Gloria slammed Ray’s head into the steering column. She did it with so much force she grunted. Before she bashed his head into the wheel a third time, she let out a low yelp that gave her a little more momentum. Then, for good measure, she lifted the aluminum softball bat and creamed Ray in the forehead with it. She then tossed the bat outside the truck to the ground.
Eddie didn’t move. Thoughts of rescuing Gloria the Hitchhiker were banished. He was back to Mr. Future Recounter. As if anyone would believe this.
Gloria, finished with her pummeling, crawled over Ray and stood on the floorboard outside the truck. Eddie watched as she reached across Ray, started the engine, and slid the gear shift to another position. She jumped off the floorboard and ran, much more chipper now, to the rear of the vehicle. She placed both hands on the bumper, girded her feet into the ground, and pushed.
It was a lot easier than Eddie thought it would be. Gloria barely had to grunt. Three shoves and the truck slipped from its perch over the pond and into the water at what had to have been a very deep area, because the truck submerged quickly. Less than a minute, and it was gone. Gloria stood on the ledge, her hands on her hips, breathing heavily. When the truck disappeared under the water, she threw her fists in the air, held them over her head and shouted, “Yes!”
Then she leaped off the embankment into the water. Eddie didn’t want to know why. He just wanted nothing more to do with Maynard, Massachusetts. He ran to his car, jumped in, fumbled for his keys, found them, shoved the ignition key in, took a deep breath, and turned the key.
God bless Honda. Reliable. Relatively quiet. He popped a u-turn and floored it. He looked back in the rear view mirror, but all he saw was the darkening green of the trees by the side of the road at the top of the embankment.
It’s the one thing I know I can do better than anyone else on the face of the Earth at this moment in time and now I am going to get the chance to do it.
There’s a word he’d never understand.
No,that’s not true. He’d understand it. He’d just pretend not to understand it to piss me off. And it would. Then he’d drink some more beers and fuck me an apology and I’d fuck my anger back at him and we’d sleep in sweat knowing we deserved each other.
Well, so much for that.
I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do it if I hadn’t received the letter. From Beverly. But that letter--THAT LETTER--”I am in receipt of your clippings and am well aware of your talent. My Northeast area scout, George Willoughby, will try to see you pitch as often as he can this summer. We are planning to replace one of our players in September, and we consider you a serious candidate for the team. We’ll be in touch. Beverly Ames.”
BEVERLY FUCKING AMES!
THE DUCHESS HERSELF!
This is the most I’ve written in this journal since I met Ray. It is fitting, then, that this entry is made on the night when Ray and I took leave of each other.
For Fucking Ever.
Eddie kept a lot of things from his wife.
Like the gargantuan collection of baseball cards that he stored in his mother’s attic. Like his monthly trips to Boston, ostensibly on business for the Post Office, when he would see three of the current hit movies back to back. Eddie’s wife hated movies, and Eddie, in an early attempt to win her, proclaimed he hated movies too. Margie had been, at one time, gut-wrenchingly beautiful, and Eddie believed it was necessary to circumvent some of the truth of his life to get her to marry him which, at one point, he felt he absolutely needed her to do. So, over subsequent years when her breathtaking beauty evolved first to handsomeness and then to something not quite that, he’d take his monthly personal day from work, tell her he was doing a special mail run to Boston, and go to the movies. He’d also stop by his wife’s aunt’s house on Friday afternoons in the summer and mow her lawn. Eddie’s wife despised her aunt and would grow a tumor if she knew Eddie was helping her out. All in all, the things Eddie kept from Margie were for her own good. Her gorgeousness had faded rapidly in thirteen years coinciding almost simultaneously with a developing mean streak that mirrored her physical demise. But she was still, say, a 6.5 out of 10, and couldn’t afford any further Eddie-instigated rivers of anxiety on her forehead. So Eddie kept his secrets to himself.
Eddie, then, made up his mind that he would not share the Gloria story with his wife. Nor with anybody else. A world in which Eddie Sheehan knew nothing at all about a murder--justified though it might have been--was a better world, without question.
So when Margie asked him at breakfast how the game had gone the night before, he provided her with his usual response.
“Fine,” he said.
“I would have asked you last night...” she started to say, but Eddie chimed in fast.
“Yeah, I know. I know. I was late. I’m sorry. I know. I know.” He had stopped by O’Leary’s for a couple of beers and she was asleep by the time he got in.
“You say that like you rehearsed it.”
“I say that like I’m sorry, which is what I said I am. Let’s just leave it at that, okay?”
“Okay,” she said, but he knew she didn’t mean it. And when Margie didn’t mean something, she always immediately said what she did mean.
“Nothing happened. What makes you think something happened?”
“Something happened,” she said. “You’ll tell me about it eventually. I’ll see you after work.”
She air-kissed him and left the house. She was the receptionist in a dentist’s office and had to be at her desk a half hour before Eddie had to be at the Post Office to sort his mail. Eddie savored the twenty minutes he had alone at the breakfast table each morning. The kids caught the bus for St. Malachy’s at seven. Margie was gone by seven-thirty. He always waited until Margie left before he checked out the Arts Section of the newspaper. He’d go through and mentally make a checklist of the movies he would catch when his monthly movie day rolled around. Today, though, he leafed through the front section of the paper to see if there was anything about Ray’s “accident.” He subscribed to the Boston Herald, and while the Herald was usually on top of things like wives drowning their husbands in the Greater Boston area, Eddie wasn’t sure whether Maynard, Massachusetts was on the Herald’s beat. This morning, it was not. Of course, maybe nobody missed Ray just yet.
But would they? Ever? Eddie tried to imagine what kind of an extra-softball life Ray led, and whether he was expected anywhere this morning. He wondered if Gloria was Ray’s wife, or girlfriend, or sister? He wondered an entire plethora of things until he realized he had six minutes to get to the Post Office.
As he sped the Civic down Gorham Street, he zipped past St. Peter’s Church, now abandoned, but eerily evocative of things Catholic, including confession. Was what he saw last night a sin? For him? Was seeing a murder and not reporting it cause for confession? If it was a sin, was it mortal or merely venial, something he could hang onto for a while and would not blacken his soul for eternity? Eddie hadn’t been to confession for, maybe, six years. Confession was one of those Catholic things few Catholics did anymore. They even called it something different now. The Sacrament of Reconciliation. Eddie figured that might have scared even more people away. Still, something about what he saw last night triggered a reconciliatory twinge in his stomach. He wasn’t quite sure why. Had he sinned?
But didn’t you have to know a sin was a sin for it to be a sin? And if he didn’t know if it was a sin, how then could he feel guilty about it?
He really didn’t believe all that religious shit anymore, but so much of it was drummed into him as a kid, it was tough to shake. Especially when faced, as he seemed to be, with the prospect of reporting a relatively brutal murder.
But--who is to say that it was murder? Who’s to say Ray didn’t come to as the truck hit the water, slide out of the driver’s seat and swim to shore? Who’s to say that his brush with death didn’t in some wacko way open his eyes to the glories of Gloria? Who’s to say they didn’t come together later on, forgive each other, and hump till the cows came home? Who’s to say?
Well, somebody had to say, and Eddie had to find out who was going to say it.
He completed his route in record time. He usually dawdled a bit, especially just after lunch when he walked the elegant tree-lined avenues of the Belvidere section of town. He often spent time chatting with the wealthy matrons diddling in their gardens or with the retirees sitting on their porches listening to talk radio. Today, though, he stopped for nothing. He needed that extra hour at the end of the day to take a ride down to Maynard and get ahold of the local paper.
Nobody at the Post Office asked him why he was going home so early. Nobody at the Post Office ever asked anybody directly about anything out of the ordinary. The Post Office way was to nod politely when someone is off-schedule or otherwise off-kilter, then talk about the indiscretion behind the person’s back. Eddie, a creature of maniacally dependable habit, would allow them to talk behind his back today. They wouldn’t chat for long. Eddie was too steady a person to be involved in anything unsavory or gossip-worthy.
He took 495 to Maynard because even though Route 27 was more scenic, he was in no mood to waste time. He wasn’t even sure if Maynard had a newspaper. He figured they’d at least have one of those weekly handout things you find in laundromats, and maybe if it had hit the stands on this afternoon, they’d have something in it, an insert or something, about the incident.
He made it to Maynard in less than twenty-five minutes and pulled the Civic into the first Seven-Eleven he found. There was, in fact, a daily evening newspaper, and it had just, in fact, arrived. The store manager, a clean-cut man about Eddie’s age with a face pock-marked like the relief map of a very rural area, was knifing open the bale of papers as Eddie stepped inside. Eddie killed thirty seconds picking out a Snapple, not wanting the manager to think he was too anxious. He put the Bali Blast on the counter and waited for the manager to slap a small pile of papers next to the register.
“And I’ll take one of these,” Eddie said incidentally, slipping a paper from the pile. He paid for the merchandise and stepped briskly out the door to his car. He tossed the cold Snapple on the seat next to him and flipped the tabloid Maynard News to the front page.
He opened the paper and went through it one page at a time. Local bullshit. Kiwanis gatherings and Ladies’ Rotary Auxiliary bake sales and Town Meeting squabbles and church schedules.
Not a word about Ray. Or Gloria.
He turned the paper to the back page which was devoted to sports. At the top left hand side of the page was the heading “Local Scoreboard.” Eddie scanned down the page to the Softball listings. He found the game he’d called. “Sharkey’s Saloon 5, Jericho Pub, 4. WP Hagen. LP Manseau.”
So Gloria’s last name was Manseau. He checked the box score. Looking down the Jericho line-up, Gloria was the only Manseau listed. So maybe Ray wasn’t related to her. But, then, Ray had coached. He had not played in the game. There was no listing for a coach.
So was he dead? Did anybody know or care where Ray was? Was Eddie in any way responsible for providing answers to either of these questions? In the normal course of events--meaning his getting in his car after the game and driving straight home--would he even be thinking about Ray right now?
But, then, what exactly is the normal course of events? Who makes that call? Was something or someone--God--declaring Eddie’s decision to follow the Ford the normal course of events? If so, wouldn’t a continuation of the normal course of events now include Eddie following up on what he perceived to be a murder that he himself witnessed?
Eddie had spent most of his life--all of his life, actually--not asking himself questions of this type. Ethical questions. Questions having to do with right and wrong, what should or shouldn’t be done, by him, in the normal course of events. And, thus far, this lack of philosophical depth had served him well. By wading in the shallow end of the pool of life, he had acquired a babe of a wife, a decent job, a comfortable house, two healthy kids, and a thirty-six inch TV for the ball games. Eddie knew guys who asked the tough questions, who dived in the deep end, who tried to deal with life’s moral dilemmas and who spent most of their lives whining and bitching. Eddie, from what he could see, was happy. Well, not happy, maybe. Content. Well, content might be a little strong a description of his lot in life. Satisfied? Yes. He was satisfied. So what if Margie slept in the guest room 360 nights out of the year? So what if his kids used him principally as a conduit to get things their mother wouldn’t allow them to have? So what if, at thirty-nine, he still had to sneak out of the house once a month to indulge in his favorite undertaking?
You can’t ask for more than satisfaction in life. And Eddie was...satisfied.
But something had changed last night. Something made him tail that truck. Something led him to witness that murder. If it was a murder.
Something blonde wearing Spandex pants.
He got out of the Civic again and went back inside the convenience store.
“Got a phone book?” he asked the manager, who seemed to have aged in the five minutes since Eddie was last in the store. The mountain ranges on his face had produced white caps.
“Don’t generally let it out,” the man said, clearly suspicious of a convenience store patron returning conveniently in a matter of minutes. Eddie realized he was still wearing his postal worker’s shirt.
“Got a delivery to make. Not finding my way around here too well. Want to call the addressee, get some directions.”
“Who’s the addressee? I know a lot of people in the area. Might be able to help you.”
Eddie jumped in the deep end.
“Manseau. Gloria Manseau.”
The proprietor took a beat, turned his head, scrinched his eyebrows. Eddie prayed the guy didn’t ask for the address.
“Never heard of her,” he said, and pulled the very skinny Maynard phone book out from under the counter. He slapped it down in front of Eddie. “Pay phone’s outside, around the corner of the building.”
Eddie opened the book and flipped to the M’s. There were only two Manseaus in Maynard, one a “Dennis,” the other a “Mary G.” who lived at “2-G Hampstead Ct.” Eddie memorized that phone number and closed the book.
“Hampstead Court?” he asked the guy.
“Condos. Couple miles down 27.”
“I’m on 27, right?”
“Couple miles like two or couple miles like five?”
“Couple miles like a couple miles,” the man said as he stashed the book back under the counter, his eyes inviting Eddie to leave. Eddie left.
He got back in his car and scribbled Gloria’s phone number on the edge of the front page of the Maynard newspaper. He looked at his watch. It was 4:10. He could check out the condos and still get back to Lowell in plenty of time to avoid having to explain any scheduling discrepancy to Margie. Unless a “couple miles” meant ten, which he didn’t think was the case.
It wasn’t. He reached the condominium complex in under five minutes. It consisted of two dilapidated pre-fab brick buildings of similar construction, side by side with a large, now almost empty parking lot in front. Eddie drove up to the building marked “2” on a placard hanging on a row of mail boxes. He paused a moment to assure himself of the inactivity of the place, got out of the car and went into the foyer of Building 2.
He ran his eyes down the list of tenants and their individual door buzzers. He came to Apartment G. Next to the letter G was a slip of paper inside a flimsy tin frame. On the paper was hand-written the name “Gloria Manseau.”
So, if she was married to Ray, she was obviously running the show at home. It was more likely that she was not married to him, and that she lived here alone. Ray didn’t seem to be the type who would live anywhere incognito. Nor the type who would allow his other, significant or otherwise, to put her name alone on the apartment listing. Eddie stared at the buzzer for a few seconds and then thought about pressing it. He thought about confronting Gloria and asking her what the hell went on last night. He thought about what it would be like to look her in the face and tell her he was there to help. That he was on a mission from God to help her put things right.
Then he thought about how stupid it would be to do that.
He left the foyer of the building and got back in his car. Again, he felt it was time to bolt. Again, he wondered what was compelling him to involve himself in what could be a terrible tragedy. Again he realized that nobody knew he knew anything, that he was safe, that he was out of the loop. He kicked the car to life and headed for the road.
As he took the right back on to 27, a red Camaro screeched a left into the parking lot. Eddie and the driver of the Camaro met and locked eyes as each car proceeded without hesitation. Had Eddie left seconds earlier, or if he had not made the trip to Maynard at all, he never would have crossed paths with the Camaro. His eyes never would have locked with those of the red Camaro’s driver.
It was Gloria.
FROM THE PERSONAL RECORDINGS OF DETECTIVE DANIEL J. MINNELLI, MAYNARD POLICE DEPARTMENT
“May 22, 5:00 p.m....Responded to a call last night at approximately 9:45 p.m. Body recovered from a Ford Truck submerged in Thrush Pond, Route 27. Death apparently the result of an accident reported by one Gloria Manseau at 9:30 p.m. Ms. Manseau was a passenger in the vehicle when the accident occurred, but managed to free herself from the submerged wreckage and walk to the Seven-Eleven on 27 to make the report. Ms. Manseau was overwrought when I arrived on the scene with Officers Stanton and Leigh. Was unable to question her with any coherence. Will try again. Cause of the accident at this moment unknown, although the overwrought Ms. Manseau said it had something to do with a deer crossing Route 27. I did use the word “apparently” above, didn’t I, Maureen?...Okay, type this up, please and leave it on my desk...More tomorrow.