It’s obvious now that this story is building to something. I like the slow buildup through the first chapters. You’ll soon be let in on what the character is facing and hopefully it will be worth the wait.
Inning 2 – Out 1
Joe opened his apartment door and sat down in the recliner in front of his television. He flipped through the channels trying to kill time and finally settled in on ESPN-Classic which was showing one of the Yankees/Red Sox games from the past. This game had names like Munson and Mercer for the Yankees and Yastremski and Fisk for the Red Sox. He settled in and found himself drifting off to sleep. The previous night’s lack of sleep had caught up with him. He drifted off and dreamed of baseball and warm summer days. In his dream, as Bobby Mercer caught a rainbow colored baseball, the sound of an old-fashioned telephone ring erupted as the ball hit Mercer’s glove. It rang again causing Joe’s nap to be interrupted. He looked at the screen on his phone as he retrieved it from the arm rest. It was the office. The time on his phone said five forty five.
“Hello,” Joe said using his sleep dried throat.
“You sound terrible Joey.”
It was the voice of Carmella, the office receptionist that had worked at R, P, & B for about twenty five years. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I think it’s a sinus infection. I have an antibiotic and should be feeling better soon.”
“We were worried about you. You never call in sick, so we figured it was something bad. You need to take care of that so it doesn’t turn into pneumonia.”
Carmella droned on about chicken soup and liquids. Joe listened and said he would follow her advice before hanging up.
It was almost six o’clock and he still hadn’t called Mike about the truck. He nervously dialed his brother’s number rehearsing what he was going to say in his head. Mike’s wife Sophia answered the phone. Sophia was a strong-willed Italian woman that raised Mike’s kids, as well as Mike, with an iron fist. She was a natural mother to everyone she encountered.
“Joey. How is my favorite brother-in-law? I haven’t seen you since you took the boys to the baseball game. When are you coming over for dinner? I have a cousin that I need you to meet that just moved to town.”
Joe wasn’t sure what to say other than, “We’ll get together soon, Sophie. Is my brother around?”
“He’s playing video games with the boys. I’m not sure who the bigger kid is. Hang on.” Then away from the phone, “Mikey, it’s your brother.”
About 30 seconds went by before Joe heard his brother’s voice.
“Hey Joe, what’s goin’ on? Are you OK? I called you at the office and they said you were out sick. I couldn’t believe my ears.”
“I’m fine. I just called in today because I couldn’t sleep last night.”
Joe went on to tell his brother about his dream.
“You need to get over this stadium thing, Joe. Find something to help you put it to rest.”
“I’m doing just that. I talked to the foreman there today and I’m going to get some stuff from the stadium. That’s why I called, I need to borrow your truck.”
“Borrow my truck? What’re you taking home, the center field fence?”
“Just a box seat and a sign. They’re too big for my car. I’ll bring it back when I’m done.”
“When do you need it? I can grab one of the boys and come right over and help you pick it up.”
“No, no. I don’t need it until after midnight. I figured I could drive my car over and leave the keys under the mat in case you need it before I drop your truck back off.”
“Midnight? Is there something you’re not telling me Joey? Did this foreman make an ‘under-the-table’ deal with you? I thought all of this stuff was spoken for by the salvage company.”
“They had some extra and I’m getting it for a small fee. If I can just pick up your truck at around eleven thirty…”
“A small fee? Joey, what are you into? Are you getting ripped off by this guy?”
“It’s great stuff and it’s worth it to me. I can rent a truck if you don’t want to let me borrow yours.”
“Don’t be ridiculous and melodramatic, Joe. You can use my truck, but I’m coming with you. I don’t want to see you get hit over the head and have your money, or my truck, stolen. I’ll pick you up at 11:30.”
As Joe argued with his brother, he knew it would be a futile effort. His brother was stubborn and, in a way, Joe was relieved to have the company. He was truly nervous and excited about his nighttime adventure.
Joe microwaved a frozen entree and sat down in front of the TV to eat it. He would watch Sports Center to hear the analysis of the Yankees’ chances in the upcoming World Series. This time, he set the alarm on his phone to go off at 11 o’clock just in case he drifted off to sleep, which he did.
Joe opened his eyes and felt a warm breeze on his face. He was sitting in box seats at Maxwell Stadium. He was watching the most current edition of the team play which seemed normal enough. What was not normal was the people in the crowd sitting around him. To his right were his mother and father along with his maternal grandmother. His parents had been dead for a number of years as had his grandmother. His father kept patting his arm, pointing to the field, and saying, “Isn’t this great?”
Behind Joe sat his brother, his wife Sophia, and their sons who were at their current ages. To his left was Beth, his ex-wife. For some reason she was smiling at him. She had a little girl on her lap and two healthy boys sitting next to her. The children inexplicably looked a lot like Joe. Beth was holding Joe’s left hand and looking at him. She was mouthing words to him, but unlike his father, Joe could not hear her. He was finally able to make out what she was trying to say.
“Go back, Joe. Go back.”
Suddenly, his family members started to fade and disappear. First his grandmother, then his dad, followed by his mom. Then Beth and the mysterious children. Finally, his brother Mike patted him on the shoulder and disappeared as well. Before Mike’s family could disappear, the alarm on Joe’s phone sounded snapping him back to reality. It was eleven PM.
Joe splashed water on his face and brushed the sticky layer from his teeth. The man in the mirror seemed older than his actual age, and perhaps older than he was a day or so before. What is happening to me? Am I making a mistake? Why am I having these strange dreams? What did Beth want me to go back to?
At eleven thirty on the dot, Mike honked the horn of his Ford F-350 pickup from outside of Joe’s apartment. Joe walked out into the late summer night air and climbed into the truck. A hot cup of coffee greeted him.
“I figured we might need some caffeine for this. I thought maybe it would wake you up and you would come to your senses.”
“I’m fine. I don’t see why you have to go with me. I’m OK to do this by myself.”
“And let some demolition foreman hit you over the head. Joey, sometimes you bring trouble on yourself. We might be getting older, but I’ll always be your big brother.”
Again, a sense of relief washed over Joe. His brother’s protectiveness always made him feel comfortable, even into middle age. Mike told Joe he had stopped at Home Depot to get some thick plywood to mount the box seat to so that he didn’t sit in it and tip over. He would help Joe mount it tonight after they picked it up and brought it back to the apartment.
“Don’t you have to work tomorrow?”
“No. The kids have one of those teacher planning days, so I took the day off.”
“Well, that worked out well for both of us.”
“Maybe for you. My wife and I were going to spend some alone time tonight once we got the boys to sleep.”
“Sorry about that. We won’t be long.”
“That’s OK. She was so tired from dealing with those boys that she was in a coma when I left.”
It was now close to midnight. Joe punched “Pete’s” number into his phone and waited.
“Hello, It’s Joe…um…the guy who’s picking up seat and sign.”
“Right. I wasn’t sure you were gonna go through with it. Meet me at the Farmer’s Market near the stadium. You got a truck?”
“Yea. We’ll be there in about ten minutes.”
“We? Who you bringin’ with you?”
“It’s just my brother. It’s his truck and I need his help to carry…”
“Hey, it was supposed to just be you.”
“I’m sorry. My brother is just helping me with it.”
“OK. If he’s as wimpy as you, it’s no big deal. You got the cash.”
“Yea. It’s all there.”
“It better be, or no deal.”
“It’s all there.”
“Pete” disconnected the call. As they drove on, Mike broke the silence.
“Yea. He was just pissed that I’m bringing someone with me.”
“Too bad. If he tries to jump you and take the money, I’ll bend a tire iron over his head.”
Joe thought that “Pete” might be surprised when he found out that Mike not nearly as wimpy as he thought Joe was. Mike, from years of manual labor, was solid and muscular in an intimidating way. Although “Pete” was large and loud, Mike was quite strong and unassumingly powerful.
They pulled into the Farmer’s Market parking lot. It was empty now, but on Fridays after work and Saturday mornings, the place was packed with yuppies thinking they were buying organic, healthy fruits and vegetables. Ironically, the produce was the same that was sold at the local Price Choice and other super markets with the same levels of pesticides and fertilizer. Putting them in quaint wooden bushels did not make them organic. At the far end of the parking lot, there was a smaller pickup truck with the West-Penn Salvage logo on the side.
“That must be ‘Pete’ or whatever his real name is,” Joe said.
Mike flashed his high beams and the truck turned on its lights and did the same. Mike pulled in next to the truck leaving himself an easy escape route in case it was needed. Both brothers exited the F-350 as “Pete” did the same.
“This is your brother. Wow, he must’ve taken all of the family muscles when he was born.”
“Yes, he’s my brother.”
“Nice truck,” Pete said toward Mike who looked ready to pounce if needed.
“Can we just get this over with?” Joe asked.
“You bring the cash?”
“I said I did on the phone.”
“Let’s see it then.”
“We need to see what he’s buyin’ first,” Mike said sounding intimidating.
Pete shined the beam of a large Mag-Lite into the bed of his pickup. Inside was a navy blue box seat from the stadium and a sign that read “Maxwell Stadium. Home of your Chiefs.” Joe’s eyes sparkled when he saw them.
“Now let’s see the cash.”
Joe reached into the front pocket of his jeans and pulled out the bank envelope.
“Lemme see it.”
Pete started to open the envelope and Joe, not wanting Mike to see the amount, started to panic.
“It’s all there. You don’t need to open it. The amount’s written on the envelope.”
“Oh, OK…You think I just fell off the turnip truck or somethin’. I gotta count it before you get the stuff.”
Joe watched as Pete counted the money in the glow of the headlights. He could feel Mike starting to get ready to scold him before any words were exchanged.
“I thought I said twenty five hundred.”
“No. You said twenty two fifty because I bought them together. I’m a CPA. I don’t forget figures.”
“Is that so?”
Pete glanced from Joe to Mike and thought better of trying to push for more money.
“Alright. Twenty two fifty. They’re all yours.”
Mike motioned to Pete to help him transfer the seat and sign to the car. They set them on the plywood and Mike expertly tied them down for the trip to Joe’s apartment. They said their tense goodbyes and got back in the truck.
The silence between them bothered Joe. He finally broke it.
“OK. Let me have it. I spent too much. It was stupid.”
“It doesn’t sound like I need to get on you for those things. You are beating yourself up just fine. All I have to say is that if this helps you snap out of the funk you are in and you have the money, then I hope it works.”
“Thanks Mike. I think it will help.”