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A Harvey Blissberg Mystery
By R. D. Rosen
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1986 Richard Dean Rosen
All rights reserved.
IN THE BEGINNING OF February, four months after announcing his retirement from major-league baseball, Harvey Blissberg found himself in the thirty-second-floor midtown Manhattan office of a young agent—toothy, trim, preoccupied—who handled athlete endorsement contracts. Harvey couldn't quite say what had possessed a man who never even talked to sportswriters suddenly to entertain the idea of addressing millions on behalf of household products.
"What team did you say you played for?" the agent said.
This was a bad sign. "Five years with Boston, one with the Providence Jewels."
"The who?" He plucked an M&M Peanut from a ceramic bowl on his desk.
"Providence Jewels," Harvey said. "The expansion team."
"I see," the agent said. He placed both feet on his desk and admired his Italian saddle shoes. Behind him, the shelves were filled with framed magazine and newspaper advertisements featuring players Harvey knew. They were dressed in nicely pressed underpants, held cans of something or other in front of their faces. In one of the ads, a ballplayer who was widely known among American League personnel to consider anything less potent than Wild Turkey to be a soft drink peeked coquettishly from behind a can of low-calorie beer. "What did you have in mind?" the agent said.
"I had an idea I could make a little money doing endorsements."
"My clients don't make a little money; they make a lot."
"Well, it's not so much the money as—as having a new career."
"But nobody knows who you are."
"Excuse me?" Harvey had been busy devising an elaborate rationalization for this new career, one that might safely pass the lovely Mickey Slavin's puritanical inspection.
"I said nobody knows who you are."
Something sizzled in the circuitry of Harvey's reptile brain. He'd had this same unpleasant sensation a couple of years before on being informed that the Boston Red Sox were banishing him to Providence. When the neurological event passed, Harvey inhaled deeply and said with great false calm, "I don't know if I'd say that nobody knows who I am. If you give me a moment, I'll come up with a few names."
"Nobody I know knows who you are."
"All right, I may not be a Reggie Jackson," he began, "but ..." His voice withered.
The agent offered Harvey a patronizing smile, then the bowl of M&M's Peanuts. "If you don't mind, leave me the yellows—they're my favorite."
"They're all yours."
"Look, I know who you are. I saw you play a couple of times at Yankee Stadium. Wonderful ballplayer in your time, Harvey."
"In my time?" Harvey erupted. "I just retired a few months ago! After the best year of my career."
"Certainly. But does this mean that you can sell insect repellent? You're just not a household name, guy." The agent crunched a yellow M&M between his molars. "I hate to say it, but I don't think you're much of a name even in condominiums." He chuckled moronically at his joke.
Harvey stood up. "I don't think you're the agent I'm looking for."
"Sit down." For some reason, Harvey did. "The agent you're looking for doesn't exist. Look, let's say you were a Johnny Hazelwood—"
"Hazelwood! What're you talking about? I've got a higher lifetime batting average than Johnny Hazelwood. I won the Gold Glove, which is not something he can say. I came in—"
"Hazelwood plays in New York." He spoke patiently, rotating another yellow M&M between thumb and forefinger. "You played in Providence, for God's sake. Bubkesville."
"Oh, I get it," Harvey said.
"Of course you do. Look, I can't get you a national endorsement contract, and that's all there is to it. But"—he pointed double-barreled index fingers at Harvey—"a face like yours has options."
"Forget it," Harvey said.
"I'm thinking of soap operas."
"Well, I'm not."
"You know, I like this face. It's the face of a young doctor, a young lawyer, an unfaithful lover, maybe the one who's sleeping with his girlfriend's sister. How old are you?"
"You could say you're twenty-seven."
"But I'm thirty-one."
"That's what you say; but your face says twenty-seven. Harvey, the more I look at you, the more I get ideas."
Harvey stood and started for the door. The agent rose to follow him. "The soaps, I'm talking. In fact, CBS is casting this week. Now that's the way to become a household name. Are you listening?"
Harvey walked down the agency's long hall.
"The soaps," the agent called after him. "NBC's got a new one in development. And there's a baseball movie shooting right now in South Carolina and they've got parts for ballplayers. Sign with me and I'll sell you as a baseball consultant ..."
"Good-bye," Harvey said over his shoulder. "And thank you."
"... for this made-for about a young Soviet refusenik who gets an exit visa, comes to this country, learns how to play baseball, and makes the majors...."CHAPTER 2
HARVEY UNSCREWED THE CAP on the blue jar of Vicks VapoRub, dipped his pinkie into the jelly, and anointed each nostril. The vapors rose rapidly into his brain; Harvey could not imagine that a bigger kick was to be had from cocaine.
From the office's lone window, he caught a sliver of Mount Auburn Street. Harvard Square was slushy with undergraduates. A thick pane of ten years, all of them spent in a baseball uniform, separated him from the world of college students trudging to their somber classes and cute ethnic bistros. Harvey judged the odds of throwing a late-February snowball, scooped from his windowsill, into the air and hitting a Harvard comp. lit. major to be about five to one in his favor. Congestion, he thought, was the better part of Harvard Square's squalor. He leaned back in his chair, eyes closed, and inhaled a cloud of menthol.
He heard the door of his office open, releasing the sound of squealing videotape being played fast forward in one of the editing suites down the hall. His search for cheap space the month before had landed him in a third-story warren of offices otherwise occupied by independent film producers and editors. One of these officemates, Gary Greschak, was addressing him from the doorway.
Harvey opened his eyes. "Coming along." One arm shot out spasmodically toward a blank legal pad on his desk.
Greschak smiled benignly. "Can't wait for it to come to you, you know."
"I'll definitely keep that in mind." Harvey in fact could wait for it to come to him; that is what he had been doing for several weeks despite the classified he had taken in the Boston Globe.
"Just a friendly piece of advice from an independent filmmaker to an independent investigator," Greschak said.
"And, as you know, it's much appreciated."
"No pain, no gain."
"I believe I get the picture, Gary."
"Chance favors a prepared mind, not to mention that there's no time like the present. By the way, there's a call for you on line three."
"A call?" The third light on his phone was indeed pulsing.
"For you," Greschak said. "It's one of those things where somebody's trying to get hold of you by telephone." He closed Harvey's door with a fatuous wink.
Harvey punched the third button and said, "Harvey Blissberg."
"Please hold for Mr. Goody," a woman replied.
Goody ... Goody. That would have to be Goody of the Todd Goody variety. Fraternity brother at the University of Massachusetts a dozen years ago. Chiefly remembered for an ingenious apparatus he designed in his junior year which, when strapped to his back under his sports jacket, allowed him to dispense draft beer at frat parties through a hose that ran down his sleeve. After graduating, Goody had entered sports management, undergone a general sobering of character, and risen to the position of assistant general manager of the Boston Celtics. During Harvey's five years as center fielder with the Boston Red Sox, their paths had crossed at sports banquets and charity dinners.
"Well, well," Goody's voice burst on the line. "How are you?"
Harvey pictured Todd's fat, boisterous face. "Fine, Todd. You?"
"I could be better. As it happens, I've got a little problem, Harvey."
"This isn't a social call?"
"I'm steering you a little business. You know who Tyrone Terrell is, don't you?"
"I'm not that out of it," Harvey said. Tyrone Terrell was one of the five reasons, along with the rest of the Celtics' starting lineup, that Boston was six games up on Philadelphia.
"I thought he went home, had an illness in the family."
"That's what you read in the papers yesterday."
"True," Harvey said. The Sunday Globe had explained why Terrell had missed yesterday's game against the Knicks in New York. His aunt was sick.
"False," Goody said. "It's what we fed the press. As far as we know, all of Tyrone's relatives are in perfect health."
"I'll take your word for it."
"Look, Harvey, Terrell disappeared at Logan Airport on Saturday afternoon. The team was waiting to board the Eastern shuttle to New York for the game yesterday. Tyrone was there. Then he wasn't there."
"One of the players was with him at a magazine rack at the newsstand. But he left Tyrone there, to return to the gate. Tyrone never showed for the flight. We had to leave without him, and we haven't heard from him since."
"Are the cops looking?"
"Now they are. They found a guy who works at the newsstand at the Eastern terminal, a basketball fan. He said he thought he saw Tyrone walk off with a bearded man. A bearded man in a short leather jacket. And that's all he remembered. But we haven't officially reported him missing yet, and we hope we won't have to."
Harvey doodled a basketball rim and net on his legal pad. "Has Terrell ever pulled anything like this before?"
"No. Late for practice once in a while, but we're not dealing with a major discipline problem here. His first couple of years with us, he was prone to, shall we say, episodes of oversleeping, but he straightened out. Tyrone's been in the league for six years now. He's a grownup."
"Have you checked with his family?" Harvey asked.
"He's not married. We did call his mother in Connecticut and she hadn't heard from him. Now we've got her worried too. But we don't want to worry anybody else."
"What do you need me for?"
"Spend a little quality time looking into this and see where it goes. And keep it away from the media. Weren't you always pretty good at that, Harvey—avoiding the media?"
Yes, he was. For six years in the majors, he had repelled sportswriters' efforts to cast him in the collective fantasy life of the American baseball public. For six years, he had uttered "No comment" on the average of twice a day. For six years, he had behaved toward the press as if he would rather have been doing exactly what he had been doing for the past month: sitting quietly in a rented office, nursing big, cheap emotions. Lately he had been obsessed with the question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" He had come across it in a philosophy course in college, and it had stuck. The question, he thought, had great merit. Maybe one of the graduate students down on Mount Auburn Street knew the answer. He didn't.
"Let me think about this," Harvey told Goody as he sketched in a backboard.
"Harvey, don't tell me you're booked up."
Harvey consulted his desk calendar. The only obligation he had incurred for the week was to take his camera in for servicing. "No, Todd, you can be squeezed in."
"We've never had to hire a, uh, private investigator before." Goody said "private investigator" as if he were holding the phrase at arm's length. "I figure we can pay you three bills a day."
The mention of a figure roused Harvey slightly. It was not the money itself. He had the spending habits of an Amish; between his pension and what he had saved from his big- league salary, he could cruise for a few years. No, what stirred him was the prospect of a game, any game.
"I'm sorry, Todd—what'd you say?"
"I said three bills a day. Now I know it's probably not much, compared to what you used to make."
"Hey." Harvey laughed. "No one told me I had a right to that kind of dough for the rest of my life."
Goody laughed as well. "You can say that again."
"Make it three-fifty," Harvey said.
Goody breathed on the line. "All right, Harvey. Three-fifty."
"All right. But check with me first before you fly off to the south of France on my money."
"Is that where NBA players escape to when they don't feel like facing the Knicks?"
"Harvey, why don't you come by my office at the Garden at six-thirty? We'll talk some more and watch the game." Goody paused. "You know, this could be nothing."
"That's one thing it could be."
"It's just that Tyrone's not the kind of kid to disappear like this."
"Tell me what kind of kid does, Todd."
"Harvey, that's what I'm paying you to find out."
When Harvey hung up, he walked over to the door and opened it. The sound of more videotape playing in fast forward drifted in from the adjacent room. He hadn't had to go out and get it. If it didn't amount to anything, he could always say he had never wanted it in the first place. It had come to him, like all those countless line drives to center field he had never had to move a step for. But a baseball he knew what to do with once it was in his glove.
On his way to the bathroom, he passed the office of an anorexic industrial film producer named Janice. She was on the phone, saying, "We're going to need to spruce up those product shots with some DVE, but there's no money for it in post."
Harvey had no idea what she was talking about. Every profession had its precious little verbal universe, and Harvey was not part of hers. He thought of Campy Strulowitz, his old Providence batting coach. Hum babe, Harv, hum-a-now, you the one, babe, unloose that juice. Harvey would like to see Janice make sense of that. Be a stick, kid, have an idea, you the kid.CHAPTER 3
TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR A private investigator's license in the state of Massachusetts, you needed to have three years of experience with a private investigative agency, with a reputable criminal attorney, or as a plainclothes police detective. By these standards, Harvey was as qualified as a German shepherd. But he knew Jerry Bellaggio.
In Harvey's third year with the Boston Red Sox, Bellaggio had been retained by one of his teammates to determine what his wife was doing when he was playing ball on the road. Bellaggio's several-month investigation—which eventually established that what the wife was doing was enjoying a liaison with a suburban contractor—occasionally brought the detective to the Fenway Park clubhouse to present his client with the fruits of his surveillance. On one of these visits, Harvey and Jerry struck up a conversation that became a friendship that survived the resolution of the Case of the Dallying Baseball Widow.
Harvey traded stories about the peccadilloes of American League players with Jerry's tales of nocturnal voyeurism, adopted children's tearful reunions with their natural parents, and the nuances of criminal defense investigations. Harvey had the distinct sensation of getting the better of the deal; his confidences regarding the sexual and pharmaceutical preferences of certain professional athletes did not seem like adequate compensation for stories that Bellaggio began by saying, "Stop me if I've told you about the time a nun hired me to find the man she'd had an affair with thirty years before on the California Zephyr." But like countless men who had discovered by the age of thirteen that they would never be able to hit the curve, Bellaggio had a huge appetite for informed baseball trivia, and Harvey told him everything he kept from the reporters who were dying for it.
Back in the Boston area the November after his year with the Providence Jewels, Harvey had bumped into Bellaggio in the paperbacks section of the Harvard Coop.
"Well," Bellaggio had said, "if you're not doing anything with yourself, whyn't you work under my license?"
"I'm not a detective, Jerry."
"It's just a five-dollar word for someone who finds the truth when it's been mislaid. Isn't that what you did down there in Rhode Island last summer?" Bellaggio was referring to Harvey's successful search for the murderer of his Jewels roommate, Rudy Furth. "Not too shabby for an amateur." Bellaggio followed the progress of a statuesque Radcliffe student down their aisle. "Do it for a living now. You can work under my license as long as you don't do anything I wouldn't do."
"What can I do that you would do?"
Excerpted from Fadeaway by R. D. Rosen. Copyright © 1986 Richard Dean Rosen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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