Joe tried to go back to sleep and finally dozed at about 5:15 AM only to be interrupted by his alarm at 6 AM. His motivation to get up and go to work was marginal and was only slightly improved by a shower. While Joe struggled to down a cup of coffee and a bagel, he couldn’t stop thinking about the dream he experienced the night before. Why would he dream about his childhood home? He loved growing up in the two family house upstairs from his maternal grandmother, but that had been over 25 years before. Then it dawned on him. The stadium. Maxwell Stadium was virtually a childhood home. It was one of the last sources of positive memories and would soon be gone. Joe felt like he had to do something. He couldn’t just let it go. He needed a piece of the place to give him some closure.
Joe knew he had limited time and to do what he needed to do. He did something he hadn’t done in 20 years, call in sick. Joe called the office and left a message for the receptionist and on Johnny Junior’s voice mail to tell them he was feeling under the weather today. He then sat at his computer and began to plan his strategy for obtaining some piece of memorabilia from Maxwell Stadium. To do this, he would need to find out more about the demolition schedule and would take a trip to the stadium today to make his plea in person.
Joe threw on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and ventured out to the stadium. As he arrived he saw that more trucks and activity going on within the stadium. He parked his car in an empty section of the parking lot and walked toward the main entrance. As he approached the open gate, he heard the sound of power tools and hammering coming from inside the park. Great. They’ve started the demolition already. I’m too late. Joe almost turned around, but something gave him the confidence to keep moving inside. He approached a large man with a clipboard that seemed to have the carriage of someone in charge.
“Hello. I was wondering if you could help me with something?” Joe asked feeling his confidence wane with every word.
“If you tell me who you are and why you’re here, that would be a start.”
“I was wondering…I’m a big fan of the Chiefs…I’m a season ticket holder and…”
“You want some of the crap from the stadium. You are not authorized to be in here and this is all private property,” the man said in a voice a bit louder than Joe thought necessary.
“I just thought…I can pay…just a souvenir.”
“Like I said, it’s all private property. You can’t have any of it. It’s all spoken for.”
“OK. I thought it was at least worth a try.”
“You thought wrong,” the man said loudly. “Now let me walk you out of here to make sure that you leave.”
Joe was surprised at the officiousness and forcefulness of the man’s demeanor. They walked side by side through the gate and as Joe was about to head to his car, the man grabbed his arm.
“Hey, I’m leaving. There’s no reason to…”
“Quiet down,” the man said in a barely perceptible whisper. “If you want some stuff from the stadium, call this number at about 12:30 and ask for Pete.”
He handed Joe a card for West-Penn Salvage with a number scrawled on the back.
“But I thought it was all spoken for,” Joe said.
“Just call the number and we can maybe work something out.”
Joe headed back to his apartment. It was now 10:00 and he would have to literally count down the minutes until 12:30. For some reason, he was elated by both the prospect of acquiring a piece of his past from the stadium and by the mystery of the impending phone call. The fact that he was deviating from his by-the-book, everyday lifestyle made him feel more alive than he had in a while.
Back in his apartment, he thought about what he might want from the stadium. It would be cool to have a seat that he could put in front of his large screen TV so that he could sit in it while watching sporting events. The seats were more comfortable than one might imagine as their shape was surprisingly ergonomic and their width was generous from a bygone day when more thought was given to comfort than to efficient use of space. As people have gotten taller and wider, seats have gotten smaller.
Joe ate a lunch consisting of a ham and cheese sandwich and chips. He washed it down with a diet soda. It was now 12:25. Almost time to call the elusive Pete. Joe tried to stretch the act of brushing his teeth into five minutes. Then at precisely 12:30, he called the number the man, presumably Pete, had given him. The phone clicked into a static sound and then began to ring. It rang three times making Joe think that Pete might not answer. Finally, during the fourth ring, the familiar voice of the man that had ushered him out answered with a quiet tone that was just above a whisper.
“May I speak to Pete?”
“This is Pete.”
“Hello, this is Joe…”
“Hold on. I don’t need to know your name. Are you the guy who came by the stadium today lookin’ for souvenirs?”
“So, what are you lookin’ for?”
“Well, I thought it would be nice to have a seat from the box seat section and maybe a team sign.”
“Those are premium items.”
“Well if I can’t get those, anything will do.”
“I didn’t say you couldn’t get those things. I just said they’re premium items.”
Premium as in expensive. “I’d be willing to pay for them.”
“That goes without saying, my friend. I have to catalog everything in that place which means the catalog would have to be one seat and one sign short. I’m putting myself at some risk here.”
“So, what would be the price for a seat and a sign?” Joe asked.
Here it comes. Probably hundreds of dollars into this guy’s pocket.
“The seat by itself would be two thousand and the sign by itself 500. I’ll give you both for twenty-two fifty.”
Joe was silent for a while. “Two thousand two hundred fifty? That’s pretty steep.”
“Hey, if you’re not interested, that’s fine. That’s the price.”
“I just need to think about it. Can I call you back?”
“The deal is only good during this phone call. I need cash and the price is not negotiable. I’m stickin’ my neck out here.”
Two thousand dollars. That’s a lot of money. I can afford it though. Why not do this? Mike was right, I owe something to myself.
“Hey. I gotta get back to work. Do we have a deal or not?”
“We do. Who do I make the check out to?”
“Check. Are you serious? This is a cash deal. Get the cash together and call this number at midnight tonight. I’ll tell you where to pick up the stuff.”
“Midnight? I have to work tomorrow.”
“Hey, do you want it or not? I don’t have time for this.”
“OK, OK. I’ll call at midnight.”
“Good. Don’t forget to bring the cash. No cash, no deal.”
The call ended abruptly and Joe questioned the sanity of what he had just committed to. This was obviously illegal. How did he know if the guy would deliver the stuff or would just hit him over the head and take his money? Beyond this, how was he going to fit the box seat and the sign in his car. He just had a small four-door. He needed a pickup truck or a trailer. The only person he knew with a pickup truck was his brother Mike. He would have to talk him in to letting him borrow it. If he told Mike what he had done, he would really think that his little brother was nuts. He would have to ask for the truck without telling him about the funds that “Pete” had extorted from him. Mike left work at 4 PM. While Joe waited to call him, he had some errands to run.
Joe headed to the branch of his bank that was closest to his house. He had started his accounts there when he was a teenager over 20 years ago. Since then, the bank had gone through four name changes and now bore the name of a large national bank that had swallowed up virtually all the local branches. Joe felt strange going in. He couldn’t remember the last time he actually entered the building and didn’t access an ATM or just bank online. Technology had change this business. As he stood in line, he fidgeted with the withdrawal slip that he had filled out. There were only a couple of senior citizens in front of him who had apparently not embraced technology and used the trip to the bank as one of the few times they were able to interact with living people.
It was Joe’s turn to approach the teller. He walked up and handed her the withdrawal slip. She looked at it and then looked back at Joe expectantly.
“Sir, do you have identification?”
“Oh, yeah, sure.”
Joe fumbled with his wallet. I’m withdrawing my own money. While do I feel like a criminal? Am I using it for something illegal? He handed his driver’s license to the teller who took it and disappeared to somewhere in the back. Joe started to get inexplicably nervous. Finally, the teller reappeared.
“I’m sorry sir. When the amount is over two thousand dollars we have to do an additional verification. Everything checked out. How do you want the cash?”
“I’m sorry? Do you mean in a bag? In an envelope? In a briefcase?”
“What denominations sir? Twenties? Hundreds? A combination?”
Why didn’t I think this through? Will it look suspicious if I take all one hundred dollar bills? Will “Pete” accept them? How many twenties in two thousand two hundred fifty dollars? As Joe did the math in his head and decided that there were too many twenties the teller began to look impatient.
“How about two thousand in hundreds and the rest in fifties.”
“That’ll be fine,” she said, trying her best to smile and hide her annoyance with his shear audacity at taking the time to think while she had so many things to do in spite of the blatant lack of customers. She counted out 20 hundred dollar bills and five fifties and counted them a second time. She then pushed the pile of bills to Joe.
“Would you like an envelope?”
“Sure, if you have one that the cash will fit in,” though it was surprising how this much money resulted in such a small pile of bills.
She smiled again, this time trying to hide a disdainful look that showed that she had seen much larger piles of cash in her days as a bank teller.
“Here you go,” she said as she handed him an envelope.
Joe stuffed the cash into the envelope and stuffed the envelope deep into the front pocket of his jeans. He felt self-conscious as he exited the bank as if waiting for someone to jump him at any time. It was now three o’clock. He had better call Mike and then go home and wait out the clock until midnight when he needed to call “Pete” or whatever his name was.