Joe seems to be on a good path in this week’s installment of Extra Innings. As you read this, however, I would encourage you to remember the old adage, things are not always as they seem.
I only see maybe one or two parts left to this story and then I’d like to add some additional twists and turns and put it into a book. I’d love for the few of you that have read it to weigh in on whether or not you think this is a good idea. It’s a different genre, but I think it might be worth doing.
Please enjoy this week’s installment of Extra Innings.
If you want to catch up on the previous installments of this serial, you can click on these links:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24, Part 25, Part 26, Part 27, Part 28, Part 29, Part 30, Part 31, Part 32, Part 33, Part 34, Part 35, Part 36
Joe started by looking up the Provenza firm on news sites and filtered his search to the past six months. There was no shortage of information. Apparently, the information he had sent to McWorter on the skimming of clients being conducted by the Provenzas led to much bigger underlying illegal activities such as money laundering, illegal bookmaking and illegal tax shelters for some of the firm’s shadier clients. It came out that Johnny Provenza and his father, John Senior, were conducting a wide assortment of illegal activities. They took pains to hide them from Joe and other employees, but Johnny Provenza’s carelessness, which seemed to transcend timelines, allowed Joe to discover the information that was the initial thread the FBI used to unravel the rest of the Provenza activities.
Joe had been mentioned in the news articles quite a bit. He even found a television interview where the reporter threw him softball questions and set him up as the hero that brought down an criminal organization that was cheating many local businesses. Joe not only received immunity for the evidence that he presented, but the computer forensics done by the FBI proved that he had no hand in any of the dirty dealings. Joe was pretty much keeping all the Provenza’s legitimate business afloat singlehandedly.
The U.S. Government swooped in and seized the Provenza firm and then, based on input from McWorter, they asked Joe to run the firm for them. He knew the customers better than anyone in the Provenza family and the customers trusted Joe because he had been the one that turned them in and ended the cycle of skimming their funds. Joe was now in charge of a very successful firm with a loyal customer base and a hero in the community.
Joe had testified in court and the press coverage had been free publicity for the firm. As Joe switched from the news to checking the company files, he could see that revenues were healthy and the client list had increased substantially. Finally, some reward for taking the high road. Joe checked his own bank accounts and discovered that the healthy balance made the purchase of the new furniture in his apartment possible. He also noticed, from his browser history, that he had been shopping for houses. Joe had turned things around for the business, he had put the Provenzas behind bars and had improved his own standing. Of the timelines he had traveled to, the success was the least ostentatious, but it also felt the most like he had earned it. It was a Saturday morning. Joe decided to explore the other aspects of this modified timeline to make sure there were no booby traps.
He thought he would start by venturing out for some breakfast and then heading into the office to check around for what had changed. He showered, got dressed and grabbed the car key that was hanging in the kitchen. It wasn’t the key to his vintage Honda. It did have a familiar logo on it, however, from another Japanese make. Joe left his apartment and walked to his usual parking spot and found a brand new black Lexus IS-350. Like the timeline, this wasn’t the most expensive car, but it was a definite step up from his Honda which had been held together by dirt and rust.
Joe settled into the leather driver’s seat and started the car. It still had that new car smell. The sound of a rerun of NPR’s Car Talk came over the Bose speakers as Joe glanced at the display from the backup camera and made his way out of the parking lot. Joe was relieved to see that the Little Star Diner was still there and open for business. He parked his car in the lot and followed the smells that foreshadowed a delicious and filling breakfast.
Joe was not prepared for what greeted him when he walked in the door. All eyes in the crowded diner turned to him and the patrons broke out in spontaneous applause. Joe didn’t know how to react to this. For him, it was the equivalent of accidentally venturing out in public naked. He was uncomfortable and self-conscious. Joe considered turning and leaving, but the owner of the diner, Nicky Scarsini, came rushing over to Joe.
“Joe, please, let me clear a table for you,” Scarsini said. “Thanks for joining us for breakfast.”
“Nicky, I can see you guys are swamped,” Joe said. “I can take something to go or come back later.”
“Nonsense. You gave my business new life when you found the money those guys ripped off from me. I will clear a table and breakfast is on me.”
Joe couldn’t argue. He didn’t want to offend Scarsini and he was hungry. Joe followed the owner to a booth and found a cup of coffee and a vase with a flower in it on the table waiting for him. In all of his years coming to the Little Star, he had never seen flowers on the tables. In fact, looking around this morning, his seemed to be the only one that had one. Joe knew what he wanted and, before he even took his first sip of the strong, black coffee, Louise, the thirty-something waitress that had been working at the Little Star, was standing at the ready waiting for his order. He saw a look on her face that he had never seen before. In fact, the attractive young woman had never glanced his way in the past.
“How can I help you today, Mr. McLean?” Louise asked.
“I’d like the number one breakfast sandwich, please.”
“With bacon on the side, as usual?”
“Um, yes,” Joe said, not realizing that he had a “usual” that anyone would know about.
Joe’s breakfast appeared at the table in less than two minutes after he ordered it. It looked freshly cooked. The bread was upgraded to what looked like freshly baked Italian and the portion of bacon was twice what he would have normally received. Joe was starting to like this timeline.
As Joe ate the truly delicious sandwich, a pilgrimage of diners passed by his table to say “way to go” or “thank you”. Joe wasn’t used to this and, sensing his discomfort, Nicky Scarsini scuttled over to direct traffic.
“Hey, let’s let Mr. McLean eat,” He said as he deflected the visitors.
Joe finished the sandwich just as Louise appeared.
“Do you want some more coffee, hon?” Louise said. “Or is there anything else you’d like?” she added with a look that was foreign to Joe. It was almost as if she were flirting with him.
“No, I’m fine. Just the check when you get a chance.”
“Oh, Nicky said your money’s no good here. It’s on the house.”
“But, I don’t mind paying. In fact, I’d rather…”
“Okay,” Joe said.
As Louise left, Joe pulled a $20 bill from his wallet and left it as a tip. It was twice what the breakfast would have cost, but Joe felt it was warranted.
Joe walked past the waving patrons as he made his way out to the car. He couldn’t believe the treatment he received. It had been six months since the final game in Maxwell Stadium and people were still treating him like some kind of hero.
Mike’s house was on the way to the office, so Joe thought he would take a chance and see if his brother was home. As Joe pulled down his brother’s street on the uncharacteristically warm March day, he saw the familiar figure of his brother riding a brand-new John Deere tractor working on his front yard. As he saw Joe’s car approaching, Mike turned off the tractor and dismounted it making his way toward the driveway.
“Well, look what the Lexus dragged in,” Mike said as Joe exited his car.
Joe noted the new Chevy Suburban SUV in Mike’s driveway. Could it be that his brother had benefitted from Joe’s activities as well?
“I just thought I’d stop by and check in,” Joe said.
“Is everything okay? You were just here for dinner last night,” Mike asked. “Thanks for the Scotch, by the way. I’m saving it for a special occasion.”
Joe was confused, but played along.
“I’m glad you liked it. I’m on my way into the office and you were on the way. I can see you’re busy with your new toy,” Joe said gesturing toward the tractor.
“Yup. Thanks to your mojo and my new promotion, the Mike McLean family is in much better shape these days. “
“I’m glad I could help,” Joe said.
Mike smiled and shook his head.
“What?” Joe asked.
“I still can’t believe you grew a pair and took down the Provenzas. They had it coming. Mom and Dad would be proud.”
A wave of sadness hit Joe. A flaw in the timeline, but one that he might have to accept.
“Well, I won’t hold up your yard work. I’m heading in to the office for a few hours. Maybe we can get together tomorrow and do something, maybe dinner.”
“Sounds good. Don’t work too hard,” Mike said.
Joe got back in the car and thought about Mike and his family as he left. Maybe he couldn’t bring back his parents, but he could honor them by making sure Mike and his family thrived in this timeline. This thought comforted him as he navigated into the parking lot of his office building. The familiar sign for Romano, Provenza and Bianci was gone and a temporary sign with the name, McLean and Associates, replaced it. It was a surreal sight, but like his other experiences in this timeline, it felt appropriate.
Joe found that his former cubicle now bore the name of a junior associate that had, apparently, been promoted. He found his name on the corner office previously occupied by the senior John Provenza. He didn’t recognize the room which was now adorned in Langerton Chiefs and New York Yankees décor. He sat behind the new mahogany desk and logged onto his computer. He clicked on his email icon.
The front page of his email program showed his calendar and, as he glanced through the various appointments, he noticed a sole entry for Sunday, as in tomorrow. It said, brunch with Beth. He quickly opened the appointment and found that Beth had sent him an invitation to have Brunch at the Hotel Langerton the following day. Joe’s heart leaped in his chest. Could it be that things had started up again with Beth? Brunch was a good sign.
He perused his email and found one from her earlier in the week. It was only a couple of sentences, but they were enough to make Joe very hopeful. It read:
I know you’re a busy man these days. (Congratulations, by the way). I was hoping we could get together and talk. I need to see you as soon as possible. I will be in town on Sunday and was hoping we could maybe do brunch.
Love. Did she mean love in the sense of it being a generic sign off to the email for someone she had once loved or love in the sense that it could be rekindled? Joe saw that he had responded to the email.
I always have time for you. I’d love to see you. The Hotel Langerton has a great brunch I’ve been meaning to check out. It runs from 10-2 on Sundays. Let me know what time is good for you.
Apparently, Beth had responded with the invitation. It was for 10:30 and she said she had gone ahead and reserved them a table for two. Joe was really starting to feel at home in this timeline. Sunday couldn’t arrive fast enough for him.