Roman knocked on Carl’s door repeatedly. There was no response. If it
wasn’t for Roman’s
injured shoulder he probably would’ve turned and walked
home. Instead we entered
the living room—Carl’s door was never locked—and
searched every room
including the cluttered basement. It was hours after the bar
closed and Carl was
nowhere to be found. We even drove up and down the route
he took to and from the
bar—alas no Carl.
After a couple hour search of every side street, whorehouse, and possible
location we could think
of, I drove Roman back to his house. Heather’s Mustang
sat in the driveway and
I could see her fingers tapping the steering wheel
nervously. She knew
Roman was okay for the most part—I called her when we
nights such as these tend to bring out the pessimistic side
of people. Roman took
two steps up his driveway and stopped. His head rose to
the perfect full moon
and Heather looked up as well, trying to see in that bright bulb in the
sky what Roman saw. I
wondered what it was like for him to think. When I think
I can actually hear
words in my head. Did Roman hear words too only at a lot
faster rate, like a
speed speaker or a tape in fast-forward? Whatever the case I
knew after almost nine
months of interrupting, it was best to just let him finish.
that around the time of every full moon he begins to feel sick,”
“Yeah,” Heather started. “And that it was because the aliens cast some sort
of spell over him.”
wasn’t sick at all this week. He was as lively as I’ve seen him. He
also said that that time
in the jungle they asked him to go with them. Like they
couldn’t force him to go
against his will,” Roman said again.
are you getting at?” I asked.
“Maybe the aliens were making him sick because he refused to go with
when they choked him in the jungle,” Heather added.
he wasn’t sick at all this week,” I said. “Even tonight he was as happy
as a clam.” The image of
Carl standing in front of the Tavern with his hand held
up flashed in my mind.
“Maybe he wasn’t sick because he agreed to go,” Roman said.
was talking crazy, saying his time here was up and he wouldn’t be
surprised if they came
for him tonight,” Tony said. “You know what though? I’ve
had it with all this
aliens and serial killers and fucking secret agent bullshit. I’m
going home and going to
bed. If you need me to whip Johnson’s ass later tonight,
just give me a call.”
“Honestly do you think you’ll be all right? Do you need to go to the
hospital? I’ll stay here
if you want me to,” I said.
be fine. Tony, thanks for everything. I wouldn’t be here right now if
it weren’t for you.”
“Yeah, about twenty more nights like tonight and I’ll be even with you.”
I drove off as Heather
and Roman walked into his house.
much as I wanted to go home, the Pinto had other ideas. I found myself
at Sally’s house,
climbing the downspout of the gutter and hoping like hell it didn’t
rip off the side of the
porch. People in the movies always seem to shoot right up
these things like
they’re Spider-Man. I had a more difficult time of it—slipping
several times and
falling back to the bushes on others. My determination won out
though, and I crawled
along the porch roof, keeping myself invisible as I passed
under her parents’ room.
tapped on Sally’s window for what seemed like hours. It was a fine line I
was walking—tapping hard
enough that it would wake her, but not so hard that her
parents would hear.
Eventually the light came on in her room and she appeared in
front of the window. Her
grogginess was replaced by anger when she saw who it
was. She opened the
window anyway. We had to whisper on account of her
parents’ room right next
something wrong?” Sally asked as she picked up a brush and began to
comb through her hair.
It wasn’t to look pretty for me—just instinct to look her
best at all
times—something women are born with I guess.
proceeded to tell Sally the events that transpired early that night, of
Roman and Heather, Max
Sheehan and Agent Johnson. She seemed to be
even wanted to call and make sure Heather was all right, but
my sad story really got
why are you here again? Couldn’t you have called and told me all
was I here? As much as I wanted to blame it on the Pinto, I knew it
was more the man behind
the steering wheel. I just stood there and looked at her.
2:00 in the morning. If you’re not going to say anything I’m going
back to bed. I’ve got a
test first hour in British Literature. 1984. Fun, fun.”
know why I’m here. I just felt like I needed to see you. I can’t
explain it. I’ve got
stupid little thoughts running through my head. Look, maybe
you’re right, maybe I
should just go.”
of stupid little thoughts?”
know, like maybe I’m sorry for the way I treated you when we
were dating. Maybe I was
a fool for breaking up with you.”
just it Tony, it’s always maybe with you. You didn’t come here to
apologize. We didn’t
date; it was more like you trying to get in my pants every
second of the day. And
there is no maybe about you being a fool. It’s not a matter
of you being able to say
the things in your head; it’s that you won’t say them.
way it was and will always be. It doesn’t matter anyway. I’m flying
back to France with
Jacques the day after graduation and spending a month with
him. I’ve always wanted
to see Europe.”
didn’t respond to the slang term I used for his name. Instead she
walked over to the light
switch, shut it off, climbed into bed, and pulled up the
covers. “If you’re not
going to say what you came to say you may as well leave.”
to tell you. You’re just not listening.”
I stared at
her for more than a minute. “Fuck it,” I said and opened the
window back up. I put
one foot out but when my second one hit the roof I slipped
and slid head first
toward the edge. I tried to stop myself but there was nothing to
grab onto. I fell off
and landed in the bushes a good twenty feet down. It did not
feel good. After pulling
the twigs and sticks out of my clothes and skin, the front
porch light came on. I
limped quickly to the Pinto, and as I drove off I could hear
Sally’s father cursing
Part of me
did not expect to see Roman again when I pulled out of his
driveway. Even though he
laughed at my jokes and seemed not to be angry about
Carl’s absence, I could
easily see him packing up his baseball cards and few other
disappearing into the darkness of night. I could see him traveling
to somewhere unlikely,
driven by the winds of chance and the pursuit of one Agent
next few weeks he proved that part of me wrong. Roman was as
carefree as I’d ever
seen him. He talked more, laughed often, and put down his
never-ending stack of
books to join those of us who lived in reality. He told me
that a huge weight had
been lifted off his shoulders because of the confrontation
with Max Sheehan. Roman
would never see his parents again but at least it was
some sort of closure. It
seemed to me that he traded one burden for the other—the
monkey of Max was off
his back, but a much heavier Agent Johnson had just
jumped on. I suggested
at one point that maybe Johnson didn’t escape the inferno
of Extravaganza, that
maybe the roof fell in on him, and he burned alongside Max
Sheehan. Roman gave me
the look at that comment—a gesture that told me I was
an idiot if I believed
it. There was no doubt that Johnson and his NN loomed on
the horizon. There comes
a point when you just have to say, “fuck it”. I think
Roman was at that point,
and whether his happy face and attitude were more for us
than for him, it served
May to us
meant baseball. It meant there were conference championships
to win and state titles
to get ready for. It meant working on the baseball field less
because the monsoons of
April had finally dried up. It meant trading in jeans for
shorts. It meant skin on
the females for as far as the high school eye cared to look.
smell graduation in the air and the classroom part of high school was on
full shutdown for us
seniors. The prison guards gave up with teaching and
minds were already somewhere else.
moved herself one Mustang load at a time into Roman’s house.
Whether it was the fact
that she couldn’t bring herself to stay in the mansion that
Max Sheehan once
haunted, or because she just wanted to be close to Roman those
final days of school,
Gina did not fight her. She even sent little goody baskets
along with her
daughter—food and snacks, even books for Roman. Heather who
was always looking for
some cause, found one in our missing friend Carl. She
plastered the city of
Collingston and its surrounding area with pictures of our odd
friend. Every gas
station, barnyard, schoolyard, outhouse, doghouse, store,
convenient mart, and
church displayed his likeness. I imagine that every citizen in
Collingston whether they
liked it or not, knew the face, name, height, and weight
of Carl Stumot. Heather
even made her mother rent several billboards around the
area. It was no surprise
to see Carl’s giant face staring down at you as you drove
down the highway. When
there wasn’t a response Heather only doubled her
efforts, branching out
to neighboring cities and creating a website devoted totally
to finding him.
kept up Carl’s property during those days in May—mowing the
grass, cleaning the
house, even making sure the bees in the basement never ran dry
on their honey. He ran
with Heather every morning at six, claiming he was staying
in shape for baseball. I
wondered if it was training for something else.
couldn’t lift his arm the first few days after battling Agent
Johnson. He couldn’t
throw a ball the first week. By week two he was playing
light catch. By the
beginning of week three he was throwing in bullpens. More
than anything, more than
the gray matter between his ears or the quickness in the
weapons he called hands,
Roman was a survivor.
Streaks did falter—our perfect record was spotted with a few
losses here and
there—but the guys stepped up nicely in our ace’s absence. Johnny
the Killer went a
perfect 4-0 in those two weeks. Our offense got a boost from
guys like Sam Peterman
in the bottom of the order. We averaged more runs in that
span than the rest of
the year. It wasn’t something the guys wanted to do but had
to if they wanted to
over a new leaf as well—nothing but smiles for Jacques and Sally.
I never let his
slick-tongued accent get to me, or let her eyes tell me our story
together wasn’t done. It
was always “how are you”, “that’s great”; I even laughed
at his stupid jokes and
misuse of words.
until one day at lunch that my efforts were rewarded. It came in a
way I would’ve never
expected. It was during one of those few and far between
moments of silence at
the lunch table when all the conversations and laughter had
some how burned
themselves out. Johnny the Killer had no chauvinistic jokes,
no stuttering business math questions, Pick and Sam weren’t arguing
over Babe Ruth’s
significance, the cheerleaders weren’t comparing their newly
tan’s, and Roman wasn’t telling us of how all mammals have
the ability to hibernate
if only the right genes were turned on in their DNA. The
only sound was hungry
teenage mouths chewing food.
I bit into
the piece of pizza in front of me, scanning the round table for the
next potential speaker.
I worked my way around counter clockwise, searching for
budding conversation in
someone’s eyes. All were blank except for one. Frenchy
was already staring at
me three seats away with some slanted-ass grin like he knew
something I didn’t. I
felt my blood pressure rise until he spoke.
Jacques,” I rolled the J sarcastically. It was habit now I guess.
like to make an offering of peace.”
would that be?”
“I want you
to take Sally to your spring dance.”
hell are you doing?” Sally objected.
Tony should go to Prom together. I’m only an underclassmen
and don’t know of such
a dance,” Sally said.
been reading in your magazine called YM. It says that you will
remember Prom date for
the rest of your life. That you should go with someone
that knows how to have a
how to have a good time,” Sally argued.
“Yes but I
don’t know the customs of Prom. You should go with Anthony,
Tony, because you have been friends for a long time, no? Besides he has
no date and you will be
mine for a month in France.”
asshole for reminding me,” I whispered to myself.
it’s a great idea,” Heather cut in.
“Why do I
feel like I’m being pimped out?” Sally said.
Johnson limped into the theater room and placed his hand on the
crystal palm mold. The
reflected light coming from the surface of the room began
to darken, melting into
the brown and black shadows of the hologram courtroom
he had visited so many
times before. He couldn’t think of a time he had been less
anxious to talk to the
known as the Voice sat atop his judge-like throne. Johnson could
see the man’s hands as
they typed and pushed different buttons, but his face was
black and non-existent,
tucked away behind shadows. There was a long silence—
longer than Johnson
could ever remember—before the Voice spoke. And as much
as Johnson prepared
himself for the deep thundering boom of the Voice’s speech,
it always seemed louder
than the time before.
Voice spoke. Johnson thought the words would vibrate right
through him. “By the
looks of you Agent Johnson, would it be safe to surmise that
your apprehension of
Roman Swivel has failed.”
be safe to surmise that, yes sir,” the agent responded.
also assume that our satellite images are not lying to us, that
Swivel still lives?”
time you stood in front of me you said that Swivel might be
more powerful than we
once thought. You said that you took him for granted the
first time and it
wouldn’t happen again. What is your assessment of Swivel now?”
Johnson tried to choose
his words wisely, both to protect Roman and
himself. “He is
remarkable. But in talking to him I can tell you he has no interest
in our line of work. In
all honesty sir, I had a gun to his face, and he would rather
me pull the trigger than
be captured alive. He will never join us.”
“I sense an
uneasiness with you Agent Johnson. Rest assured that Swivel
will join us. There are
ways around his reluctance. Our scientists have been
dabbling in a new
technology that uses electromagnetic pulses to manipulate brain
chemistry. The three
subjects we have experimented on so far have no recollection
of past events in their
lives, they don’t know where they’re from, they don’t even
know what their names
are. But their cognitive reasoning seems to be intact.”
due respect sir, I would like to be reassigned. I’m too close to
the situation and I’m
afraid my judgment is suffering because of it.”
A long silence. And then
the deep bass boomed again.
no need to batter yourself over the failure to eliminate Swivel.
We are after all
protectors of the peace, not monsters. Your decision may have
been wise indeed. Keep
in mind that America stands because of you and me.
America stands because
of our sacrifice. Though it goes unnoticed it is a sacrifice
nonetheless. We cannot
jeopardize the security of the nation for the mind of one
young man. I will
however compromise with you, Agent Johnson. I am putting
Agent Stenworth in
charge of the mission; you will accompany him and the other
Agents in apprehending
our allusive ally.
sending every available Agent to assist with the mission. Though it
won’t be all of our
manpower, it will ensure our success. It will also make things
less messy I suspect.”
sir, but I have one request. Roman asked that he be able to at
least graduate. That’s
less than a month from now.”
“And if he
satellites are recording his daily movements and I placed GPS tracers
on all of his
belongings. Besides I don’t believe him to be a flight risk anymore.
He feels…he thinks that
he is at home.”
“So be it.
The wait will give your wounds time to heal and time for us to
gather more available
Agents. You are a good man, Agent Johnson. Godspeed on
pissed at Frenchy for his so-called peace offering. I don’t think
she really minded going
with me. She was angry because French Boy, even
though his intentions
were good, was telling her he really didn’t care about going
with her to the Prom.
Women hate rejection, maybe more than anything.
it cool like it wasn’t a big deal. Truth was I was happy as hell.
I don’t put much stock
in all the mushy bullshit about fate and destiny, but this did
feel right. We had come
a long way since that day in Heather’s pool and while a
part of me would always
want her, I was just content to be going with someone I
was close to. It sure
would beat going stag like Jack and Brunno.
to do one more thing where Prom was concerned. When the
ballots were cast I
voted for myself as Prom king. Maybe that’s unethical. Maybe
it was selfish. I didn’t
give a shit. The crown was up for grabs these days with
Johnny the Killer losing
his place on the mountaintop and who deserved it more
than me? I’d put in my
time. I was a nice guy. People liked me. Why not reap
the benefits for once?
Sally made all the Prom arrangements of course. Women
always love shit like
that—the planning, the dress buying, the gushing over
jewelry, Saturdays at
the mall. It would take them weeks to finalize something that
could’ve been done in a
day. Let’s face it, they weren’t planning a wedding.
fine with me and Roman. We had more important things to deal
with, like baseball and
state tournaments. The regional started without Roman’s
healthy right arm, but
we managed. We won the regional, demolishing each of the
three teams we played by
the ten-run rule and without Roman ever taking the
mound. Johnny the Killer
pitched in the third game and had an impressive
performance, giving up
only two runs in seven innings and striking out seven.
Every person in the line
up had an RBI, even Sam Peterman, and our defense was
close to perfect,
committing only one error in that three-game span.
Roman worked as hard and quick as he could at getting back; spending
time with the trainer
everyday after school and throwing simulated games every
three days. He was
scheduled to start sometime in the sectional. Roman had
another project going
also, something that took him to Mr. Buttworst’s house every
wouldn’t elaborate on his nightly trips. It was only after my
questioning and begging
that he let me come along. I drove us up there of course
and was surprised when
Roman went into the good teacher’s garage instead of his
house. Things got
stranger, not only did Roman hand me a shovel upon exiting the
garage, but I found
myself following him through the forest behind Buttworst’s
went on forever and it seemed that we walked every inch of it.
like the fishing, because I’m getting good grades now? I really don’t need
lesson,” Roman responded.
finally at the bottom of a hill. Spread out on the ground next
to a wheelbarrow and an
ax, was a large tarp. Roman walked over and lifted it up.
Underneath it was a
large hole that Roman had apparently been digging for the last
couple of weeks. It was
probably twenty feet in circumference and five feet deep.
Not three feet in back
of it was a large rock outcropping that formed a wall and
seemed to seal us off
from the rest of the forest—a mountain in the middle of the
“So what do
we have here?” I asked.
somehow answered my question without answering it. “I’ve got it
wide enough, I just need
it a couple feet deeper.”
turns—one of us would scoop the dirt out of the pit, the other
would empty the
wheelbarrow a hundred or so feet into the woods. It wasn’t the
easiest work in the
world, but Roman seemed to be in no hurry. He scraped his
shovel, putting little
effort into it, as if his persistence was more important than the
pressure of the spade.
we’re digging a giant grave,” I said and laughed.
didn’t crack a smile.
“So me and
Sally, what do you think?” I said as I returned with the empty
was down in the pit. He stopped shoveling at my question, placing
his hands over the knob
of the handle and resting his chin above them. He leaned
on the tool and stared
up at me like I just asked him to explain a black hole.
“Can I tell
you something that’s been bothering me for about nine months
now?” Roman countered.
you refer to yourself and another person you always put
understand,” I said.
instance, you said ‘me and Sally’.”
say ‘Sally and I’.”
difference?” I really didn’t get it.
correct English. If you and someone else are the subject of a
sentence you should say
‘so-and-so and I’. If you’re the object of a sentence you
should say ‘so-and-so
and me’. But you should always refer to yourself last,”
everybody has the luxury of your brain.”
mean it like that.”
whatever,” I muttered, as much to myself as to him.
Sally and I, what do you think?”
matter what I think. What do you think?”
Roman was a
master of sidestepping questions. No matter how many
times he gave me a
question as a response, no matter how many times I knew it
was coming, I always
fell for it. “I don’t know what I think. I used to think she
was just some hot girl I
was lucky enough to mess around with. I never thought
about her much past
that. Now though it’s like everywhere I look she’s there.
Every time I turn on the
radio the song playing reminds me of her. I know it’s
corny as hell.”
You’re human aren’t you? Even the toughest guys have feelings,
don’t know. I’m not the type to open the car door for a girl, or
send her cheesy-ass love
notes, or go to dinner and a movie. I’d rather kick
somebody’s ass on the
baseball field and then go drink beer with the guys.”
another shovel load of dirt over his shoulder out of the pit
and next to my feet. He
continued to work as he talked. “Look you’re asking the
wrong guy about women.
I’ve only been with one you know? The best advice
I’ve ever gotten was
from you actually. You stood in my doorway a couple of
days before Christmas. I
believe you said I was pretty fucking stupid for a genius.
Something to the effect
that you weren’t going to waste your senior year watching
me waste my life. It’s
the same thing with love, isn’t it? You can be scared of it or
ignore it, but in the
end it’s still there.”
said out loud. “It can’t be. Where did I screw up?”
hosted the sectional at Collingston Stadium and walked through all
three games of it. Roman
pitched in the sectional championship—his first game
back—and threw a shutout
against a team that averaged seven runs a game. His
velocity was back to a
hundred percent, and though it took a couple of innings to
regain his pinpoint
accuracy, Roman had the game in hand when he stepped on the
The city of
Collingston came out in droves. Five thousand-plus fans
packed the stands—a
record to this day that has not been broken. It was to support
their local high school
to some degree, but mostly I think it was because of
Roman. They wanted to be
a part of the things he could do, to watch him turn
throwing a little white
ball into pure magic. And maybe it was more than just his
pitching. Maybe it was
to see a skinny kid with long arms defy logic, defy nature.
Maybe it was just to be
around that aura of his—the intangible element some
people had in them that
granddad called the spark of life.
came crawling back as well. Most of them had written Roman
off as damaged goods
when he injured his arm and now they were babbling
excuses to Coach Demera
on the whys and wherefores of the their absences.
Demara, of course, no
matter how stupid he thought they were, was always polite
and cooperative, never
ruining Roman’s chances for stardom. Roman brushed
them off as he always
had, never committing verbally or otherwise to any one
team. He did commit to
one thing however, not to a scout or coach, but to
Heather. He filled out
the necessary paper work to enroll at Northwestern along
getting down to crunch time for me as well. Most colleges were out
of money that late in
the spring. And while a couple of schools wanted me to
come and walk on, I took
my chances that someone would see me in the right place
at the right time.
wound down for us. The last day for seniors was the day before our
super-sectional game in
Mattoon. I’d spent twelve years—counting grade
and planning a way to get out of prison, to escape the
boredom. I remembered
how several teachers the first day of that school year
commented on how this
would be the best year of my life. I remember how stupid
I thought they were for
saying it. As I sat at lunch that final time, I looked around
at the people, and
thought of the many memories we shared that had come to be a
part of my life, and at
that moment I knew what the prison guards meant. I knew
that things would never
be the same, that our round table would vanish into
history, and some new
group of seniors would take our place. I sat there when the
bell rang for lunch to
end, watching as my friends gathered their bags and books
one last time. I waited
until I was alone in that vast cafeteria and I tried to get one
final breath of it all,
holding back the lump in my throat. I finally got it. It wasn’t
about the building, or
the walls, or the classes. It was about faces. About friends.
we walked through the super-sectional. Roman threw another
shutout in the
championship and then Johnny the Killer won the first game by two
runs. The unlikely pair
had become a rather formidable one-two punch. I drove in
seven RBIs in those two
games. We turned ten double plays, hit .420 as a team,
and committed no errors.
Sam Peterman struck out five times.
game Coach Demera played off the wins, stating that everything
we had done up until now
meant jack shit. Yes, there were only four teams left in
the state, and our
season would be one for the Silver Streak record books. But
people don’t remember
who made the final four; they only remember the
champion. Two games
left. Two games that Coach Demera had spent his entire
career waiting for. Two
games that would either make the Silver Streaks immortal
or allow them to fade
into the background of history.
loaded the bus for Chicago on a Wednesday morning. The school
district sent five fan
buses for students and fans. A good thousand other people
came on their own, car
pooling and driving the three-hour trip north.
Johnny the Killer
started the first game against Jefferson South. Roman
had thrown two days
earlier and was not fully rested, although he begged for coach
to start him. But as
important as the state championship was to Demera, he would
not risk hurting
someone’s arm over it, especially if it was worth potentially
millions of dollars.
threw about as well as one could hope for, but Jefferson South
could hit. By the fifth
inning the score was tied at threes and Johnny was starting
to leave the ball up in
the zone. He got out of the inning luckily. Jefferson South
hit a scorching line
drive up the middle that would have scored two runs if it
weren’t for Pick Bryant
making an extraordinary diving catch.
to the pen on his own during our at bat in the bottom of fifth.
reluctance, there was no way he could keep Roman out of the
game. Coach never told
Roman to take the mound in the sixth, he just did it.
When Demera saw that
Johnny had taken his spot at first, he had no choice but to
make the lineup change
with the umpire. Roman didn’t get a strikeout in those two
innings, but Jefferson
South did not reach base either.
bottom of the seventh, in a tie game with two outs and nobody on, I
hit a solo walk-off home
run. I knew it was gone as soon as I connected with it
and to this day I can’t
remember anything feeling so good.
One game left.
It was as
close to baseball weather as you could get—76 degrees with a
slight breeze out of the
southwest, and not a cloud in the sky. Every seat in the
stadium was filled, and
the crowd overflowed down the fences of both foul lines.
Both teams lined up down
the baselines and faced the flag in center field. You
knew it wasn’t just
another game when butterflies started in your stomach during
the playing of the
national anthem. You knew this one was special.
opponent was the Philastro Park Yellow Jackets, a Chicago area
powerhouse that had won
twelve state titles over the years, and boasted a 30-1
record coming into the
game. Corey Hambrick was their ace, a six-five righty that
threw near ninety, and
had his own cult following of scouts.
struck out the side in the top half of the first. Hambrick matched
him in the bottom. Even
though we had our fans they paled in comparison to those
from Philastro Park.
Chicagoland came out to support them, to ensure that a
downstate team would not
be crowned champion. As the game went on and
Hambrick and Roman threw
zero after zero up on the scoreboard, I could see a
slow change in the
hostile crowd. They probably didn’t think much of Roman’s
skinny six-foot frame at
first when compared to Hambrick. But when the janitor
crafted his flawless
first four innings the crowd began to cheer for what they
viewed as the underdog.
After six innings, the game was scoreless.
seventh, with Johnny the Killer on second and two outs, Sam
Peterman came to the
plate. Demera wanted to pinch-hit for him—I could see it in
his eyes—and so did the
rest of the team. Peterman was 0 for his last 15 at bats,
and had struck ten
times. Demera stayed with him for some reason—one of those
coaching moves that seem
to go against all logic and reason. With two strikes
Peterman doubled to the
right center gap, scoring Johnny and giving us the lead.
grounded out the next at bat but we were now three outs away from
the state title.
hitter for the Yellow Jackets got a little duck snort—that’s a
blooper to you—over
Scotty Jakowski’s head at second. Roman made a real nice
pitch on the outer part
of the plate. The hitter stuck his ass out with some excuseme
swing and accidentally
made contact. The next batter bunted him over but we
got the out at first.
One out, man on second. Roman sawed batter number three
off at the handle, but
the ball rolled down the first base line, stopping halfway up it.
Neither Roman nor Johnny
had a play on it and the runner was safe at first. One
out, runners on first
and third. Coach Demera called time and brought the entire
infield to the mound.
problem here. There’s one out and we’re going keep the double
play in order. If they
steal we’re going to throw through. The guy at first is an
average runner. You can
throw him out no problem Tony. We’re one pitch away
here. The pressure is on
the fist pitch to the batter as the runner on first stole. The
batter swung but missed,
and I caught and fired to second in one motion. The
throw was right on
target. Pick caught it right above the bag, swiped a nice hard
tag on the runner’s
feet—but the umpire called him safe.
out on to the field faster than anybody ran that entire game. In
a second he was in the
umpire’s face arguing the call. The umpire claimed the
runner beat the tag, and
there was no way he was changing the call. Demera
commented on how poor
his eyesight was, among other things, and continued for a
solid five minutes. The
umpire listened to more than he should have probably—a
sign that he knew he
blew the call. Demera finally left the field after the other
three umpires escorted
him off. Coach gave the choke sign, which wasn’t for the
umpire but for us. A
signal for the infield to play in on the grass. There was one
out, runners on second
and third. The play was at home.
struck out the next batter on four pitches.
got two strikes on batter number five of that inning.
their nine-hole hitter who had struck out his previous at bats and
had a relatively weak
swing. I called for a high inside fastball, something out of
the zone, which the
batter had no chance of touching at ninety-plus miles per hour.
Roman delivered the
pitch right where I wanted it. The batter took a tomahawk
swing at it and somehow
made contact. The ball rolled at average speed on the
right side of the
diamond. Johnny dove for it and missed. Scotty dove in the other
direction and missed.
The Yellow Jackets couldn’t have rolled the ball out in a
better spot. The
baseball had eyes. The runner at third scored easily, tying the
ball rolled into right field as Sam Peterman charged it. The runner
from second (the winning
run) was now rounding third. Peterman fielded the ball
cleanly; crow hopped,
and threw a frozen rope for me at home. The runner was
five feet away from home
took one bounce into my mitt.
I applied a
hard tag to his chest as his feet slid into my shin guards.
I knew I
had beaten him to the plate.
There was a
collision. We fell over each other.
A hush was
over the entire stadium.
“Safe!” the umpire
could he be safe? As I lay in the dirt I looked to my right. The
ball was in the dirt
next to my mitt. We had just lost the state title.
I slept for
over twenty fours. My mind could not bear to exist in reality, to
replay that ball popping
out of my mitt. Mom said Roman had been by the house
three times already,
wanting to make sure I was all right. And I would be
eventually. What was it
that Roman said? Time doesn’t heal all things, it only
dulls the pain.
collision at the plate everything was sort of blurry, surreal like a
dream. I remember Roman
picking me up out of the dirt. I remember listening to
Coach Demera’s post game
speech and thinking how ironic it was that every game
we won during the year
he had something negative to say, but now that we’d lost
the most important game
of our lives and of his career, he was nothing but
positive. He talked of
what a team we were, of how proud he was of us, of how he
would never forget us.
nothing of the bus ride home, or the reception they had for us
when we got back to
town. I was a zombie, too afraid to come back to the real
world because I knew
what would be waiting for me there. I thought maybe if I
stayed in bed long
enough, maybe I would just wither up and die.
It took a
phone call from a man I barely knew to jump-start my rise out of
depression. My mother
brought the cordless phone in and held it to the pillow
covering my head. After
arguing several minutes about whether I was going to be
speaking on the phone,
my mother won as usual.
Coach Blaylock from Collingston Community College. I just
wanted to call and see
how you were doing. I was at the game yesterday. Tough
sorry you had to witness that.”
nothing to be sorry about Tony. One play doesn’t make a ball
player. Nor does it
break a ball player. We’d like to offer you a full tuition waiver
if you’re interested in
playing for us. I know you have a lot on your mind with
graduation and all. Take
your time and get back to me whenever you can.”
Coach, I really appreciate it.”
I hung up
the phone to see Roman standing in my doorway. He was
wearing a black tux and
his hair was slicked back in a way I’d never seen it. My
friend the former
janitor was all of the sudden James Bond.
is it anyway?” I asked.
you to get your sorry carcass out of bed and get ready. We’re
supposed to meet the
girls in forty minutes.”
It was Prom
was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous. She had on a blue dress—that
exact same shade as her
eyes—and wore her hair up in some fancy style. The
diamond necklace made
her neck irresistible.
wore a white dress that glittered every time it touched a spec of
light. The material
stuck to her like an hourglass. She wore her hair down—
because that’s the way
Roman liked it—and her lips were glazed light pink.
We ate at
Santangilo’s—just like we did for Homecoming. Last time I
had to sit and listen to
Johnny the Killer and act like I wasn’t bored. This time I
had my best friend as my
wingman, but I still couldn’t get into the party mood. I
just nibbled at my food.
My stomach still wasn’t ready to feel happy yet. For the
first time in the
history of meals the ladies put up a better effort than me.
was at the Collingston Country Club, a step up from the high
school fieldhouse. Our
class had raised enough money to host the dance at the
expensive banquet hall.
Three giant chandeliers cast a soft light over the ballroom
and the floor sparkled
with silver glitter. The walls were decorated with white
satin sheets that had
vine branches interwoven every so often with red roses. Fifty
or so round tables
draped in white sat in the back next to the punch fountain and
snacks. The ballroom
floor was located in the middle of the room and a stage was
set up for the DJ and
emcee on the far side, across the room from the entrance.
as nice to me as she had been in months, seducing me—on
purpose or not—with her
eyes. It all went by the wayside though. I just kept
reliving the play at the
plate. I kept thinking of how many lives I’d ruined just
because I couldn’t hold
on to the stupid ball.
There would be
six or seven songs that played before the emcee, Mr.
Buttworst, was ready to
announce the king and queen. Sally begged me to come
dance, but I refused. I
sat at one of the tables and sipped the tart punch, aimlessly
watching the people
dance. Seeing Roman try to fast dance did bring a brief smile
to my face.
Buttworst stepped to the mic at the end of the last song. “All right
ladies and gentlemen. We
want to thank you for coming tonight and wish
everyone a safe time.
The faculty wants to remind you to play it safe tonight and
avoid any alcohol.”
There were a few boos in the crowd to this. I could see
Brunno with his hands
cupped around his mouth.
let’s get down to business.” A student handed Mr. Buttworst
an envelope and he tore
it open. He didn’t look right in a Tuxedo but he played the
master of ceremonies to
a tee. “This year’s Prom queen is none other than Heather
surprise there. Heather walked up and last year’s Prom queen came to
meet her on the stage
and put the crown on Heather’s head.
Another envelope and Mr.
Buttworst had to look from beneath his bifocals
at what its contents
read. “Interesting. This might be the closest vote we’ve ever
had. This year’s Prom
king by one vote…is Tony Falcone.”
realize he’d called my name until Pick nudged me so hard I almost
fell out of my seat. I
walked up to the stage, looking around at the people in
disbelief. I walked up
the stairs and whispered to Mr. Buttworst. “Who came in
Buttworst had a half smile, half frown on his face. He mouthed the
said to myself.
the crown on my head as clapping and cheering came from the
students on the dance
floor. The people in the back even stood up from the tables
and gave me an ovation
that lasted a lot longer than it should have. They should
have been booing me for
loosing the state championship.
your king and…”
I put my
hand over the mic. “There’s something I need to say,” I told Mr.
like to say a few words.” Mr. Buttworst handed me the
not too many times that a person has the power to do the right
thing. Well, tonight I
do have the power. And I want to recognize someone that’s
been makin’ things right
for a lot of people over the last nine months. Someone
who has done more for me
than he will ever know. I beat this person by one vote
for this crown. I’d like
to change my vote. Roman Swivel, please come up and get
your crown so you can
dance with your queen.”
walked reluctantly up the stage stairs as the crowd went hysterical.
I shook his hand and put
the crown on his head. His cheeks were flushed from
embarrassment. I leaned
toward his ear. “It feels good to finally catch you off
guard for once.”
took you nine months,” Roman said and laughed.
Roman owned the dance floor for that first song, as Faith Hill
and Tim McGraw’s “It’s
Your Love” flowed through the speakers. Sally and I
joined them at the end.
Thirty seconds later there was no place left on the dance
pulled me off the floor and led me outside. She didn’t say a word as
we walked through the
parking lot. “Where are we going?”
“I want to
show you something.”
continued onto the golf course, past the first two holes. We
stopped at number four
green and now I found myself lying on my back looking at
the stars. Sally undid
my pants and pulled them to my ankles. “What are you
we should’ve done a long time ago.”
bring any condoms if you can believe it. I didn’t think with
Frenchy and all in the
picture, that I would have a chance.”
reached in her purse. “Don’t worry I did bring condoms and what
Jacques doesn’t know
won’t hurt him.”
ripped open the condom package with her teeth, clothed the
and straddled me. I now knew what people meant by the
rollercoaster.” Finally. Finally.
seconds into it, water started belting us from the golf course
sprinklers. We both
laughed until we heard the electric engine of a golf cart
getting closer. “Who’s
out there?” A voice yelled.
Sally jumped off me and
ran with her high heels in hand.
I took off
with my pants around my ankles, tripping over the sand trap,
and running for dear
Johnny the Killer stood at the backdoor to the banquet hall, sipping out of
a silver flask. Sally
ran by him laughing with mascara running down the sides of
her face and water drops
all over her dress. I was drenched and sand blasted.
hell happened to you two?” Johnny asked.
say we hit the showers a little too early,” I responded.
nip?” Johnny held out the flask.
know him as well I do, you call him John.”
laughed. “Nah, I don’t want any.”
yourself,” Johnny said throwing back another swig. “Ya know there
was a time that I
thought I would never be able to face the crowd again. After
Swivel beat my ass that
night in the Hollow, I prayed that God would just let me
die. Things always seem
worse when they’re in the moment. Looking back on it,
that ass beating did me
a favor. You’re a good ball player Tone, the best I’ve ever
played with. You can’t
put us losing that game on your shoulders alone. We all
had opportunities to do
something. We could’ve scored more runs. Swivel could
have struck the guy out.
The piece of shit umpire could’ve not blown the fuckin’
call. What’s coach say?
The great ones dust themselves off and try it again. You
better get to dustin’.”
Johnny. I appreciate it. Maybe I will have just a swig.”
Johnny handed over the
burned going down.
Prom was at none other than Scotty Jakowski’s house. You guessed
it—his parents were out
of town. Even though graduation was tomorrow Mr. and
Mrs. Jakowski made a
short overnight trip to Indianapolis for a little party of their
own. Prom dance was just
the appetizer really. The post party was what everyone
looked forward to.
through with flying colors, keeping intact his impeccable
reputation as the
greatest host of all time. I imagine a lot of that had to do with his
uncanny ability to
provide loads of alcohol. He really outdid himself this time—
three kegs, and bottle
after bottle of hard shit.
myself starting on the second pint of Jack Daniel’s around
midnight. I stood (more
like swayed) in a circle of about ten of us. I remember
stories—bits of history that would never fully die in the minds of
our group. My head was
spinning now and it wouldn’t be long until I passed out.
I saw Heather and Roman
walk off toward the stairs to the boat dock. It wasn’t
long after that Sally
came and got me.
take you home, Tony?” Sally asked.
I walked with her to the driveway.
It was the
last thing I remember.
the last couple of strokes until he was satisfied that they
were in the middle of
the lake. Heather turned around and leaned back against
him, his arms around her
and her hands on top of his where they rested on her
stomach. She looked up
at the stars and thought how clear the night was.
where are they?” she asked.
to have patience, remember?”
Heather said and then changed the subject. “Do you have your
speech ready for
here.” Roman pointed to his head.
thinking on the way over here, what kind of idiot schedules
graduation the day after
Prom? Half these people will never make it up in
time,” Heather said.
like something Hartman would do. To try and take the fun out of
was that asshole. Remember how pissed he got when you
played “Here Comes Santa
Claus” as he walked down the auditorium aisle?”
when he tried to walk up onto the stage and bounced off a
barricade named Boss
Chatterling,” Roman laughed.
turned her head and kissed Roman. She pulled away as if
something had just
barged into her mind. “Roman.” Heather turned around and
faced him, taking both
of his hands.
away. Graduation is just a formality anyway. Let’s just pack
up what we have at your
house and go and disappear. Let’s just drive all night and
wherever we end up, we
end up. Leave all this NN stuff behind us.”
expect you to leave your life for me. To lose your family and
friends. And what about
school? I can’t take the place of your dreams.”
“You are my
dreams, Roman. Isn’t that what two people that love each
other do anyway? Don’t
they give up everything in the world for each other?”
run. And then what? Are we going to have a family and careers
only to be looking over
our shoulder every second to see if Agent Johnson is
behind us? To pack up
and leave at a second’s notice? It’s no way to live a life,
and I would never put a
family through it. I have to fight them if I want my
mean kill them?”
looked at the sky. The stars twinkled, looking almost as if they
were winking. “I don’t
know what it means. I don’t know.”
Heather turned around
and lay back against his stomach. The boat moved
side to side, almost
tipping over. Heather laughed. “Do you think we could do it
in this boat.”
thought about. “There’s only one way to find out."
kissed her neck.
boat, in the middle of the lake, stood the bright speckled
background of outer
space. A flash of light split the black backdrop from horizon
to horizon. It was a
single comet streaking across the sky, fading as quickly as it