Mop for Mitt
The frozen blanket of white that for the last three months had held the
landscape of Collingston
hostage in one amount or another finally started to
recede. The brown grass
was a pleasant sight, confusing to the eyes that had for so
long seen nothing but
white. The icicles on tree limbs reduced themselves to wet
bark. Roads were now a
dry almost foreign surface welcomed by the tires of
automobiles. The sun
stayed with us longer each day. The children were anxious
to reclaim their
stomping ground—kick ball and hide and seek sprouted in the
I always believed as a young boy that March got its name because the
heroic forces of spring
marched against the evil villains of winter. The battle raged
on, each force putting a
flag on the days it conquered, trading the blows of cold
and warmth back and
forth. It turns out that I wasn’t that far off—you tend to
learn these things when
your best friend is a walking encyclopedia—as March was
named for the Roman god
of war, Mars. It was the original month of the New
Year in those long ago
days, as well as being the month when the Romans started
their war campaigns.
March more than anything was a beacon of hope, something concrete
enough to put your faith
in. No matter how many days the brigades of winter
claimed as their own,
you knew the forces of spring would always win out.
It also brought one
other thing: the single greatest game ever invented, a
game that for the past
hundred years no matter who you were affected you in some
way, a game that is
watched more than presidential debates on TV, a game that
dominates the minds of
little boys and grown men alike (especially during the days
of fall), a game where a
man’s name can be etched on the tablets of history by one
throw, one simple flick
of his wrist, a game that fathers and sons share at million-dollar
stadiums but take home
to their back yards just by playing catch; the only
game where the defense
controls the ball. A game with no time limit, no tying, and
where hope lives until
the last strike of the last out of the last inning.
The fieldhouse we practiced in was a monstrous building. It had a full
four basketball courts, and ceilings over seventy feet high.
Nowhere else in the
state could you find a high school that even came close to
having a place like
Collingston’s fieldhouse. I also imagine that nowhere else in
the state would you find
a facility like this with only one team practicing. Coach
Demera had enough pull
and enough respect from the higher-ups that for two hours
every day, the only team
allowed in the fieldhouse was baseball.
On one side you had the sixty-yard dash times going. In the middle, guys
were getting ground
balls. Returning starters were hitting in the cage in the middle
of the field house. On
the far end were a group of about twenty guys running
nothing but line
sprints. That group was there for one reason, to weed themselves
out. Coach Demera would
take the twenty guys he thought had no chance in hell
of making the team and
run their guts out. One by one they would drop like flies,
gather their shit, and
head for the door. After about thirty minutes Coach Demera
would take the five or
so that were left and let them run the sixty and take ground
balls, and if they were
still standing after that he would let them hit at the end of
practice. I guess he
figured that if they were willing to go through all of that
maybe they had enough
heart to get better and someday help his program. In my
three years I still had
not seen one kid out of that group make the team.
Johnny the Killer was on one of wooden mounds, and I was a little excited,
scared maybe, because
our season depended on how the Killer threw. Johnny
threw his first pitch
right down the middle at eighty-three miles per hour. The next
was eighty-five and the
next eighty-six. All that Johnny really had to do at this
tryout was show up and
throw the ball like he gave a shit. Grouse told him to
throw the breaking pitch
and it broke all right, about five feet in front of the plate.
I did my best to block it but it bounced off the rubbery floor and rolled to the
end, hitting a cart one
of the janitors was pushing. The field house was so long that I didn’t recognize
the janitor as Roman until the ball stopped at his feet. His dark
eyes stared at the ball
on the floor, eventually picking it up and lookin’ it over like
he was counting the
seams. There was something about a ball—it didn’t matter if
you were a grandma or
just out of diapers—that begged you to throw it.
“You’re supposed to throw it, not read it,” Johnny shouted at the top of his
lungs and then laughed.
Johnny yelled so loud everybody stopped. The coaches, the bats, the
froze. Roman continued to look at the ball, turning it
over and over in his
hand. I put my glove up as a cut-off man between me and
Johnny. Roman took a
small step and threw a rope over my head right to Johnny’s
mitt. The ball had no
arch and when it popped Johnny’s glove he shook his wrist
back and forth because
of the sting. I looked at Johnny and then back at Roman
who was already starting
to push his cart across the field house again.
Coach Grouse looked at
me. “Who is this freakin guy?”
“Roman Swivel. I knew he had a hell of an arm but the son of a bitch just
won’t come out.”
“Is he a pitcher?”
“Yeah,” I said back.
Coach Grouse motioned for Coach Demera who was watching Sam
Peterman hit in the cage
before all this happened. Peterman by the way would
rock that net like an
earthquake, the balls jumping off his bat like thunderbolts, his
swing flawless in the
cage. There was only one problem: come game time, or
anytime there was live
pitching, Sam could not make contact. He led the team in
strikeouts the previous
year and was in danger of becoming the all-time strike out
leader in Silver Streak
“Alright Johnny, that’s
it for today,” Grouse said.
Coach Demera walked over in an annoyed strut, clipboard in hand and his
coaching bag over his
shoulder. “You seen everybody you want to see?” Demera
“I want to see this kid that just threw the ball a hundred and eighty feet on a
straight line with no
crow hop or warm ups,” Coach Grouse replied.
“You mean the fuckin’ janitor?”
“Yeah, the fuckin’ janitor, I wanna see him throw off the mound.”
“Whatever, it’s your time.”
Coach Grouse ran over to Roman before he made it out of the fieldhouse. I
couldn’t hear the
conversation but somehow he convinced Roman to take a few
pitches off the mound.
Coach Grouse rummaged through his coaching bag and
produced a glove for
Roman. Roman thanked him and walked over beside the
mound where Johnny was
Johnny slammed the ball into Roman’s open mitt as he shook his head and
smiled. “This isn’t like
Roman remained expressionless.
I stood up and took three tosses from Roman.
“I’m ready,” Roman said
“Don’t you want to take a few more?” I suggested back
“I’m ready.” Roman didn’t wake up that morning expecting to pitch. He
wanted to get it over
with and go back to his all-important cleaning.
I put my mask on and got down in the crouch, not really knowing what to
expect—throwing BP at
On Deck was a little different than pitching to a catcher in
front of radar guns and
the eyes of coaches.
Coach Demera’s body language had an ambivalent posture, like he could
give a damn if the
janitor threw or not. But he didn’t walk away either.
“Alright kid, let’s see what you got,” Couch Grouse said.
Roman’s stance looked
good, his torso stretched tall and his feet a little less
than shoulder width
apart. Roman looked at me and I smacked my mitt with my
throwing hand. His wind
up started, nice and fluid, as good as mechanics as I had
seen. At that moment in
the field house, despite the wooden mound and the
overhead, despite that ridiculous gray janitor’s outfit, he was a
pitcher. The ball was
there in an instant. WHAP. The ball broke the webbed part
of my mitt, hit me in
the chest, and knocked me on my ass. Coach Grouse spit his
gum out onto the floor
like someone just gave him the Heimlich maneuver. His
radar gun read 92. Coach
Demera took his hat off and scratched the top of his
head. I picked the ball
up, threw it to Roman, and got my spare mitt out of my bag
along with a palm pad. I
would be feeling the sting in my hand at least until
though, I never felt a pain as good as that one.
I made sure my eyes were wide open on the next pitch. Roman wound up
nice and easy and here
it came. Still hard to see, but it didn’t matter because I
never had to move my
mitt. 93 on the gun.
“I’ll be damned,” Coach Grouse mumbled.
“Alright, this is crap, something’s wrong with that gun of yours, coach,”
Demera said. “Let’s try
mine.” Coach Demera got his gun out, tuned it, and
pointed it at Roman.
“Let’s see what he’s got on a real gun.”
Roman wound up and delivered. WHAP! Again I never moved the mitt.
94 on the real gun.
Coach Grouse started laughing in delight. Coach Demera
reached in his bag but
instead of a radar gun this time, he pulled out a black
thermos-like cup and
took a hard drink.
After tryouts Roman insisted on taking my broken mitt home to fix it. I
knew better than to
stand in his way.
John Smith stood at his window watching as the nightly eye candy made
their way from daytime
sleep to the setting sun and the darkness of the sidewalked
streets. The church
bells rang at St. Thomas Cathedral. Even in the cold nights of
March the nightwalkers
came out in their fishnet hose and their high heels. Some
wore tacky fake fur
coats that weren’t long enough to cover their bellies and
weren’t buttoned enough
to cover the tops of the breasts. They were never out
there long enough to get
chilled anyway. The constant traffic of factory workers
and doctors on their way
home from work made sure of it. They were men that
opted to forgo
candlelight evenings and conversations of character, deciding to
have their money
catapult them to the finish line. An even trade these days—some
would say—when you
factor in the cost of drinks, tips, a movie, and all the painful
seduction and begging.
John could relate. After his first night in Collingston, he found himself
standing in front of the
window, masturbating to the walk of the working girls,
despite the painful
stitches. It was like a parade of skin set up for his own
amusement. He could
never finish until a brunette came into view. As much as he
wanted Max Sheehan to be
dead and gone, some things never die easily.
But John Smith was winning. Over the course of the last couple of weeks
John had fought off the
urges to fantasize about his victims. To relive his hands
wrapped around throats
and to see eyes almost popping out of heads. After all, it
was about the eyes,
wasn’t it? Death was just a byproduct. It was about those
eyes. Eyes that begged
and pleaded for their life—a life that he held in the palms
of his hands. What power
he had tapped into—the ability to end life or free it.
That was the past
though. Now he was just ordinary wood working John Smith,
who at first started
pleasuring himself to the show outside, then invited the show
in, and was now paying
for it on a nightly basis.
It was more than he hoped for. They did things to him, and let him do
things to them, that
John only thought possible if one was threatened with death. If
he told her not talk she
shut up. If he wanted her naked, she was naked. If he
wanted her ass, her legs
wrapped around her head, her nipples bit, objects
granted. It was still power.
But something wasn’t right. It wasn’t the real deal, just an act put on by
performers who were good
at taking your money and making you believe in
Neverland. The minute
John became bored he could feel him—Max stirring in the
bowels of his stomach,
begging to be let out, whispering ideas into his mind.
Now in John Smith’s dark apartment is a young brunette, no more than
sixteen, naked and arms
handcuffed to the respective columns on the end of John
Smith’s bed. She is
breathing heavy. Tears are in her eyes. But those tears aren’t
real. She agreed to play
his little game thinking all the while that she had played
much worse. What she
doesn’t know is that there is another person in the room
trapped in the body of
John is on her and in her now, pushing to make it hurt. He can hear her
moans and feel her chest
as she breathes. He opens his eyes and sees tears in hers.
But they’re not real.
She is after all not an actress, but only a hooker. He can feel
Max’s rage in his head,
as if the dark soul is pulling his brain apart with his
fingernails. Her moans
are even, too even. Her eyes are not afraid. This is only
work to her. Max is too
strong. He needs to show her. He needs to do what he
Max pulls out; ripping the condom off that John Smith agreed to wear. It
flies through the air
and sticks to the wall. Max is back in her now and at once she
knows something is
terribly wrong. Her fake moans become screams but are
vanquished with the palm
of Max’s thick hand. Now she is crying. Her arms are
flailing like a flag in
the wind, jolted back every time by the handcuffs. He takes
his hand from her mouth
but continues. This time her one scream is cut short by
both of his hands around
her neck. Her eyes bulge. Veins are apparent in her
forehead. Her body
flutters under him, squirming for life. Her eyes are begging
for freedom. Now he can
There’s another way for us. John Smith says from a distant place in his
“There’s no other way,” Max says out loud.
Can’t you hear it?
“I don’t hear anything.”
Listen, in the distance. I know you can hear it.
It was the church bells of St. Thomas, a beautiful sound that for a moment
made Max feel human. The
grip on her neck loosened as the chimes rang. She lay
motionless. Was it too
late? Please don’t let it be too late. John jumped off, knelt
by the bed, and put his
ear to her heart. It was slow but beating. He tilted her head
back and blew into her
mouth. After several times she started to awaken. John
unlocked the cuffs and
went to the bathroom for a glass of water. When he
returned she was dazed,
but already dressed. She took a sip of the water, and when
her throat wouldn’t
swallow, she threw it in his face and ran for the door.
Max Sheehan tried to grab her.
John Smith stopped him.
The water felt good. The shower wasn’t the best John had ever been in; but
then again Freddy’s
apartment was nowhere near as luxurious as his house in San
Diego. What a beautiful
home it had been, except for the basement of course.
How good it had made him
feel when he finally restored it. How human he had
felt. Could he feel that
way all the time? Could he always have the songs of the
bells at St. Thomas in
His new boss’s complex was ahead of schedule and would likely be
completed in the next
month. John had never been in charge of so many. They
were good workers for
the most part and respected him as their leader. He felt like
one of them, out in the
cold air, cutting lumber, measuring beams, having jokes
told to him over
sandwich pails at lunch. Carlos had even asked him over for
supper one night, but
John declined when he found out of his sixteen-year-old
Was the monster in him finally dying? For the first time since he started
his blood-soaked career,
this was the first time he could not finish her off. Was
Jesus calling to him?
He’d never been too much of anywhere as a child least of all
to church. He couldn’t
recall one instance in which his mother actually took him
somewhere. He rode the
bus to school alone. He played in the yard alone. He
read his comics in the
bedroom alone. He tucked himself in at night and woke up
the same way.
Was he to be human after all, and walk with his brothers as a man? Maybe
someday he would have a
wife, and she would give him a son. And he would kiss
him and hug him and take
him to the park and play catch and ride bikes with him.
Were such things
impossible to dream?
John Smith’s journey to join the human race started with a visit to St.
Thomas Cathedral. To
become a man he had to kill the monster, and the only way
to do that was confront
it head on. He wouldn’t do it alone. Jesus would help him,
just as he called to him
through the church bells as Max tried to choke the life out
of another victim.
John didn’t know Jesus. He’d heard of him yes; flipping through the
channels on the tube,
there was always a brief stop of curiosity on the Christian
channel, or overhearing
saved men and women proclaim their joy in the booth
behind him on Sunday
evening dinners at restaurants. Jesus would save him. John
believed this, not out
of faith, but out of despair.
The one time he actually attended church was one Christmas Eve as a
child. Mother already
went to bed of course; holidays were no exception to the
rule of early to bed and
early to rise. Maybe that’s why he could never sleep—she
slept enough during the
hours of her life for both of them. John, out of boredom
more than religion,
trucked the harsh journey through winter and snow to the warm
chapel a couple miles
down Grape Orchard Road. They sang “Silent Night” and
the candles were lit.
Even in the darkness he knew they were staring and pointing.
He could almost hear
their thoughts, “that’s that Sheehan boy,” “his mother sure
isn’t very friendly,”
“he doesn’t have a father you know”. The feeling of warmth
and acceptance he felt
at the beginning of the service were frozen solid by the time
Now it was different. He wasn’t a boy anymore with fragile feelings—
non-existent. It only mattered what Jesus and he thought.
John couldn’t help but
admire the fine architecture of the cathedral—the
Stations of the Cross
handcrafted on both sides of the interior, the high arching
hand-stained pews, the large alter with the Last Supper engraving. He
paused for a moment in
awe—wasn’t this the point he was supposed to make the
sign of his new master?
He would learn as he went. John entered the confessional. It was time to
remove the darkness from
his soul once and for all.
In the small chamber the air was dry and musty, the confines tight and
uncomfortable. A small
square hole covered with crisscrossed balsa wood divided
him from the holy man on
the other side, a fixture John remembered seeing on the
bottom of porches or as
a divider in a garden. He stood because he knew not what
to do next.
“Please sit my son,” the voice came from behind the divider. “Beautiful
day for March isn’t it,
the sun and the birds.”
“Yes.” That was the only word that would fly. A long silence—long for
anyway—followed to the point of painfulness. This is a bad idea. Just
before the point of
leaving the voice spoke again.
“What brings you to our Father’s house today?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not Catholic.”
“Nobody’s perfect,” the priest said and laughed.
“I think I’ve made a mistake.” John stood up.
“Please don’t go. I did not mean to be trivial, only to make you feel more
“I’m not sure how this works, what I’m supposed to do. Am I to pray?”
“If you would like. This is the house of the Lord and He receives all acts
that are given to His
glory. He shed His blood for you on the cross, and wants only
your faith in return.”
“I’m not sure he made the right choice if he died for me.”
“None of us are worthy of his grace, all of us have fallen short, all are
sinners. What troubles
“I think I’ve fallen shorter than most. A part of me is so dark that I don’t
think it can be saved.”
John paused, trying to choose the right words. “I’ve
committed so many
violent acts toward women that I can’t even count or
remember them all.”
“And are you sorry for these sins?”
John paused again partly
because of the priest’s abrupt response, as if the
confession did not
surprise him in the least, and also because he didn’t know the
answer. Was he sorry?
Did he really have any remorse for the girls? Was
wanting to stop the same
thing as sorry?
“I am sorry,” John said.
“Then pray with me son, for the road to heaven is paved with forgiveness.”
John spent an hour in
that booth. Not reliving the murders—that was the
past—but finding out how
exactly you traveled the road to heaven.
“So anyway, you’re gonna be at tryouts tonight, right?”
“No,” Roman responded throwing my re-strung catcher’s mitt across the
“Do you realize you’re the missing link to our state title? You’re the guy
Coach Demera’s been
waiting the last ten years for. We need you man.”
“I haven’t even played baseball since Little League. There’s no way the
balance of your season
rests on me. You only saw me throw ten pitches. I’m not
“You hit ninety-four on the gun. Ninety-fucking four. There aren't too
many people that can do
that. That’s draft velocity. And who knows, you get your
arm in shape you might
throw even harder. We’ll dominate teams with you on the
Roman ate a mouthful of spinach. But instead of that blank stare—the look
I so often got with our
conversations at lunch—I could see something in his eyes.
It wasn’t excitement,
maybe not even hunger, but no matter what words were
coming out of his mouth,
and no matter what look he was trying to give me, I had
him thinking. Maybe even
wishing. Maybe that small boy back in Iowa was
telling him how great it
was to dream of being a big league ball player, of how it
sounded when the leather
popped in the catcher’s mitt sixty feet away, of how
good it felt when you
struck the guy out looking.
“There’s no way I could work and play baseball. It’s just not possible for
me to juggle both
“You’ve got your whole life to work, man.”
Roman only continued to eat. I wanted to tell him again how fuckin’ stupid
he was for a genius. But
I didn’t. My only hope—the Collingston Silver Streak’s
only hope—was a young
Iowa farm boy who hadn’t spoken to anyone for years.
The rest of the
stragglers made their way to the table. The lunch hour talk
turned to a ration of
bitching about the sprints Coach Demera made us run, about
sore legs and butts and
arms, about how hard it was to go from your chair to
standing, or walk up
stairs, or turn your steering wheel. I smiled at all of it. And
although I was a little
sorer than I let on, I took great pleasure in telling them they
should have worked out
more in the off-season like I did.
Sally and Frenchy were regular members of the round table now, putting on
a daily display of
affection for one another—it seemed every lunch period Jacques
was reciting some
cheesy-ass poem he’d written about her—with the kissing and
staring it was enough to
dampen, if not destroy my appetite. The difference
between those two dumb
asses compared to Heather and Roman was the
genuineness. If you took
away Heather’s looks and Roman’s smarts, I still think
they’d be just as into
Sally on the other hand was not in love with French boy. She might have
thought she was, but I
think it was more the idea of being in love. The idea of a
foreign guy who wrote
poetry and obeyed her every command. I’m a realist and
maybe that’s why I can
never stay with anyone longer than a couple of months. I
speak the truth and the
truth was, Sally, like most women, loved to hear how
wonderful she was. And
she was a cool girl; I’ll give her that—a smokin’ hot body
and fun to be around—but
Helen of Troy she was not. The armies of the world
were not going to fight
over her, much less two guys in a cafeteria. And while
enlightened European mind spat out anti-American jabs from
time to time, I promised
myself I’d keep my mouth shut. I promised I wouldn’t go
Pick Bryant lay with his head on the table, foregoing lunch for sleep,
adding a welcomed lack
of volume to our lunch group. Jack still talked the entire
time, but at least their
voices weren’t converging over our lunch table like pots and
pans clanging together.
Sam Peterman just finished telling us what a mistake he
made the night
before—rubbing down his sore leg muscles with Icy Hot and
some of it on his genitals. I felt for him. No matter how
careful you were with
the stuff, it always seemed to make its way up your legs, and
the family jewels would
inevitably swing themselves into it. It gave knew
meaning to the term
Jacques laughed at this as if he were one of the guys. I felt the thermometer
of fury rise in the back
of my head. I’d bet a good portion of my poker winnings
over the years that
Jacques very seldom had sore legs and probably never used
anything like Icy Hot.
“You Americans make me laugh,” he said. “Always torturing your bodies
for the most frivolous
reasons. Always obsessed with the way you look and what
people think of you. A
product of your society.”
“I didn’t run fifty sprints last night because I thought it would make me
look better,” Sam
responded. “I did it because it’ll make me a better ball player.”
Sam’s words didn’t make
it to Jacques’s ears. The exchange student
continued to ramble in
that thick-tongued French accent. “Materialistic I think is
the word. Idolaters
worshipping athletes and actors, putting your money above all
“What does any of that have to do with baseball?” Sam asked.
“Baseball, what a silly sport. How many hours do you spend preparing?
Two? Three? So you can
hit the little white ball farther, and run the bags faster.
At least soccer is
graceful, even tennis has an artistic sense, but baseball is bulky
and crude. I guess it
fits with your culture.”
That was it. I couldn’t take it anymore. “And what would you know of it,
Frenchy. I’d like to see
you swing a bat or throw a ball.”
“Anthony, Anthony, I have no wish to play your silly game. In France we
speak of art and love,
and are intelligent enough to appreciate true beauty, that
which occurs in nature,
and rests in all people.” Jacques picked up Sally’s hand
and kissed it, staring
at her with the bedroom eyes.
“Call me Anthony one more time and I’ll…”
“And you’ll what? Attack me with violence? Just like your Presidents.
Always wanting to go to
war instead of talk peacefully.”
I found myself standing now, feeling the blood rush in my head with every
heartbeat. My fists were
clenched. All I had to do was reach across the table and
strangle the scrawny
Frenchman by the neck. .
I sat back down.
“Ya know Jacques,” I made an extra effort to role the “J”. “I bet your dirty
French grandpas and
uncles don’t feel the same way you do.”
“What do you mean? Why do you call my ancestors dirty?”
“While they were busy laying down their weapons so Hitler’s boys could
march right in and take
over, back here in the good ole US of A we were planning
how to bail your sorry
French asses out. And that’s exactly what we did. So you
could appreciate your
beauty, and speak your language of love, not take baths for a
week at a time, and
bitch and moan about every move this country makes.”
Jacques flew up from his seat, pointing and yelling at me in French. I’m
sure I could hear the
word cocksucker in there somewhere. Sally collected him
and walked him away from
the table. Sam, Pick, and boys started clapping of
“Are you Roman Swivel?” A student worker was standing next to Roman
with a piece of paper in
“Here you go.”
Roman opened the call slip.
Heather leaned over to peek at it. “That’s the athletic office. Coach
Roman knew exactly where it was but seemed to be in denial. He looked at
me. “What do you think
“You know exactly what
An older lady that looked more like a librarian than athletic personnel
greeted Roman as he
entered the office. She told him to go in and have a seat, and
that Coach Demera would
be right with him.
While most of the school reeked of prison décor, Demera’s office was quite
different. The office
looked small but only because there were so many items
jammed into its space
and hung on its walls. A single chair sat in front of the
baseball coach’s desk
and Roman sat down.
Behind the desk, running the entire length of the top of the office wall,
hung the ten plaques
from the Silver Streaks’ previous state playoff appearances.
There were several third
and fourth place engravings; even a couple of seconds,
but the elusive first
was absent. Countless baseballs with player’s signatures were
frozen in time by the
glass cases that housed them. They sat on the file cabinets
and smaller desks around
the office, reminders of the past and of teams that didn’t
want to be forgotten.
The floor was green and looked to be turf instead of carpet.
Old mitts and bats were
stacked neatly against the bottom of the walls, and they
gave off the smell of
dirt and nostalgia, tricking Roman’s nose into thinking he was
at the ball field.
Below the state playoff plaques, in a mural that took up most of the wall,
was a painting—no doubt
created by a former player or players. It was abstract—
an out of focus blend of
silver and black—and in it stood a person holding two
scales, one in each
hand. It immediately reminded Roman of Lady Justice in
courtrooms, except the
scale holder was dressed in a baseball uniform and cap, and
wore no blindfold. In
his left hand he held the lighter scale, which was stacked
with numerous bricks.
And on each brick was a word. Roman read them with the
shutter speed of a
camera: preparation, intelligence, ability, luck, strength, speed,
size, focus, pride,
leadership, experience. In the player’s right hand he held the
other scale. It had a
single brick on it, but the player leaned toward its side because
of the weight. The scale
was only an inch or so off the ground. On the brick was a
“Glad you like it,” Demera’s voice came from behind Roman. “It’s about
as true a philosophy as
I’ve come across. Not only in this game, but all aspects of
life. Too many times
I’ve seen teams that should’ve run the table but didn’t—all
because they didn’t have
the one brick that’s more important than the rest.”
Demera walked around the desk, sipping something from his black and
silver mug, and sat down
in front of Roman. “I’m not going to waste your time
here so if you don’t
mind I’m going to cut right through the bullshit.”
“You know why you’re here. You’re obviously no dummy. I took a look at
your grades. I’ve never
begged a player to come out and I’m not about to start
with you. Don’t even
want ya if you don’t have that all-important brick in your
own arsenal. I don’t
give a shit about where you’ve been or how many people you
struck out in the past.
The only thing I care about is this team, and I know you
could make us better. I
don’t expect you to decide right now, but I do want you to
consider something. In
my high school coaching career I’ve coached roughly eight
hundred players. Thirty
percent of those guys went on to play college ball, ten
percent played some sort
of professional ball, and one lonely soul made it to the
big dance. Not one of
them came in the first day of practice and hit ninety-four on
the gun. Not a one of ‘em.”
Demera took out a folder and started working through it. Roman just sat
there, unsure if the
meeting was over. When the coach failed to speak more,
Roman got up.
“One more thing, Roman. I may have coached eight hundred players but
I’ve cut three times
that. I’ve got the sad job of crushing the dreams of young
men. Guys like Jason
Wallace. A kid, strong as an Ox, who hit the ball harder in
the cage than most I’ve
had. Cut him though, because he was born with legs that
only formed down to his
knees. The poor guy hit off his stumps at about three feet
off the ground. Jason
would’ve cut his left nut off and sat it on my desk, if he
could’ve played this
game. If he could do what you can do.”
Coach Demera went back to the papers on his desk.
Roman stood in the doorway for several minutes, looking into the mural on
Agent Johnson pulled up to the garage door on the side of the broken-down
warehouse. The bricks
were actually red, but looked the color of brown
rust. Johnson pushed a
button on his dashboard and the door contracted upward.
He pulled the car into
the warehouse and parked next to the rest of the vehicles.
Johnson walked to the
far side of the warehouse. Two goggle-type
eyepieces protruded out
of the wall. Johnson placed his eyes against them and a
red beam scanned over
his eyes. Below the eye scan was a metal mold. Johnson’s
hand went into it and a
quiet beep sounded from behind the wall. A panel slid
sideways and where a
second ago there was just a wall, there was now a doorway.
Johnson walked in.
“Level two,” Johnson said.
“Level two,” the elevator responded, descending after the door shut.
On level two the door opened. Johnson walked the length of the hallway in
front of him passing by
countless empty offices. He came to a large metal door.
The door opened
automatically. Johnson took off his trench coat and hung it on
the coat rack next to
The peephole as Johnson and the rest of the agents called it was a small
plain room. There was
only space for two or three people maximum in it. Agent
Stenworth stood with his
arms folded in front of him, shaking his head back and
forth. On the wall
directly in front of Stenworth was a two-way mirror. The
peephole showed what was
in the next room.
There, an Arab man was seated in a steel chair. Thick metal clamps
covered his wrists and
ankles, keeping him tight against the seat. The chair was
built into the floor, a
permanent fixture in the room. Bright lights hung above the
man from the ceiling.
Padded egg-shaped foam draped the wall of the room. The
screams from the man
could only be heard over an intercom. The screams were
loud even though the
intercom was turned down to its lowest level. The man was
profusely, and coated with dark almost black blood. A puddle of
urine and blood lay on
the floor beneath the chair.
Johnson was unmoved by
“We got a trooper here huh?” Johnson asked.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Stenworth replied. “We’ve been going at
him for over twelve
hours, ever since I got your email. Nice work by the way.
This son of a bitch is
about as tough as they come. Didn’t speak a lick of English
for the first two hours,
after that he spoke it quite well. Had the interpreter in here
for nothing. Still won’t
give us the location though. I’ll tell ya we’ve gone down
the list with this guy.
Injected him with the truth juice. Gave him a good hour of
high voltage. Hit him
with the clubs until Sike and Williams couldn’t lift their
arms to swing them
anymore. We pulled out everyone of his fingernails and two
of his teeth with a pair
of pliers, and still nothing.”
“What’s the blood from under the chair?” Johnson asked.
“We were sticking ice picks in his balls and ended up having to castrate the
poor bastard. I had to
call the meds to sew up his crotch so he wouldn’t die on us,”
“Have you tried the tank yet?” Johnson asked.
“I thought it would take too long,” Stenworth responded.
“This guy just wants us to put him out of his misery, if he knows he’s
gonna live for awhile,
he might be more inclined to give it to us,” Johnson said.
“What’s this asshole’s name again?” Johnson asked.
“Mushin Ahcmed,” Stenworth said back.
Johnson held down the
button on the intercom. “Take Mr. Ahcmed down
to the tank,” he said.
Sike and Williams unlocked Mushin from the chair and his body fell in the
blood and urine in front
of him. Agent Sike wrapped a thin chain around his neck
and pulled up until
Mushin was on his feet.
In the tank, Mushin’s wrists were placed in steel cuffs hooked to two chains
that hung a good ways
from the ceiling. A plastic vitals monitor was placed on one
of his fingers. A clamp
was placed around his neck with wiring running out of it
that went up to the
ceiling as well. Sike took Mushin’s left arm and placed an I.V.
into one of the veins in
his forearm. The plastic tube from the I.V. also rose to the
top of the ceiling along
the path of the chains that imprisoned Mushin. Williams
placed a mask over his
face, stopping him from using his mouth to bite anything or
anyone. Mushin’s legs
were shackled tightly as well, keeping him in a vertical
The tank was only 20 feet by 20 feet, but had a ceiling as high as forty feet.
The ceiling had two
large air ducts implanted in it. The walls were colorless, like
the floor, made out of
concrete. Underneath Mushin’s feet was a drain and under
the drain, a metal seal.
At the bottom of all four walls were circular holes the size
of softballs. The only
light that entered the room was from the solid steel door that
opened to the hallway
Agent Johnson walked into the tank and stood directly in front of Mushin.
He grabbed Mushin by the
hair on top of his head, raising it until Mushin’s eyes
“I want to tell you what all this is for, Mr. Ahcmed,” Johnson began. “In
the two minutes after I
leave this room, thirty eight degree water will be pouring in
from the holes you see
at the bottom of the walls, until it has filled the room up to
your waist. Since the
blood from your heart travels into your legs and into the
water, your core body
temperature will begin to decrease at a rapid pace, until the
point of hypothermia.
But just before that point we’ll drain the water from under
your feet, fill the room
with hot air and warm you back up. The wire attached to
your finger there, is
fed to our computers in the next room, which monitors your
body temperature, heart
rate, and tells us whether you’re awake or not. If you
should happen to fall
asleep Mr. Ahcmed the collar around your neck will send
30,000 volts through
your body until you wake up. Sleep deprivation in our
experience is far worse
than the pangs of hunger and physical bodily harm.”
“It matters not, Allah will take me within the hour,” Mushin replied.
“See that’s the kicker, as we say here in the States, Mr. Ahcmed. That
I.V. in your arm has
enough good stuff in it to keep you alive for a week or so.
That’s a long time to
wait to see Allah. We already know it’s in San Francisco.
We know it’s in the next
forty-eight hours. We even know who is planting the
bomb. Kazar and the boys
spilled their guts on that one so to speak. All you have
to give us the location
they’re staying at beforehand Mr. Ahcmed. I’m sure you’ll
do the sensible thing.
In return we will give you your death.”
Johnson patted him on his bruised shoulder as he left the room. The door
slammed shut cutting off
the light from the hallway.
Two hours passed. Mushin’s body shivered with the frequency of an
earthquake. Every few
minutes the shakes would stop and Mushin would drift off
into sleep—only for a
second. The voltage brought him back each time, almost
popping his eyes out of
their sockets. The desire to fulfill his mission and please
Allah was slowly being
replaced by the desire to meet Allah.
Stenworth, Sike, and Williams watched the monitors in the room next to
the tank with
anticipation. Johnson entered the room holding a cup of coffee. The
silence broke as
Stenworth struck a match and lit a cigarette. Stenworth looked at
his watch as he inhaled
hard on the smoke.
Stenworth started for the door. “It’s been two hours, we’ve got to call
Johnson put his hand on Stenworth’s chest stopping his tract to the door.
“Give it a little while longer.”
“We don’t have any longer. Every second counts,” Stenworth said.
“What are you going to tell them, that we don’t have anything yet? They’re
just going to tell you
to keep trying. This is all we’ve got. He’s going to break.
Give it forty minutes
and then if we have nothing, you can make the call,” Johnson
“Alright, forty minutes,” Stenworth replied, smashing the cigarette under
Forty minutes was an overshot. It only took half that time. Achmed’s
screams came over the
monitor, some of them in English and some in Arabic. Not
only did he give them
the apartment they were staying at but the precise time of the
attack. The van they
were using. Their names and descriptions. All of it spilled
out like the blood that
came before it. The bomb was going to go off while the
terrorists drove across
the Golden Gate, and it was all going down in less than six
hours during rush hour.
“Did you record all that?” Johnson asked Sike.
“Got it all,” Sike replied.
“Get Langley on the phone. Have them call my cell when the terrorists and
the bomb are secured,”
The water drained from the tank and hot air started to pump into the
chamber. Johnson walked
in and stood in front of Mushin once again, who was
now mumbling in Arabic.
“Once we have the bomb and your friends in custody I’ll put you out of
your misery Mr. Ahcmed.
Hopefully for your sake we won’t have to fill this tank
up and start all over.”
Mushin shook his head from side to side.
With agents from the FBI and CIA already combing every crevice in San
Francisco the hunt took
no more than an hour. The bomb was secured. Two of the
suspects were taken by
force; the other was shot down in a gun battle with the field
Johnson’s cell phone rang. The conversation was short.
Johnson raised his gun,
pointing it between the tired yellow eyes in front of
“Thanks for your cooperation Mr. Ahcmed,” Johnson said.
A single shot rang out
in the tank, piercing Mushin’s forehead, killing him
The first five minutes of practice, during stretching, I kept looking over at
the double doors hoping
Roman would walk in. There were other glances at the
door as well. Coach
Demera acted like he didn’t give a shit. His “one player never
makes a team” philosophy
was hard at work trying to disguise the anticipation
evident in his fidgety
feet drawing circles on the fieldhouse floor and in his
glances toward the hallway. Coach Grouse paced around as
much as his short stubby
legs would carry him. Halfway through practice I quit
looking at the door, but
kept thinking what a waste of talent it was. I helped out
scared freshman (several
of whom wouldn’t be back tomorrow) with bunting drills
and such. I hit in the
cage. I caught for a couple of last minute desperate guys who
thought they were all of
a sudden pitchers. It was just a deflated practice for me,
going through the
motions, pissed off because all hope seemed to be lost.
Demera never mentioned Roman that night. But he was oddly
quiet. His voice wasn’t
banking off the fieldhouse walls, telling an infielder to get
his butt down, or a
hitter to quit dropping his hands. We also ran more sprints that
night than I remembered
in all of the previous years. A couple of players that
might have made the team
actually walked out after sprint number fifty
something. Coach Demera
would deny it to his deathbed, but I think he was just
taking his frustration
out on us.
A curious thing happened the following morning. Final cuts were posted
outside Coach’s office
on a piece paper. It was real simple. If your name was on
the sheet, you made the
team. If it wasn’t, don’t get any stupid ideas like Coach
accidentally left you
I must have been the very last one to look at it. Ten minutes before the first
bell. My finger found
the Falcone name after scrolling down only a couple of
spaces. It was one of
those situations where it came in handy to have a name that
was at the front of
alphabet. Some other names on the list: Pick Bryant, Sam
Peterman, Scott Jakowski,
and Johnny Killman. The very last name, listed with an
asterisk next to it, was
none other than Roman Swivel. In four years I’d never seen
someone make the team by
only coming to one day of tryouts, much less the last
five minutes at the end.
I guess the asterisk meant he performed well enough to
make the team, but
wasn’t present for the entire tryouts. Coach Demera was
keeping hope alive a
little while longer it seemed.
Roman didn’t share our optimism. At lunch our pleading and words of
encouragement fell on
deaf ears. Heather even intervened, trying to talk sense into
that Iowa farm boy
buried deep in Roman’s soul. She ended up calling him obtuse,
which I imagine is what
smart people say to one another when they really mean
“dumb ass”. Roman was
flattered; I could see it in his eyes. He appreciated the
guys at the table
thinking so much of him, and he was surprised that Coach had
kept his name on the
list. But that was as far as it went.
Roman showed up his usual half-hour before roll call. He organized his
janitor cart, topping
off the bottles of cleaning solution, replacing dirty rags with
clean ones, and even
wiping the cart down from top to bottom. Boss Chatterling
handed out assignments
to all the other janitors and released them into the
The Boss leaned back on her makeshift desk in the dusty boiler room,
removed her glasses, and
rubbed the hard-pressed indentions on the sides of her
nose. Roman stood at
“Ya know Swivel, when you first started here I would of bet a lot of money
that you would never
make it. Physically I mean. You’re just a scrawny little guy,
and I never thought your
body would ever keep up with the demand. Never judge
a book by its cover I
guess. They still say that don’t they?”
“In thirty-seven years I’ve never had a worker as good as you. You take
pride in your work just
like I do. Maybe that’s why you and I have always gotten
along so well.”
Chatterling, you’re not gonna get mushy on me, are you?” Roman
smiled expecting one in
Helen only put her glasses back on and spoke in a serious tone. “Perish the
thought Swivel. Perish
“Quite the opposite Swivel. Something’s very right. That’s what makes it
so hard. I knew I’d lose
you in a couple a months. I just never knew it would be
not following you.”
“I’ve got to let you go.”
“I don’t understand. You just said I was the best...”
“Let me explain Swivel. I got a call from Coach Demera over the
weekend. I’m firing you
for your own good. There’s a group of guys that really
“I made a commitment to work for you. I don’t want to let you down.
Besides that’s just a
game, they’ll do fine without me.”
“Is that what your father would have said Swivel? That it’s just a game.”
Roman didn’t reply.
“I didn’t think so. Believe it or not Swivel, this high school was cleaned
meticulously before you
got here, and it still will be. Granted I might have to hire
three guys to take your
place, but in the end I always find a way to get it done.”
Helen stood up and
picked an envelope off the desk. “I figured up eleven weeks
until the end of school.
I had payroll cut you a check for that time and then some.
Imagine that, me
manipulating the system. Consider it severance pay.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t go gettin’ all mushy on me Swivel. You don’t have to say
anything. Just go strike
the sons of bitches out.”
Roman smiled. “Thank you, for everything.”
Boss Chatterling held out her hand and shook with the former janitor.
Roman still couldn’t get over her grip.
“The pleasure was all mine, Swivel.”
We’d already spent thirty minutes of practice trying to get through
stretching. Coach Demera
was a perfectionist, so when stupid freshmen didn’t
follow the routine, we
all had to run. What should have taken ten minutes tops
turned into a circus of
confused underclassmen. Coach would always let us seniors
sort out the mess, but
after several failed attempts, running was the only surefire
way to get everyone’s
After finally making it through the stretching, we were allowed to play
catch. Even after
continued warnings from us upperclassmen, the stupid-ass
dropped balls. So we ran more laps. Then we got our gloves
and tried it again. Two
minutes later we were back running.
The first week of Coach’s practices were often referred to as hell week.
Demera had two major
critics of his coaching methods: parents who thought the
players were being
subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, and their sons who
were secretly cursing
Coach in the silence of their thoughts. Nobody liked the piss
run out of ’em, least of
all me. But I also was smart enough to know that it
worked. Fear was a great
motivator, maybe the greatest. And two weeks from
now you’d be hard
pressed to see a ball hit the ground during catch, or somebody
talking to their
neighbor and out of sync during stretching. Whether you liked or
hated the man, the
result was always the same: he made you better.
After catch, we divided up into infielders and outfielders for drill work.
That meant how to drop
step on a ball and crow hop correctly for outfielders, and
wooden gloves for
infielders. Wooden gloves were exactly what their name
slabs just big enough to cover your hand, with an elastic band
on the back for your
fingers. Those crude devices turned mere mortals into actual
shortstops and second
It was during those monotonous drills that Roman walked in. He still had
his gray janitor outfit
on and couldn’t have looked more out of place. The drills
including the coaches just stared for a minute. Then there
were a few claps and
before long the entire varsity joined in, expressing their
welcome with their
“That’s enough,” Coach Demera said.
The clapping stopped.
“I’ve got good and bad news for you, Swivel. The good news is I’m going
to let you practice in
that get up of yours this one time. You can tell from the
ovation your teammates
want you with them, and so do I. The bad news is your
teammates have run a
hundred eighty-seven forty-yard sprints in the time that
you’ve missed. You’re
gonna have to take care of that before you can join them.”
My stomach tightened at the thought. I was a little nervous that Roman
might rethink playing
after such a burden. But he only nodded and went to the
track. Demera sent one
of the assistant coaches to count the sprints.
Our drills continued,
and then there was a walk-through of our bunt
defenses, and at the end
there was base running. Roman was still running after
practice finished. The
entire varsity stayed around and watched. It wasn’t that we
liked watching him run,
it hurt all of us. It was more of a respect thing. And then
Coach Demera did the unthinkable. He pulled out his stopwatch as Roman ran,
clicked it at the
beginning and at the forty-yard mark. Roman was sucking hard for
air by this time. I
don’t care how good of shape you’re in; forty minutes of sprints
will make jello out of
the best legs.
Coach Demera looked down at the watch and shook his head. “What
number are you on
“One hundred and eighty,” the janitor gasped back.
“I’ve got bad news again. If you don’t run the sprint in under six seconds it
doesn’t count. And if
doesn’t count you have to start over. You just ran that one
in six three.”
This was the moment I’d feared. It was also the reason we all stayed
around. I knew what
Coach was doing. He wanted to make sure Roman was
committed. And in his
mind the only affirmation of this was to take Roman to the
point of breaking him
mentally and physically. He wanted to know how bad the
janitor wanted it.
Roman looked at Coach in disbelief, but only briefly. He got back on the
line and waited for the
“Go,” Demera said and clicked the watch.
I jogged up to Roman at the far end and took the place next to him. His
eyes were squinted from
the sweat, and I could hear the air wheezing in his chest.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“I’m running these with you. This is a team game remember?”
After two sprints Sam
Peterman, Pick Bryant, and Scott Jakowski were
running with us. After
four everyone but Johnny was running. And after six, even
the Killer joined in.
As much of a hard ass as Demera was, he had a soft spot for team
camaraderie. He only
made us run ten sprints as a group, citing that nineteen guys
running ten sprints was
one ninety, and that was three more than he needed.
Roman thanked us all afterward.
We thanked him as well.
And that’s how it went it for us. In the two weeks that followed, we were
subjected to Coach’s
perfection; his never-pleased you-can-do-better philosophy,
and the boot camp
practices that went along with it. That meant three hours a night
of cussing and yelling
from the drumlike voice of a man who stood no more than
five-ten, and looked as
if he should be teaching art appreciation somewhere. It
meant practices outside
anytime it wasn’t freezing, even though there’s not much
thirty-three and thirty-two when you’re fighting the winds of
March. It meant going
over bunt defenses, cut-off alignments, offensive
procedures like hit and
run and bunting. It meant fielding ground balls with
wooden gloves. It meant
swinging the bat until the blood blisters on our hands
popped. We did it all a
thousand times and then some. And when we messed up,
when somebody dropped
the ball so to speak, we ran until we puked. Then we ran
some more. And just when
your body thought it couldn’t take any more, when
your legs told your
brain there’s no way they could take another step, we started all
over again. For me it
meant pitchers like Roman popping my mitt until I couldn’t
feel my fingers anymore
and blocking fifty or so balls a practice off the floor from
the pitching machine.
When running and puking did not get the results Coach Demera was
looking for he would
clear practice, throw us out, and tell us not to come back until
we were serious. There
were guys like Johnny the Killer cussing Coach, quietly
plotting as we ran to
come together and overthrow his evil regime. Maybe if we
stood against Coach and
refused his tortures he would change. Johnny the Killer
on several occasions
tried to get us all to quit. What would Coach do then?
Maybe we could jump him
in the parking lot after practice. It was all bullshit
though, just hot air
venting from the mind of a guy who was known in the real
world as the Killer, but
in Demera’s practices as Johnny Killman. Truth be told,
Johnny was scared
shitless of Coach. Never said a word to the man’s face.
Johnny, like the rest of us, had been through it for four years. He knew what
deal was. If we all
hated Coach Demera enough it united us. The only way to beat
him was to be perfect.
And the only way to be perfect was to come together as a
team, to care about the
guys next to you more than yourself.
Demera majored in Psychology in college, and I think only the fear
of jail time prevented
him from putting shock collars on us. I imagine he dreamed
at night of those
collars, and how abrupt the results would be with their use. The
funny thing was—and
Coach had this down to a science—just about the third week
of practice, when
everyone was at their breaking point, and hating him more than
any person they ever met
or heard about, our games started. We now had a whole
team to focus our
frustration on instead of one man.
Curious things happened that last week right before the first game. The fire
in our legs started to
recede. The soreness in our arms was gone. We were
running sprints with
ease. The blisters on our hands were now callused over. The
teammates over mistakes, the talking during stretching, the
goofing around, and the
dropped balls during catch—all of them were gone. In
three weeks he’d
chiseled us into a ball team. And when the guys started to throw
harder, hit better, run
faster, and realize that they were in the best shape of their
lives, instead of hating
Coach, they started to love him.
Roman took to Coach’s system immediately. Demera’s practices were
wasn’t a second of three hours wasted—and Coach
Those philosophies fit like pieces of a puzzle into the slots
of Roman’s brain. It was
inspiring to watch him go from being last in the sprints
to first, to watch Coach
Grouse mold him from just a thrower to a pitcher, to watch
him become a silent
leader on the team because of his work ethic. Roman even
stayed around after
practice every night at Sam Peterman’s request, and threw him
countless balls in the
cage. He never complained like the rest of us. I guess when
you’ve lived a life like
Roman’s, baseball could hardly be considered work.
Near Washington D.C.
Agent Johnson sat on his sofa in the dark, holding a glass of wine and
staring at the picture
on his end table. The photo had been taken the day they
closed on the house. His
wife and son had the same smile—wide gleaming teeth
that seemed to take up
the entire width of their faces. They’d never gotten a
chance to spend a night
in the house—a man halfway around the world with a
warped idea about how
planes should be used on the Twin Towers had seen to
that. Johnson smiled
anyway, and ran his long fingers down the sides of their faces
in the photograph.
The pile of mail sat on his hardwood floor, touched last by the mailman
who sent it through the
slot day after day. Johnson couldn’t remember the last
time he had actually
been home. His wardrobe was scattered across the country at
Bravo and the other NN
bases. It was better that way—to be working all the time.
There was nothing left
for him here anyway and the evil in the world wasn’t going
go away by him just
sitting at home. Johnson wasn’t naïve enough to think that
finishing off Kazar and
his plot was the end of it. But freedom was built on one
dead terrorist at a
time. So what was next?
Johnson flipped open his phone to find no messages waiting. He walked
over to the only other
piece of furniture in the room, which was a computer
station. He turned it on
and swirled the wine around in his glass and drank it
down, waiting for the
computer to access his NN account. There were no emails.
To most this would be a
blessing, but Johnson didn’t know how to function
anymore without an
assignment in front of him. He had fought, chased, and killed
for so long it was all
he knew now.
He sat there for a second, maybe wishing the computer would chime the
familiar alert letting
him know he had an email, maybe hoping there would be new
orders for him, maybe
wishing the Voice would call him in and have another
assignment. But he
already the next assignment didn’t he? One that he was not
looking forward to. The
lack of communication was an eerie way of fate telling
him it was time.
Looking forward to it or not, there was only one way to go about this work
of his, and that was to
get on with it. Johnson brought up the NN’s search
engine—a cruel device
that not only searched the Internet and all of its numerous
browsers, but also broke
into so-called secure locations of state and local
governments, as well as
private companies and schools. Johnson had conquered
the awkwardness of his
oversized fingers walking on a keyboard several years
back, and now they
danced keys that spelled Roman Swivel into the blank space.
He hit the search
button. Only seconds passed.
“0 surface query hits for ‘Roman Swivel’,” the screen read. “Would you
like to do an exhaustive
search with Internet Bots?”
nternet Bots were not robots at all, but a billion or so programs that
“crawled” every inch of
the unfathomable amount of data in cyberspace. The Bots
search may take days,
even weeks, but if the name Roman Swivel floated out in the
they would find it. Johnson clicked yes.
“Where are you Roman?” he whispered to himself. “Where are you?”
Gina Hawthorne walked into The Lone Rose. Most of the time when she
wanted flowers one of
the employees would be sent, but this was an occasion Gina
wanted to be perfect.
There wasn’t time to deal with the errors of the servants.
The Lone Rose wasn’t your typical flower shop. Upon opening the door,
the usual rush of
fragrance hit Gina in the face, but there was something else. The
smell of expensive
brewed coffee lingered in the air, and the aroma of cinnamon
made its way through the
thick floral scent. Classical music danced over the
surrounded the interior of the store, and bounced off the large glass
windows that made up the
wall just to the left of the entrance. Lavish flowerprinted
furniture lined the
outlying walls, and on those furnishings sat different
people, most of them
women Gina’s age. They ate Danishes and sipped their
flavored coffees in
petite cups, the handles of which could only be held by two
Freddy spotted Gina immediately and rushed out from behind the counter,
almost knocking over one
of his employees. He walked over quickly, trying to
keep a professional
demeanor. Their smiles met in the middle of the aisle—a smile
that would not be so
happy if Gina knew of her daughter’s circumstances at
Extravaganza and if
Freddy knew that the blond beauty that helped ruin his party
was the daughter of the
person he now spoke to.
“Dear Mrs. Hawthorne, to what do we owe a morning filled with such
grace and beauty?” The
Flower asked and bent down to kiss her hand.
“Only your help, Mr. Flowers, only your help,” Gina said and laughed.
“How may I be of
“I host Bridge club this month, and was wishing to decorate the house for
“Your wish is my desire. I can only hope that your purchase will be half as
lovely as the woman in
front of me.”
Gina didn’t blush, only batted her eyes at the shower of compliments. With
her looks and more
importantly her money, she had come to expect such
adoration. “I am not
going to waste your valuable time Mr. Flowers by picking out
every plant. I trust
your keen insight and impeccable reputation in such matters.”
Freddy walked over to the counter, picked up a pad and pencil, and began
to write. “Will you be
doing the entire mansion or just the lower levels?”
“Just the immediate area. The foyer, sunroom, staircase, and of course the
dining room…speaking of
the staircase, you wouldn’t happen to know of a good
carpenter would you? My
daughter’s new boyfriend pointed out a couple flaws in
our wood work and it’s
been driving me to insanity ever since.”
an auspicious question. I recently hired a carpenter myself, to fix
one of my warehouses
some meddling teen-agers decided to try to burn to the
ground. It must be fate
that brings you here to today.”
“Would your man be interested in some side work?”
“I’m certain he would be. The man is a genius when it comes to carpentry.
I think we are going to
go into the furniture business together. Should I send him
over so you could talk?”
Flowers, your word is good enough.”