This story is winding down. The action is going to be fast and furious this week and possible 1-2 more. Then I will turn my attention to turning this saga into a book and I am going to try something different with my weekly writing. More on that later.
Enjoy these last installments of Extra Innings as we bring Joe’s adventures to a close.
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, Part 38
Joe was reeling. Somehow, after the brunch with Beth, he had driven home. Her revelation about her health had felt like someone had squeezed his heart. He actually thought he would pass out. He didn’t know what to say to her after she shared the news. He picked at his food and listened to her go on about her prognosis and what she could expect. She had said that the cancer might have been caught if it had been detected even six months earlier, but now it was too late for anything other than chemo and radiation therapy that would minimally extend her life, but cause her to have a miserable existence.
All thoughts of rekindling their romance went up in smoke as she relayed what her brief future would look like. She, from all indications, was reaching out to Joe for two reasons. First, she needed advice on how to set her affairs in order. Second, she literally had no one else in her life. At least Joe had his brother. Beth had no family and, from the sound of it, very few friends. She had been so focused on her career, social interaction was not a priority. Joe could relate to this and was filled with regret that they had both ended up this way.
This timeline that appeared to be mostly positive was now the worst he had experienced because of this event. He wondered if Beth’s illness was something that would have occurred in the other timelines he had influenced. He also wondered if there was something more sinister at work here. Was her illness some kind of balancing karma? Were his repeated trips to the past to carry out these “do overs” causing the fabric of time and fate to come apart? More importantly, he wondered if there was anything he could do. How far back in time would he have to go to warn her? How would he warn her? He played the scenario through his mind. Would he go back, say, 18 months in time and call Beth out of the blue and try to convince her to get tested for pancreatic cancer? That might not be a winning strategy.
Joe was getting tired. The time travel and constant reliving of his contemporary timeline had his brain scrambled. Things were overlapping. If he went back in time to warn Beth, what would happen to the business. Could he warn her and also fix the business or did he need to choose which path was more important? If he stayed in this timeline with the successful business, but didn’t save Beth, would he be able to live with himself? Would he have a reason to live.
This was going to require some thought. Joe wasn’t going to rush his actions. He needed to map out a plan and try to get the maximum benefit from it. One thing was clear, he wasn’t going to solve his situation by going back in time just once. This was going to take a perfect series of alterations of the past in different time periods in his life. Everything had to come together perfectly to avoid this disaster.
Joe sat down at his desk with a legal pad and a picture album. He needed to use the album to remind him of the time period of certain events. He also had a box of Langerton Chiefs program books at his feet. What he was going to attempt was risky and complicated, but he felt he had no choice. His sanity depended on success. He could feel it slipping away as he thought of the bizarre turn his life had taken.
Joe glanced through the photos of his family. He teared up as he saw pictures of himself with his parents after his high-school and college graduations. He then saw pictures from his wedding. Beth was so beautiful. Mike was his best man. It was the happiest day of his life, with a steady decline since then. Today was the ultimate low.
Joe couldn’t believe what was happening. He had crashed from a very high point to rock bottom. He thought he could face anything in this timeline. He had made the business his on his own terms. He had reconciled his feelings on the deaths of his parents. He thought that Beth would be the third ‘7’ on his time travel slot machine. Instead, she was the third strike that knocked him out of the game.
Joe tried to clear the negativity from his mind. He had a job to do. He wrote a series of dates on his legal pad with two or three word phrases telling him what the dates signified. When he had finished his list, he began rifling through the Langerton Chiefs program books and pulling out those that were closest to the dates he had recorded. By the time Joe had finished this exercise, it was nearly 10 PM. He began to realize how exhausted he was. He had been running on pure adrenaline since leaving the Hotel Langerton in the wake of Beth’s news.
He thought back to the moment he left the hotel. Beth had given him a firm, but shaky hug. She had thanked him for being there and he had offered to help her in any way she needed. She said she would be in touch. Joe knew at that moment that he wouldn’t see her again in this timeline. There were two inevitabilities. He would either travel back in time to try to make this right or he would disappear until she had passed. He didn’t want to watch this woman he had considered the love of his life deteriorate into an emaciated, cancer-ridden husk. That was more than he could possibly bear.
Joe was also anxious to get started, but if he went to the stadium seat in his present state, he would fall asleep in the past too easily and might not complete his tasks and come back prematurely. What he needed was to get a good night sleep and tackle this tomorrow when he was well-rested and clear-headed. He ate some of the leftover antipasto from Dominick’s as he realized he hadn’t eaten since the minimal food he managed to swallow at brunch. He then changed and climbed into bed. Sleep didn’t come immediately. He ran through his game plan in his mind several times. He then tried to read for a while. He was reading Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis. He had watched the movie with Mike and the concept of tying success in baseball to using statistics was something he couldn’t resist. He savored each page of the book.
Joe read for about 45 minutes. It helped him clear thoughts of Beth and the quest he was going to set out on the next day out of his mind. He fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. He work with the sun shining through his bedroom window at 7 A.M. He got up, made a cup of coffee and sat down at his desk to go through his plans once more. He rose from the desk, showered and dressed. He was ready to take off to his first destination. He took the corresponding program book from his desk and then a thought occurred to him. Where could he put his list and the program books to ensure they would be there when he returned. He didn’t know for sure what dwelling he would end up in. The desk he was sitting at was new to his timeline. He tried to think of a constant in each of his timelines. Then it occurred to him. He had a small, two-drawer file cabinet that seemed to be with him in all timelines. It was his fathers and Joe had used it to store work and other important personal papers. He opened the top drawer and put the programs and the legal pad in between two hanging folders.
August 14, 1993
Joe took the program book and went out to the living room. He sat in the stadium seat and looked at the date on the program book just to make sure he had grabbed the right one. J August 14 1993. This would be the third time he would experience this date. The Chiefs would face the Toledo Mud Hens yet again. He settled into the stadium seat. Again, he felt the electrical charge pass through his body. The charge pulsated through him, but simultaneously caused him to drift off to sleep. He no sooner dozed off, that he was awakened by the sound of crowd noise.
Joe opened his eyes and looked around. He was in the luxury box at Maxwell stadium once again. As he looked out the window toward the field, it was sunny just as he remembered it the first time he was at this game. When he had returned to it the second time, the game had been in rain delay. Now it was perfectly clear. The timing was the same as the scoreboard again indicated that the game was in the fourth inning. As he pondered the inconsistency, a voice brought him out of his stupor.
“So, you’re young Joe McLean. I hear good things about you.”
Once again it was John Provenza. Sr. Joe knew what he had to do. He would again turn down the job with the Provenza family and start the ball rolling toward the rest of his plan.