Check out my interview from Ronald Yates Site

A Conversation with Author Don Massenzio

Today, ForeignCorrespondent has a chinwag with Don Massenzio, author of the acclaimed Frank Rozzani Detective Series as well as several other books. His newest book, Extra Innings, was released just last week. You can read Don’s bio at the end of the interview.

Q. Tell us a bit about your latest release, Extra Innings.

A. Well, this book is a major departure from my usual crime/detective drama genre. It has elements of supernatural/paranormal devices and really isn’t at all about crime.

Here is a blub that sums up the book:

Joe McLean hates his life. A lonely, divorced, middle-aged man, stuck in a cramped apartment, the only bright spot in Joe’s life is cheering on his hometown baseball team. Now, the local stadium, the place of many childhood and adult memories is being replaced. Joe desperately wants a piece of this iconic venue to preserve his memories and have some memorabilia from his happier past.

 That’s when unusual things begin to happen, and Joe begins to rethink the direction his life has taken. Can Joe take a different path in life? Can he use the special ability that he has acquired to change the course of his life? Will he realize the truth about the adage, you can never go home again?

 Follow the twists and turns in this supernatural story, Extra Innings, to find out.

Q.   When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Don Massenzio

A.   I was a voracious reader as a kid. I lived in an urban neighborhood with no kids to play within an old two-family house. We had an attic apartment with a bookcase full of old books. I would read books from the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew series and then would try to write my own stories. I think I was in 2nd grade when this really kicked in. Of course, I’ve been an editor/writer throughout my business career but didn’t have the guts to publish my first work of fiction until I turned 50.

Read the rest of the interview HERE.

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Now Available for Pre-Order – Extra Innings by Don Massenzio

SAMPLEMy newest release, Extra Innings, is now available for pre-order. Unlike my previous crime and terrorism fiction novels, this book forges a path in the paranormal/science fiction area. These are genres that I enjoy reading and have always wanted to write in. This book is my first effort at doing so.

Here is a synopsis of the book:

Joe McLean hates his life. A lonely, divorced, middle-aged man, stuck in a cramped apartment, the only bright spot in Joe’s life is cheering on his hometown baseball team.

Now, the local stadium, the place of many childhood and adult memories is being replaced. Joe desperately wants a piece of this iconic venue to preserve his memories and have some memorabilia from his happier past.

That’s when unusual things begin to happen, and Joe begins to rethink the direction his life has taken. Can Joe take a different path in life? Can he use the special ability that he has acquired to change the course of his life? Will he realize the truth about old adage, you can never go home again?

Follow the twists and turns in this supernatural story, Extra Innings, to find out.

The book will be officially released on Friday, June 15th. It’s available for pre-order by clicking HERE.

If you’re interested in hosting a promotional post for this book or want to conduct an author interview, I’d greatly appreciate it. I’m proud of this book and would like to give it some good exposure. Just let me know in the comments or drop me a note at don@donmassenzio.com

 

Extra Innings – Part 41 – The End

Well, it’s been 41 weeks of stream of consciousness writing that has  resulted in just over 74,000 words in a story that was both fun and challenging to write. As I look back over the early parts of the story, there are things I would change and things I would expand. I also see things that need to be fixed.

Some of you have gone on this journey with me offering words of encouragement and edits. I have appreciated it. Look for Extra Innings to be a book at some point in the future. I am first going to go back through it and fix the continuity problem and expand the story where it can be more fun and where it makes sense.

Thanks again for going through this with me. I am going to continue weekly writing, but it will be something different. This is my second serial that will become a book and it’s hard work. On the plus side, it’s given me a deadline to meet each week, but sometimes things have felt rushed and not quite the way I envisioned it. Now it’s time to fix it.

If you want to catch up on the previous installments of this serial, you can click on these links:

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22Part 23Part 24Part 25Part 26Part 27Part 28Part 29Part 30Part 31Part 32Part 33Part 34Part 35Part 36Part 37Part 38Part 39, Part 40


Beth was a beautiful woman. As Joe reached to hold her a hug she enthusiastically returned his embrace. Their kisses were deep and passionate as they were when they first met. They made love in the early haze of the sunrise and Joe was surprised at the hunger they both felt after what would have been over 20 years of being together.

Beth had stayed in shape and Joe appreciated her body which was a bit softer and more ample in her 40s.

“It’s nice to have the house to ourselves, isn’t it Joe?” Beth said as they basked in the afterglow.

“Um, it is,” Joe said with a bit of uncertainty.

“With Rene and Joe Junior off at college, I was a bit lonely in this big house without them, but mornings like this make up for it.”

Rene and Joe Junior? Joe was both ecstatic and sad. He had conceived and raised children with Beth, but he had essentially missed their growing up because of his timeline hopping. He had learned there were pros and cons with time travel. So far, in this timeline, the pros far outweighed the cons. Two of his three goals seemed to have worked out quite well.

Joe confirmed this. After he and Beth drank cups of coffee, he decided to do some checking on his computer to see if things were consistent in this timeline. He went off to his office while Beth went off to shower.

A quick check told him that McLean and Associates was, indeed, doing very well. Mike was the Chief Information Officer. One change that he did not expect was that the office manager was Beth McLean. Not only had he successfully kept his marriage to Beth alive with two of their children in college, she was part of the family business. This exceeded Joe’s hope and dreams for the timeline. He had done what he set out to do. He felt like he needed to work out. His body in this timeline was fit and healthy with the ingrained habit for exercising that comes from doing it consistently.

He went off to tell Beth. She was out of the shower in a soft terry cloth robe toweling her hair dry. Joe couldn’t resist the urge to embrace her.

“Wow, what was that for?” Beth asked.

“You just make me happy. I just felt like giving you a hug.”

“Well, that’s fine, but don’t try to keep me here. I’ve got to get into the office.”

“The office, why? It’s a Saturday.”

“Don’t you remember? I’m interviewing new executive assistant candidates. Jeez, Joe, we just went to Carmela’s retirement party last night.”

“I forgot. I didn’t think you’d be doing it this soon.”

“If I don’t, I’ll end up doing the job, and I don’t want that. I’m extremely motivated to find someone to start Monday,” Beth said with a mischievous smile.

“Do you think any of the candidates are any good?”

Beth looked at Joe with amusement.

“Well, you interviewed all three of them. These are the three you and Mike selected, so I hope they’re good.”

“I know, I just wanted your take,” Joe said trying to recover.

“Well, you’ll have it when I get done. They were all interns with us, so I think we have a good group to pick from.”

“That’s great. Do you need me to come with you?” Joe asked.

“No. In fact, I prefer you don’t. I know what you and Mike need to keep you organized much better than either one of you. I’ll give you my input and you guys will have the final say,” she said with that same mischievous look.

“What?” Joe asked.

“Well, if you don’t pick the one that I recommend, you guys will be in trouble.”

Joe laughed.

“Well, I’m going to go work out. I’ve got to keep in shape for you, you know.”

“If we keep having mornings like we did today, you better keep in shape,” Beth said.

Joe was on cloud 9 as he went down to the workout room. After a thirty-minute run on the treadmill and thirty minutes of weight training, he body was simultaneously fatigued and energized. He let the hot water run over his muscles in the shower and felt them loosen as they recovered. Joe left the bathroom and went into the master bedroom to get dressed. Just as he was pulling on a sweater, Joe heard the front doorbell ring.

Joe walked down the staircase to the front entry. As he looked through the glass on the side of the door, he saw two men in dark suits and long overcoats waiting for him to answer. Joe’s mind started racing. What had happened with the business. These guys looked like cops or worse. Was the FBI looking into something to do with his company?

Joe opened the door. When he saw the faces of the men at the door, the first thing that occurred to him was that he knew one of them.

“Bob Armstrong, is that you?”

“It is, Joe.”

“I haven’t seen you since high school, but I’d know you anywhere.”

“What’s this about? Is there a high school reunion or something?”

“No, Joe. I wish it was.”

Joe didn’t like the tone of his old high school classmate’s voice or the serious look on the faces of the men.

“Well, what is it?” Joe asked expecting the worst. The answer was beyond the worst.

“Joe, it’s your wife, Beth.”

“She’s not here right now. She’s at the office doing interviews.”

“Actually Joe, that’s why we’re here. She didn’t make it in to the office.”

“What? Why? What happened?”

Beth had pulled out of the driveway and was on her way to the office. As she navigated her way down Route 5, a two lane highway with wooded land on either side, a semi from Lackawana Specialty Services was traveling west. As the truck driver nodded off from too little rest and too many driving hours, the truck drifted into the eastbound lane. Beth saw it, but it was too late. Her choices were to hit the semi head on or steer sharply off the road. She opted for the latter and struck a tree head on. She was killed instantly.

********

2037

If you were able to float up to the second-floor window of a lakefront house in Western Pennsylvania on any given day, you would see a sad, broken old man sitting in an ancient baseball stadium seat. You would have to look quickly, however, as he is only sitting there for a moment and then disappears. Every day he has a dogeared, yellowed Langerton Chiefs program book on his lap. Some are from the same games he has been to many times. Others are from games he has only been to once or twice. He keeps returning to them hoping to find a single thread that he can pull on to create the ideal life and future. He doesn’t have many years left now. The constant time travel and repeated disappointment has aged him well beyond his years, but, as long as he is alive, he needs to keep trying.

When it comes to numbers and thinking logically, he is a smart man. Almost brilliant. When it comes to life and not being able to distinguish between luck and a curse, he has no clue.

Extra Innings – Part 40

This is the second to last installment of Extra Innings. A few of you have been with me on this journey and it has been a long one, 12 weeks shy of a full year.

This is the second weekly serial I have written and it has taught me a few lessons that I will likely cover in a separate blog post.

One definitive lesson is about continuity. As I go back to past weeks looking for information on what I’ve previously written, I’ve found a number of continuity issues with back story and past character events.

When I turn this serial into a book, I will correct these things. Normally, when a book is written, continuity checking is one of those things that beta readers help out with. This serial has been all me. It’s over 70,000 words of stream of consciousness writing that, while it is a decent story, there are gaps and plot holes that will be fixed.

Look for next week to have the resolution to this tale and then look for it as a book sometime in the future with the gaps, plot hoes and continuity issues fixed.

If you want to catch up on the previous installments of this serial, you can click on these links:

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22Part 23Part 24Part 25Part 26Part 27Part 28Part 29Part 30Part 31Part 32Part 33Part 34Part 35Part 36Part 37Part 38, Part 39


The rest of Joe’s time in the 1993 timeline was immaterial. Joe had once again set in motion the movement toward owning his own firm. He had the same conversation with his parents in which they offered him support. Joe reacted much the same as he had in the original timeline so the future would play out in a similar manner with regard to the business. Being with his parents this time was somehow different. He felt a sense of detachment. His time in the mausoleum brought him some closure. Trying to save his parents’ lives had seemed like a good idea at first, but Joe now knew that it was only prolonging the inevitable and the more he prolonged it, the less pleasant that eventuality would be.

Joe, once again, fell asleep on the couch watching (but not watching) a movie with his parents. Once again, like the last time he had used this timeline to change events, he woke up in the lakefront house that had belonged to John Provenza in his original present. His business was successful in this timeline and it was on his own terms. He had started it from the beginning, not assumed it because of being a whistleblower or by refusing to be a whistleblower in the persona of his grandfather. Joe felt the best about this iteration of his business becasuse it demonstrated that he had the intestinal fortitude from the beginning. He may not have turned out as wealthy as he did as an executive with RPM, but he was not affiliated with criminals and not married into their family. Now, he was ready to focus on his next objective, Beth. Joe was pretty sure that he knew what to do, but it was going to be tricky and the timing was going to be crucial.

He showered and shaved so he could look his best in the new timeline. He wasn’t sure if this carried over, but it was worth the effort and it made him feel better. He then went to his two -drawer file cabinet. A sense of dread passed over Joe as he opened the top drawer, but this was replaced by relief when he found the remaining program books and his legal pad between the folders just as he left them. He grabbed the next program book for his plan and replaced the rest in the cabinet.

Joe had a bit of research to do before he ventured to another point in his past. He looked through his larger file cabinet and found the information he was looking for. He was pleased with what he found as it would help his next jump. This jump to the past was a bit risky.

He went out the garage and backed the Tesla out of the driveway and sped toward Langerton Deluxe Storage. He remembered the code from his previous stint in this timeline and, this time, he didn’t need Kenny’s assistance with the combination lock. He removed the lock and raised the door to the unit. The stadium seat was in the corner of the storage unit just where he expected. Joe climbed over the boxes and furniture to the seat and sat down. He took a glance at the program book. His destination was a new one, but he hoped this part of the plan would work.

July 13th, 1996

Joes return to this game eight years earlier had nothing to do with the game itself. It had to do with a pivotal event in his marriage to Beth. This day was a double-header with the Pawtucket Red Sox. The Chiefs were in third place and had a five game homestand against the Sox that year. This double-header was the last two games of the series. The Sox were in first place; the Chiefs in third. The Sox had been swept in the first three games and, if the Chiefs could keep it going, they would inch up into 2nd place in the International League.

As Joe opened his eyes in the seat at the stadium, the sun was fully on him. His brother and his father were also at the game. The games were pivotal for the Chiefs and the crowd was amped. Joe wasn’t interesting in the games, however, for two primary reasons. First, he already knew the outcome. The Chiefs would drop both and would remain in 3rd place for the rest of the 1995 season. Second, this was a pivotal day in his relationship with Beth. He was now 24. Three years had passed since his refusal to work for the Provenzas. Joe knew, from his research, that his fledgling firm was doing well enough for him to be out on his own. Luckily, he had kept all of his tax records and knew he had filed individually and had deducted a home mortgage expense in the 1996 tax year. He knew something else that was key, he had never actually been to this game in his original timeline. The program book that he held was one that his brother had brought him. Joe had to work on this Saturday in 1996 in the original timeline. He was slaving away for the Provenzas. As much as it pained him to miss this game, Joe also knew that, because of being stuck at the office, it was the night he would reconnect with Beth.

He had figured out why Beth wasn’t part of his life in his present after refusing the job from Provenza in 1993. As a result of starting his own firm, he hadn’t been working on this Saturday in 1996 which meant he hadn’t gone to dinner at Dominicks’ and he hadn’t run into Beth eating alone. As a result of that chance meeting in his original timeline, he had ended up joining her for dinner and they had started dating. They had married two years later. Joe decided that he needed to make sure this night happened in order to have any kind of future with Beth in his revised life as a successful business owner. The fact that he actually made it to this game successfully and his brother and father had not questioned his presence meant that he had guessed correctly.

Joe waited for a lull in the action and then feigned a vibration from his pager.

“Oh great,” he said turning to his brother.

“What is it, Joe?” Mike asked.

“It’s the new super market chain account. They want some numbers.”

“Right now?”

“You know how it is. I don’t want to lose this client early in the game. I’m just going to run by the office and pull the numbers for them.”

“You’re a good businessman, Joey,” Joe’s father said. “Give them what they want, when they want it and you’ll go far.”

Joe felt a wave of emotion at the sound of his voice.

“Thanks, Dad. I’ll try to come back, but don’t wait for me. I’ve got my car at the office.”

Joe knew, for a big game like this, they would have parked their cars at the office and walked to the stadium. Maxwell’s small crushed-stone parking lot would never handle all of the cars.

Joe walked down the steps and through the tunnel. It took him about 15 minutes to walk to the office. The streets near the stadium seemed deserted as much of the town was either at the game or home listening to it on the radio.

Joe had no intention of doing any work. What he wanted to do was get into his car, go home and spruce up and think about what he wanted to say to Beth at this ‘chance’ meeting. As he recalled it, they had fallen naturally into conversation and he had somehow had the nerve to ask her out. He didn’t want to change much. He just wanted to make sure it happened.

Joe found his car, a 1996 Acura Legend, in the parking lot. It was a decent car that spoke well of his financial position. He drove to the house he had purchased. Ironically, it was the same ranch that he and Beth lived in when they were first married. He had apparently purchased it early in this timeline. Joe entered the house barely paying attention to his surroundings. He wanted to take a shower, wear something decent, but not obvious and head over to the restaurant. According to his recollection, Beth would be there in about an hour.

Joe pulled into the Dominick’s parking lot and walked in. He cursed himself as he was apparently early. The hostess smiled at him. Apparently he was starting to build his reputation as a businessman in Langerton as hers was only the first of a few nods of recognition.

“Would you like a table for one?” the hostess asked.

“Um, I’m actually looking for someone. I’m…I’m not sure if I’ll be eating in or getting take-out.”

“The hostess smiled again.

“That’s no problem sir. Just let me know and I’ll help you out.”

Joe went to the restroom, more out of nervousness than a true need to go. When he came out, he planned on looking around the dining room again and, if Beth wasn’t there, he might go out and sit in his car for a bit. He looked around the room and saw no one resembling Beth seated for dinner. He decided he would sit in the car and wait for her to arrive, assuming that she was coming at all. He turned to walk out and bumped into someone who was entering.

“I’m sorry,” Joe said automatically and then he saw who it was.

“It’s okay,” Beth said. “I wasn’t looking either.”

Joe was at a loss for words.

“Joe? Joe McLean? Is that you?”

“It is.”

“It’s Beth, Beth Burton. Remember? From high school?”

“Beth. Of course, I remember you.”

“Funny bumping into you here,” Beth said. “Literally.”

They both laughed. Joe had forgotten how beautiful and engaging Beth was at this age.

“I’m just back in town,” Beth said. “I moved back home with Mom and Dad until I can get on my feet.”

“I just finished working and I’m here for dinner,” Joe said.

Beth looked confused.

“I thought you were going out when I was coming in.”

“Oh that. I was just going out to make sure I locked my car.”

Joe hesitated to ask the next question.

“Are you eating here alone?”

“Well, I was going to get takeout,” Beth said.

“Why don’t we grab a table. We can catch up on old times,” Joe said trying to sound natural.

“That sounds great,” Beth said without hesitation.

Joe and Beth went up to the hostess stand.

“I see you found who you were looking for,” the hostess said.

Joe felt a burning sensation in his face.

“Were you expecting someone, Joe?” Beth asked.

“Um, no. Well, just my brother, Mike. But, he’s not going to make it.”

“Oh, okay. Well then it’s just us,” Beth said.

The waitress grabbed two menus and led Joe and Beth to a table.

They sat down and fell into a natural conversation. Joe had to tread carefully as he had to avoid all their history in the other timelines. He truly had to act as if he and Beth were getting to know each other without the baggage. It was difficult, but refreshing in a way.

Dinner was as delicious as ever at Dominick’s. This restaurant was the one constant in all the timelines, Joe thought to himself. They shared what they had done since high school. Beth had earned a business degree. Joe told her about starting his own accounting firm while underplaying his success. Despite his desire to appear humble, Beth seemed suitably impressed. When dinner was over, joe felt nostalgia washing over him. He and Beth had hit it off well, perhaps better than in the original timeline. Joe knew more about her than he was able to reveal so he knew her likes and dislikes and played to them. After he paid the check and left the waitress a generous, but not pretentious, tip, he asked Beth if she would like to go out sometime.

“Of course, Joe,” she answered. “This was fun. Of course, if I get this job at the mall, my schedule might be weird, but we can work around it.”

Beth gave Joe her number and he walked her out to her car which was a station wagon borrowed from her parents. He got into his own Volvo and drove home. He looked forward to falling asleep and waking up in the present once again. This time, he hoped things had changed enough and that he was done traveling. He vowed to himself that, once he was satisfied with his timeline, he would destroy the stadium seat.

Joe parked in the driveway and went into the house. He was still giddy about having dinner as young Joe with young Beth. He assumed he did everything correctly. He would know for sure when he awoke back in the present.

At first, he had a hard time settling down and getting to sleep. He found a copy of the book, Hard Landings, on his nightstand and began reading about the struggle between management and labor in the airline industry and he quickly found himself dozing.

Joe awoke with the sunrise. He was back in the lakefront house, a good sign. He rolled over to see what time it was and felt another presence in the bed. He was startled at first at this unfamiliar feeling. When he turned the other way to see who it was, he found himself looking at Beth. She opened her eyes and smiled.

“Good morning, Babe,” Beth said.

“Good morning,” Joe said as a feeling of warmth spread throughout his body.

Extra Innings – Part 39

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 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22Part 23Part 24Part 25Part 26Part 27Part 28Part 29Part 30Part 31Part 32Part 33Part 34Part 35Part 36Part 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.

Extra Innings – Part 38

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 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 11Part 12Part 13Part 14Part 15Part 16Part 17Part 18Part 19Part 20Part 21Part 22Part 23Part 24Part 25Part 26Part 27Part 28Part 29Part 30Part 31Part 32Part 33Part 34Part 35Part 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.

Extra Innings – Part 37

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…”

“Nicky insists.”

“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:

Joe,

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,

Beth

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.

Beth,

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.