This week there is a super-sized edition of Extra Innings. You can blame this on being stuck on a plane waiting to come home. The words just kept coming. Joe was starting to feel confident in this new timeline, but, in the world of story-telling, it wouldn’t be fun to just leave things positive.
Just as a side note, as I look back through the past 37 parts of this story (65,000 words) there are some definite continuity issues and gaps. When I turn this into a book, I will definitely be fixing those issues and adding more fun stuff.
For now, please enjoy this latest part 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, Part 37
Joe tried to focus on digging through the company’s records on the network folders connected to the server. He could see that many of the files had been compressed and encrypted for transport to the FBI, he assumed, as part of the investigation. He could also see many new accounts. There were companies that the Provenzas had been after for years among the roster of active clients. Joe guessed that his efforts in turning in his employees had gained the new incarnation of McLean and associates a positive reputation.
He was, however, having trouble focusing. He kept thinking about his brunch with Beth on the next day and he drifted off into a dreamlike state of euphoria. Could she be reaching out to him in his new heroic status to rekindle their life together? Could she be inviting him out to tell him she was wrong about leaving him and wanted him back? Joe was afraid to fantasize. Maybe she was reaching out to him for advice on her 401K.
He went back to the emails they had traded and traced his finger over her name in the signature line as if she would somehow feel him reaching out to her through the cyber world and come bursting through the door of the building and rush into his arms He felt elated that he would see her tomorrow.
He faced the fact that he wasn’t going to accomplish anything else at the office today. Surprisingly, several hours had gone by and, as he glanced at his phone, he noticed that it was nearly 3 P.M. He locked his computer and walked through the empty office building back out to his car. As he pulled out of the parking lot, he unconsciously drove on the opposite direction of his apartment. He wasn’t sure where he was going until he was almost there.
He pulled the car into the Oak Lawn Cemetery. He wasn’t sure why, but he needed to visit his parents. They were interred in the new mausoleum section of the aging cemetery. Nearly all of the plots were full, but the mausoleum buildings had been built about 15 years ago to accommodate those Langertonian that wished to be buried in their hometown. His parents were among them. He parked his car and slowly walked into the mausoleum building. The room had the faint aroma of flowers and incense which emanated from a recent funeral. The remnants of the flowers were spread on the floor in front of one of the crypt doors.
Joe found his mother and father’s crypt easily. He remembered his mother joking about their location when his father had died. “We’re right smack in the middle of the action,” he had said to Joe and Mike. “Not quite at eye level so the shorter people in our family can see us, but not too low so no one can look down on us.” Joe suspected that his mother didn’t expect to occupy her side of the crypt as soon as she did, but, when his father died, it was as if half of her died as well. She was never the same.
The plaque on the crypt read McLean at the top with Robert and Theresa underneath with their respective birth and death dates. His parents were neatly stored and cataloged just like the files in his company. Joe wasn’t sure why he had showed up here until he gave it some thought. This timeline seemed to be the most comfortable and logical thus far. He had soared to the top of his life potential with the timeline that had his company merging with a big firm in New York. He experienced an even more opulent lifestyle as an executive in a massive company in yet another timeline, but this came with a price. He had sacrificed his integrity to be there. Both of these timelines seemed surreal. In both, his parents were still alive, but that had seemed unnatural as well. In fact, it was almost an artificial side effect of his being in those timelines. It was as if they weren’t meant to be alive. They had seemed detached and out of place. As he thought about the different incarnations of his professional life, one action had influenced the business dramatically in every timeline. He had turned down the job with the Provenzas as a young college graduate in one timeline. He had gone back in time and had taken on the role of his grandfather where he attempted to quell an old feud between the McLeans and the Provenza/Morelli family and his relationship with them in the present had swung to the extreme and he found himself imbedded in their nefarious business.
This timeline, however, where he took control of his current life by blowing the whistle on his employers felt natural. It was an action he may have eventually taken on his own even without purchasing the magical chair from Maxwell Stadium. The hard reality of this timeline, however, was that his parents were dead. He was beginning to think that he would be a better son and would honor their memory with more dignity by not trying to change that. He put his hand on the McLean name on the plaque and, real or imagined, felt a reassuring pulse of warmth surge through his hand and up his arm. Was this approval from his parents? He would never be sure, but Joe felt like he had moved toward closure in this aspect of his life.
He left the mausoleum and maneuvered his car out of the cemetery back in the direction of his apartment. As he was driving Just as he was about to get back to work, his cell phone chirped to life with his familiar ringtone from his original timeline, Take Me Out to the Ballgame. It was a bit ironic that the same pastime celebrated through this ancient tune is what transported him to this new reality, in fact, it was his third, fourth, fifth timeline. He wasn’t sure. He tried to inventory his trips to the past in his mind, but they all blended together. The phone was synched with his car. It was a Pittsburgh number. He thought about declining the call, but then decided, for whatever reason, to answer it.
“This is Joe McLean,” he said.
“Joe. It’s Beth. How are you?”
Joe was stunned. He felt a mixture of elation and dread in his stomach. Elation at the sound of her voice. Dread at the thought that she was having second thoughts about their meeting and was calling him to cancel.
“Beth. Um, I’m fine. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Sure. I’m just calling to make sure we’re still on for tomorrow. We’ve only sent emails back and forth and I guess I wanted to hear you confirm with your voice that you’ll be there. Kind of silly I guess.”
Joe felt a swell of relief. She wasn’t calling to cancel. She wanted to make sure he’d be there.
“Of course I’ll be there. I wouldn’t miss it,” Joe said a bit too anxiously.
“Well, good. I really…I really need to see you and talk to you, Joe. It’s important.”
Joe was surprised at her urgency. It made him a bit nervous, but his sense of hopefulness overruled the worry.
“I’ll be there. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Great, Joe. Thanks. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Beth disconnected the call which left Joe slightly uncertain. She hadn’t said she was looking forward to it. She had just thanked him. He ran the possibilities through his mind and then decided that he was just overthinking. Beth was reaching out to him. Whatever had gone on in the past, and the other timelines, he was getting another chance. The worst thing he could do was to scare her off by overthinking things.
Joe stopped by Dominick’s, relieved to see that it was still in business. He wanted some familiar comfort food for dinner. He received the same type of welcome that he had at the Little Star Diner. It made him uncomfortable. He turned down the owner’s wife when she offered him the best table in the house. In fact, he made the decision to get some food to go. He ordered the Italian Platter which consisted of Veal parmesan, pasta, a salad and some bread. Within ten minutes, he was leaving with three large bags full of food and a bottle of wine, all compliments of the owner. Joe remembered that Dominick’s was one of the clients the Provenza’s had bilked money from. The owner was showing his gratitude to Joe which made him feel guilty. Two busboys carried the food to the car and Joe gave them each a twenty dollar bill. It would cover some of the cost of the food and, the busboys were great nephews of the owner, making Joe feel less guilty about taking it.
When he got home and unpacked his dinner, he discovered that there was enough food to last about three days. Not only did he get three sizable pieces of veal, they had included a full antipasto salad, a loaf of bread, and six Italian pastries. Joe would never be able to finish it. He might share it with Mike.
Joe ate more than he should have and felt drowsy. He had a big day tomorrow and wanted to be at his best when he met Beth for brunch. He sat in his recliner and tuned the T.V. to ESPN and dozed off after just a bit. He woke with a start at about 11 PM and, after a stop in the restroom, put himself to bed. He had a long, dreamless sleep.
Joe woke on Sunday morning feeling refreshed and, for the first time in quite a while, relaxed and worry free. His business seemed to be on solid footing and he was having brunch with the love of his life. Joe had a cup of coffee, showered and shaved. He dressed in a pair of jeans, dress shirt, and a sport jacket and spent some time watching the network news shows using their monotone political banter as a way to pass the time until he had to leave for brunch.
He drove the Lexus into downtown Langerton. The city had a love/hate relationship with its downtown area. Every five years or so, efforts would be made to revitalize the area, but they always seemed to fall flat. Businesses moved out of the area for the suburbs and without occupied offices, restaurants and retail stores didn’t stand a chance. The Hotel Langerton was once a shining jewel in the city. Built in the 1920s, it was known for its opulent ballrooms and well-appointed guest suites. In the 1970s, a modern addition had been built and it was universally hated by everyone. It didn’t match the character of the original building and looked like a gaudy attempt at replication but ended up looking like a poorly planned extra wing of a farmhouse. The hotel had fallen into disrepair and had closed for a few years in 2010. Since then, a large hotel chain had purchased it and had restored it to its former glory. Joe took advantage of the valet parking and ascended the stairs to the main lobby. The brunch was held in a medium size ballroom at the top of the stairs on the left called the Arabian Terrace. The room had been beautiful even during the failing days of the hotel, but the restoration had brought it back to its 1920s glory. The frescos on the ceiling had been restored and the new carpeting and furnishings were replicas of the original. The room had a large stage and a jazz trio was quietly adding to the mood of elegance as Joe entered the room. He had made a reservation and told the hostess his name. She obviously knew him.
“Yes, Mr. McLean. We’ve been expecting you. We’ve set up a nice table for you and your guest. She is already seated. You can follow me. The hostess led Joe toward the back of the room to a table by the window that had a view of the hotel’s courtyard. Beth was seated at the table. Joe’s heart danced in his chest when he saw her. She looked as beautiful as ever. Nothing about her had aged except for, perhaps, a few fine lines around her eyes.
“Joe. It’s great to see you,” Beth said as she sprung from her chair and gave him a hug.
Joe could feel her trembling as she squeezed him just a bit more tightly than he expected. He didn’t mind and returned the hug. The hostess discreetly floated away from the table. Joe and Beth took their seats just as a waitress in a vintage 1920s era uniform appeared at the table.
“Good morning. I’m here to take your drink orders,” the waitress said. “We have coffee, tea, juice and, if you’re feeling more adventurous, mimosas.”
“I’ll just have some coffee,” Joe said.
“Tea for me,” Beth said.
“Great. You can help yourself to the buffet and your drinks should be here when you return.”
Joe and Beth took that as their cue to head to the gigantic buffet table. It offered everything from the usual eggs, bacon and hash browns to waffle and omelet stations, carved meats of all varieties and even lobster. Joe took modest amounts of eggs and bacon along with some fruit. Beth put different types of fruit and a muffin on her plate and they returned to the table.
Once seated, an uncomfortable silence descended on them. Joe didn’t know what to say and, since Beth had initiated their meeting, he wanted to give her the courtesy of starting the conversation.
“Joe, it’s unbelievable what you’ve accomplished in Langerton. It took some guts to turn in the Provenzas,” Beth said. “What convinced you to do it?”
Joe tried to be as truthful as possible in his answer.
“They were bad people and I had to take them down. They were hurting business in the community that are owned and run by hard-working people. It just wasn’t right.”
“Well, it certainly turned out good for you. I always knew you were smart, but this side of you surprised me.”
“Is that why you wanted to meet?” Joe asked.
The words sounded a bit harsh and accusatory, which was the polar opposite of what Joe wanted to convey.
“No. Not at all. In fact, I’ve been trying to get the nerve up to call you for the past two months ever since I…anyway, it doesn’t have anything to do with that. I need your help.”
Joe wanted to say he would help her with anything, but this was the woman who left him when he was a nothing and was now talking to him after he had realized his success.
“It’s just that, I need some advice. Of all people, I shouldn’t expect you to want to help me,” Beth continued. “I left you and hurt you and I know it was wrong of me to do, but it happened. I just…I just didn’t know where else to turn.”
Any anger Joe felt melted. He still loved this woman and would do anything to help her. He knew that now and it was a constant for him in every timeline.
“Just tell me what you need, Beth. I’m here for you.”
“Joe. I don’t know how else to tell you this, but…I’m dying. I have three, maybe four months left. I was diagnosed two months ago.”
Suddenly, the room disappeared and Joe could only see Beth. He was trying to process what she had told him as his world came crashing down.