Death in Paradise, Chapter One
One out. A left-handed hitter with an inside-out swing. The ball would slice away from him toward third. Jesse took a step to his right. The next pitch was inside and chest high and the batter yanked it down the first baseline, over the bag and into the right-field corner, had there been a corner, and lumbered into second base without a throw.
"I saw you move into the hole," the batter said to Jesse.
"Foiled again, Paulie."
They played three nights a week under the lights on the west side of town beside a lake, wearing team tee shirts and hats. One umpire. No stealing. No spikes allowed. Officially it was the Paradise Men's Softball League, but Jesse often thought of it as the Boys of Evening. The next batter was right-handed and Jesse knew he pulled everything. He stayed in the hole. On a two-one count the right-handed hitter rammed the ball a step to Jesse's left. One step. Left foot first, right foot turned, glove on the ground. Soft hands. Don't grab at it. Let it come to you. It was all muscle memory. Exact movements, rehearsed since childhood, and deeply visceral, somatically choreographed by the movement of the ball. With the ball hit in front of him, Paulie tried to go to third. In a continuous sequence of motion, Jesse swiped him with his glove as he went by, then threw the runner out at first.
"Never try to advance on a ball hit in front of you," Paulie said as they walked off the field.
"I've heard that," Jesse said.
His shoulder hurt, as it always did when he threw. And he knew, as he always knew, that the throw was not a big-league throw. Before he got hurt, the ball used to hum when he threw it, used to make a little snarly hiss as it went across the infield.
After the game they drank beer in the parking lot. Jesse was careful with the beer. Hanging around in the late twilight after a ball game drinking club soda just didn't work. But booze was too easy for Jesse. It went down too gently, made him feel too integrated. Jesse felt that it wasn't seemly for the police chief to get publicly hammered. So he had learned in the last few years to approach it very carefully.
The talk was of double plays, and games played long ago, and plays at the plate, and sex. Talk of sex and baseball was the best of all possible talk. Jesse sipped a little of the beer. Beer from an ice-filled cooler was the best way for beer to be. From the edge of the lake a voice said, "Jesse, get over here."
The voice was scared. Carrying a can of Lite beer, Jesse walked to the lakeside. Two men were squatting on their heels at the edge of the water. In front of them, floating facedown, was something that used to be a girl.
--From Death in Paradise by Robert B. Parker (c) October 2001, G.P. Putnam's Sons, a division of Penguin Putnam, used by permission.