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Sylvie szabo normally speaks with the careful diction and precise grammar of one whose English is a second language, but when she's a little sleepy or drunk or wants to tease, her speech tends to betray her Slavic origins.
So when the phone rang that Saturday morning, she grunted, sighed, disentangled her leg from mine, picked it up and said, "Allo?"
She listened for a moment, frowned, jabbed me with her elbow, and said, "Bradee, are you awake?"
"Is that your idea of foreplay?" I replied, yawning.
She smirked and handed me the telephone. I put my hand over the receiver. "We have a rule, Sylvie. When we're at my house, I answer the phone. At your house, you answer. Remember?"
She cradled my face in both of her hands and bent so close that the tips of our noses touched. Her green eyes peered solemnly into mine. "Sylvie's sorry," she said. She kissed me hard on the mouth, then rolled away and stood up beside the bed. "Sylvie will make coffee."
"Stop talking that way," I hissed to her, mindful that someone was waiting to speak to me on the telephone. "And put on some clothes," I added.
She winked at me and minced out of the bedroom. I marvelled at how little her body had changed in the thirty years I had known her. She turned heads when she was fourteen. She still did.
I put the phone to my ear. "This is Brady Coyne," I said.
"It's Jan. Sorry if I interrupted something."
"Aw, Jan "
"Never mind. It doesn't matter." There was a catch in her voice, as if something were lodged in her throat.
"What is it, Jan? What's wrong?"
"It's E.J. He's not back from his paper route. I'm worried sick."
"What time does he usually get home?"
"On Saturdays, seven-thirty at the latest."
I glanced at my wristwatch. "Jeez, it's not even nine-thirty now. He probably stopped at a friend's house or something."
"That's what I thought at first. But I called everyone I could think of. And he did deliver all his papers. I checked that, too. I drove all over the neighborhood. He always comes right home. He's only ten years old. I know. You think this sounds paranoid. But I'm telling you, something's happened to him."
"I don't want to say," she said quickly. "I don't even want to think about it." Her voice caught again. "But—but I am thinking about it. Brady, damn it, if something has happened to E.J ." There was an urgency to her tone that hovered near hysteria. I had known Jan for a long time. She wasn't an hysteric.
"You're jumping to conclusions," I said. "Look. It's a beautiful summer day. E.J. probably went to the playground to play ball or something. He's getting to be a big kid. Feeling his independence. A little heedless, like kids will be. Believe me, I know. I don't think you should worry about him."
I heard her sigh. "That's what my father said."
"If you're worried, call the police. They'll keep an eye out for him."
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess I could do that. That would be something." Abruptly she sobbed. "Brady, I am a wreck. I really am. Do you—will you come over?"
"Call the police, Jan. There's nothing I can do."
"You could hold my hand." She tried to laugh, but it broke into a sob. "You think I'm being silly. But E.J.'s my little boy."
"I didn't say you were silly. I understand how you feel. But you don't need an attorney."
She was silent for a moment. Then she said, "Right. Sure. Sorry to bother you."
"Jan, wait. Is Sam there? Let me talk to him."
"Sure. Hang on." Anger seemed to have replaced the anxiety in her voice.
A moment later I heard Sam Farina's rich tenor. "Brady, that you?"
"Yes. What's going on?"
"Janet is absolutely beside herself. She seems to think you can make things all better."
"You couldn't calm her down?"
"I told her not to call you. Hey, she's my little girl. What can I say? Her husband already ran out on her. She dotes on that boy, you know that. Anyway, I gotta tell you, I'm a little worried myself. I can't console her."
"I can, huh?"
"You can. You know you can."
"Sam, what the hell can a lawyer—?"
"Screw the lawyer, Coyne. You're her friend."
"I see." I groped on the bedside table for a pack of Winstons, shook one loose, and plucked it from the pack with my mouth. Then I lit a match one-handed, a trick I learned in college. "Okay," I said. "I'll be there in an hour or so."
"Appreciate it, friend."
"By the time I get there E.J.'ll be back."
"I'm not so sure, Brady. Jan's right. This isn't like the boy. Not at all like him."
I sighed. "Call the police. I'll be there in an hour."
Sylvie was sitting on one of the aluminum patio chairs on my balcony when I wandered out of my bedroom. I stood in the kitchen to look at her. She had slipped her arms through the sleeves of one of my dress shirts. She wore nothing else. She had her feet up on the railing and was scanning the Boston harbor, which lay spread out beneath us from my sixth-floor oceanfront apartment. She trained my binoculars on the horizon, where a big LNG tanker was inching its way to port. Beneath us dozens of tiny sailboats skittered across the water like white bugs. The summer breeze that riffled the surface of the Atlantic had brushed my shirt off Sylvie's body, baring her breasts and all the golden rest of her.
I checked the coffee pot. Sylvie had already loaded it and plugged it in. It was chugging and belching on the counter. I went back into my bedroom, pulled on a pair of Levis and a white polo shirt, and then shuffled into the bathroom to run the electric razor over my face. When I went back into the kitchen the coffee pot had fallen silent. I poured two mugs full and took them out onto the balcony.
"Your coffee, Madame," I said, setting her mug on the table beside her. I remained standing, leaning back against the sliding glass doors.
"Zank you," said Sylvie, still peering through the glasses.
"Sylvie, will you please for Christ's sake stop talking like a Hungarian refugee."
"But, Bradee, Sylvie is a Hungarian refugee."
"Can you see the people on the boats clearly with those glasses?"
"Oh, yes. I can see their faces. Very good glasses, these."
"Did it occur to you that the people on the boats may have binoculars, too, Sylvie, and they might like to look at the people on the balconies?"
She giggled. "Zay might like to look at Sylvie, no?"
"They might like to look at Sylvie, yes. Why don't you at least button the shirt, if that's all you're going to wear?"
Sylvie took the glasses from her eyes and pouted at me. "Bradee is an old poop," she said. She tied the tails of my shirt together across her flat stomach, which did little to cover her up.
"Sylvie, you're an exhibitionist."
"Zis is not foreplay, Sylvie knows that."
"Sylvie is right."
"The lady on the phone, she seemed distraught."
"Yes. She is distraught."
"She is angry because Sylvie answered your telephone?"
"No. That's not it."
"Brady is angry, though."
"No, I'm not angry."
"Because Sylvie wouldn't want to spoil Brady's love life."
I bent to kiss her forehead. "Sylvie is Brady's love life," I said.
"Bool-sheet," said Sylvie, her green eyes smiling.
"We're going to have to cancel our picnic," I told her.
"Brady got a better offer, eh?"
"No. The lady was a client. She has a problem."
Sylvie must have read something in the tone of my voice, because she frowned, held my hand against her bare breast, and said, "Is it something serious?"
All traces of her accent had disappeared.
"I don't know. It sounds like it. Eddie Donagan's little boy didn't get back from his paper route when he usually does."
"The parents must be very worried."
"The mother is. The father doesn't live with them."
Sylvie still held my hand, absentmindedly massaging herself with it. "So you must go to the mother, then?"
"Yes. Jesus, Sylvie, don't do that."
She grinned up at me, then lifted my hand to her mouth and kissed my palm. She used her tongue and her teeth. It made me shiver. I repossessed my hand. It took enormous strength of character. My hand seemed to have acquired a will of its own.
"Who is this Eddie Donkey, anyway? Has Sylvie heard of him?" Her accent was beginning to creep back.
"It's Donagan. Eddie Donagan. You would have heard of him if you had been following the Red Sox back twelve years ago or so instead of wasting your time on those boys in tights and codpieces. Eddie Donagan, for a couple of years, was the best right-handed pitcher I ever saw. He was as stylish as Marichal, he was as mean as Drysdale, he had more stuff than Bob Gibson, and he was more colorful than Dizzy Dean."
"Sylvie doesn't know those men."
"No, I suppose Sylvie doesn't. That's her loss."CHAPTER 2
I met Eddie Donagan for the first time one soft May afternoon on a baseball diamond at Fitchburg State College. The year was 1970.
It began with a phone call to my office from Sam Farina.
"What's up, Sam?" I said.
"Little business trip. I want to take you to a ball game."
"Trust me, Brady."
I laughed. "No one trusts you, Sam."
"Aw, come on. Have I ever lied to you?"
"Not so far as I know."
"Okay, then. I'm taking you to a ball game, and it's business. You're my attorney, right? I pay you a ridiculous retainer, right? Our definition of business is when I say it's business, right?"
"Right, right, and, yeah, I guess so."
"Pick me up in an hour."
"Is this an offer I can't refuse, Big Sam?"
"That Godfather shit ain't funny, Coyne."
"I'll be right over."
Sam Farina lived in a twelve-room showplace in Winchester, near the Lexington line, with his wife, Josie, and his daughter, Jan, who was then finishing up her junior year at Mount Holyoke College. Sam owned a chain of liquor stores and four racehorses and a half-interest in a casino in St. Maarten. He kept several law firms busy defining the cutting edge of legality for him in his businesses, while I handled his personal affairs. Mostly I gave him advice and directed him to specialists when he needed real legal expertise. He enjoyed my company and trusted my discretion, and if he sometimes treated me as if he owned me, I didn't mind. I liked him, and he never asked me to do anything that violated my conception of the spirit of the law.
I drive a BMW now, but back in May of 1970 it was a Chevy wagon, as befitted a young attorney with a young family. Sam was swinging a five-iron on his front lawn when I pulled into the circular drive. His thick forearms were sticking out of a short sleeved white shirt and a cigar stuck out of his mouth. Sam was built like a refrigerator, and somehow managed to look more like a well-conditioned offensive tackle than a pasta-fed businessman.
He climbed into the front seat beside me with the five-iron propped between his legs.
"I thought the Sox were in Detroit," I said to him.
"They are. They're facing Denny McLain tonight and Mickey Lolich tomorrow."
"Then where are we going?"
"Get onto Route 2 west."
About an hour later we took the Fitchburg exit and Sam directed me to a ball field. I parked the wagon behind some bleachers and looked at Sam. "Now are you going to tell me what this is all about?"
Sam hooded his eyes and turned his face away from me so that he could stare down at me along the lumpy slope of his big nose. He'd done that to me before when I asked him questions about some income he wanted to invest, or a line on a tax form, or the losses he was declaring on his horses. It was Sam's way of saying, "Just don't ask, and then I won't have to tell you."
We climbed up into the bleachers. The game had already started, and the stands were sparsely populated with college age kids smoking marijuana and wearing shoulder-length hair and tee shirts and blue jeans cut off high on the thigh. Both the boys and the girls. You could tell the boys because they wore their hair a little longer.
It was a big game. Fitchburg State against North Adams State. I supposed it was a great rivalry. "What the hell, Sam?" I complained.
"Watch the game. Shut up. Trust me," said Sam.
Sam slouched back into the bleachers and propped his elbows up on the bench behind him. He rolled his dead cigar butt around in his mouth and gazed placidly out onto the field. I clearly had no choice but to follow his example.
The May sunshine warmed my face, and the perfect geometry of the game commanded my attention. I knew none of the players. I had no interest in learning whether North Adams or Fitchburg might win. Sometimes baseball is a better game that way. Once in a while I'll pull over beside the road to watch a bunch of Little Leaguers or a men's softball game, always amazed at the symmetry of it, no matter how well or poorly it was being played.
Baseball is a game of absolutely flat planes, perfect right angles, precise distances, measured velocities, and beautiful parabolas. Euclid would have loved baseball. The field is a grid laid out in white lines against emerald green. It contains dozens of little contests of inches and feet-per-second, all so equalized that a millimeter's alteration would destroy the entire balance of the game. Baseball demonstrates repeatedly all the physical laws of motion. It could have served as Newton's laboratory. The fact that it's played by flawed and unpredictable human beings creates a classically dramatic tension between the physical and the emotional, the fixed and the random. A single game of baseball is a whole repertoire of one-act morality plays. The good guys win about half the time, which seems to me to reflect the ways of the world.
For several innings I allowed my mind to ponder the abstractions of the game. But after the players had taken a few turns in the field, I began to pay closer attention to the pitcher for the Fitchburg team. He habitually hunched his shoulders and compressed his neck into them as he received the sign from the catcher, much like a turtle beginning to retreat into his shell. Then he'd bend, dangling his arms for a moment before bringing them over his head to initiate his windup. He kicked high, his right arm reaching behind him nearly to the ground, before arching his body like a bow and zinging the ball quick as a dart toward the plate. The North Adams kids, I realized, were completely overmatched. One of them dumped a blooper in back of first base trying to hold back his swing. An inning later another beat out a topped roller down the third-base line. And that was it.
Not only did he get batters out with effortless grace, but the Fitchburg pitcher had what actors call "presence," and what, in a politician, would be termed "charisma." He was always in motion. He sprinted to the mound to begin each inning. He got down on his knees to pat and pack the dirt around the rubber. He yelled and gestured to his fielders. When he struck out a batter he thrust his right fist into the air and yelled, "Yeah!" loud enough for me to hear from the stands. Once the first baseman scooped up a low throw from the shortstop, and the pitcher ran over to him and patted him on the ass. Between pitches he sometimes turned his back on the batter and held the baseball up in front of his face. It looked as if he were talking to it.
I reached over and poked Sam on the arm. "That kid out there—that pitcher. He's good. You notice him?"
"Shut up. Enjoy the game," he growled.
In the middle of the eighth inning a stocky, deeply suntanned guy wearing a blue knit shirt and a Red Sox baseball cap climbed up into the bleachers and settled beside Sam, imitating his slouch. Neither of them spoke until the inning ended. Then Sam said to him, "He's doin' okay, huh?"
"Sixteen K's, one inning still to go. Two goddam bleeders. No walks. Okay, I guess," said the man. He appeared to be in his late forties. His face was crosshatched with deep creases that could have been smile lines or old knife wounds. His hands were square and powerful. His teeth were astonishingly white and he showed them often.
"This is Brady Coyne," said Sam, jerking his head in my direction. "Brady, meet Stump Kelly."
I reached across Sam to take Kelly's hand. He squeezed hard and showed me his teeth.
"My friend Stump here is a scout for the Red Sox," continued Sam.
"You're interested in that pitcher, I'll bet," I said.
"Betcher ass," said Kelly. "Thanks to Big Sam."
I frowned my confusion.
"Sam put me onto the Donagan kid," explained Kelly. "I been birddoggin' him all spring. The kid's got it, no question."
Excerpted from Follow the Sharks by William G. Tapply. Copyright © 1985 William G. Tapply. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
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