Read an Excerpt
LET'S PLAY BALL
By Linda Gould
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Linda Gould
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHere's the story of how I got mixed up in a major crime and became a well-known heroine, when I could have been branded an outcast. I never dreamed I was the type to embroil myself in a police investigation, especially one with the potential to affect both national and international affairs and almost get me killed. But it turned out I was.
The melodrama began to unfold at a baseball game-fittingly, because the sport has always been our family pastime. My parents, my fraternal twin sister, my husband, and I were privileged to watch this crucial, sold- out game from one of the owner's boxes. It was practically the greatest experience of my life-or at least, it should have been. I sensed right away that this was a political setting, where private battles could become mingled with world events.
While I grappled with personal demons, our hometown Washington Filibusters were playing the Florida Keys for the National League championship. The Busters were in desperate straits on that bright October Sunday, down three games to two in the series and facing elimination. It was shaping up to be the kind of game that packs in drama at every turn, confirming the adage that sports are a microcosm of life. And the gamesmanship in the luxury suites, high above home plate, competed with events on the field.
I should have felt like a big shot, sitting with my husband, Tommy, at our own table, nursing a gin and tonic and sampling exotic appetizers while the game unfolded almost directly below me. At times when the alcohol penetrated my nervous system, I imagined myself above the fray in the suite, as well. The close, gripping game and the jarring personalities who were sharing our space each looked like a story cooked up for my amusement. I half listened to a debate between two particularly vocal city councilmen among the several local politicians who slipped in and out of the suite all day. A few years ago these two had fought pitched battles over the question of whether this spanking-new stadium we were sitting in should be built at all.
What brought me down to earth was the sight of my parents and sister, seated at tables of their own, and Tommy, sitting across from me, oblivious to everything except the notebook computer in front of him.
"Tommy?" I said tentatively.
"Hmm?" he answered, not looking up.
"A Martian spaceship just landed on third base, and the aliens have already taken half of the Busters hostage." I kept my voice conversational.
"Great," he said without so much as a pause in the clacking of keys.
I sighed and looked at my parents, who'd been married for thirty-five mostly tranquil years. It reminded me that these exceptional seats weren't my doing. All day I had watched Mom and Dad exchange smug smiles and sometimes grasp each other's hands excitedly. "Isn't this amazing?" had been Mom's first observation on entering the suite.
"I've been watching baseball all my life," responded Dad, "and I've never had a seat like this in any ballpark."
I looked at my twin, Jessica, who was occupying another table and pounding her own notebook computer. It was hard to believe that Mom and Dad had once agonized over her refusal to take a conventional career path. They had even pointed to me as an example of a responsible person. "Hey, Jessie," I said, "if Martians were really invading the ballpark, wouldn't that make a bigger story than whatever you're writing?"
Jessie glanced up, frowned at me as if annoyed to be distracted for even a second, and returned to her typing. Well excuse me, I thought, for trying to introduce some levity.
Thanks to the combined efforts of Tommy and Jessie, the beeps and clicks of productivity were bombarding me in stereo. For a moment I wondered if they were in cahoots to make me feel as insignificant as possible. But no, that would require one or both of them to be aware of my existence. I sat back in my seat with arms crossed and tried to focus on the game, a tense but fast-moving pitchers' duel. Both teams' aces were mowing down batters, allowing no walks and only a few singles.
I knew Jessie was recording impressions of the game for an online sports magazine that she had helped found. But maintaining journalistic objectivity would be a special challenge for Jessie today-her fiancé, Manuel Chavez, was in right field for the Busters. She was about to become, at twenty-nine, the second wife of the foreign-born ballplayer, whose future might be riding on this game.
If Jessie ever felt jealousy toward me, her three-years-married sister, she didn't show it. Nor did she envy my relatively comfortable federal government career as a budget analyst. The tables had really turned for both of us since Jessie returned from the University of Florida seven years ago in despair. Manny had just broken up with her to marry a beauty pageant winner who, like he, had emigrated from Cuba as a child. Back then my sister had reason to be jealous of me.
Happy as she was now, she did look nervous about today's game. Her Manny was on the brink of free agency. Going into the bottom of the sixth inning, the game was still scoreless, and Manny was due up third. He was hitless so far today and had struggled throughout the series, a disappointment after his fine regular season. His chances of signing a big contract during the upcoming off-season might depend on his ability to handle this kind of playoff pressure. No wonder Jessie kept interrupting her typing to wring her hands and wipe sweat off her face.
She was not only nervous, but also a tad paranoid. Hours earlier when we'd picked up our special passes at the will-call window, she had warned us to be careful about what we said in the suite today. Although she couldn't prove it, she suspected the place would be bugged. "Call me crazy," she'd said, "but I just don't trust the people running this ball club." Mom and Dad tried to laugh this off, but I noticed Tommy did not. Still, we kept our voices fairly low. The councilmen drowned us out, anyway.
Bugged or not, our suite was equipped with a high-definition TV monitor. This allowed us to catch nuances of the game that only a network broadcast could provide while continuing to watch the live action. Bob Erickson, the regular play-by-play announcer for the Filibusters, was working this national game with his usual boyish charm and relaxed style, which sometimes cushioned what he was saying.
"The Filibusters are in a rather unique position right now," he told his partner. "There are an unusual number of prominent players looking for new contracts at the end of this season or next. Naturally, management won't be addressing those issues until the team is done playing for the season. But there have been hints that they'll be looking to reduce payroll, whether the Busters win this championship series or not."
"I would think Busters management would be looking to keep a solid team like this one intact," remarked the other announcer.
"Most team owners would," replied Erickson. "But Mr. Carter's philosophy is that solid isn't good enough. He wants that, of course, but he also believes in youth and economy."
The commentators went on to mention the bad blood that had existed all season between the Busters and the Keys-the usual beanball battles and bench-clearing incidents. "But the feud doesn't seem to have done any lasting damage," added Erickson. "Today's game has been intense, but clean. Not a single hit batsman so far, knock on wood."
As an ardent fan of this relatively new DC franchise, I had expected to be excited to see the two combative teams play for such high stakes. What I didn't expect was to have the breath knocked out of me when the door to the suite burst open and both team owners entered. It was suddenly as if they commanded all the oxygen in the room. The two debating city councilmen fell silent. Both Tommy and Jessie stopped typing. Mom dropped Dad's hand as if it were a hot potato.
The new arrivals made quite a contrast physically; one was ruddy, medium height, and balding, while the other was tall and slim, with abundant, dark hair and a full mustache. The former's name was Johnson "Johnny" Carter. The majority owner of the Filibusters, Carter was around sixty-five and a weekend athlete with large gestures. His counterpart from the Keys, Javier "Javy" Castilla, was younger and more reserved, but almost as friendly as Carter. Both of them looked us over with evident interest. We were strangers to them; even Jessie, who had spent time in the press box, had not met them face-to-face.
You would have thought the Austen family was a big deal. Sidestepping the quarrelsome politicians, Mr. Carter made a beeline for me and introduced himself and his fellow owner. I rose halfway from my seat, extended a hand to each in turn, and stammered, "I'm Miranda Stone, and this is my husband, Thomas Stone." I hoped they didn't notice my flushed face and sweaty palm. They looked slightly perplexed, which compelled me to add, "I'm Jessica Austen's twin sister."
"Ah, Jessica Austen's twin sister," exclaimed Johnson Carter, his eyebrows shooting up. His gaze slipped from my dark brown shoulder- length hair and rather flat chest to Jessie's blue-eyed visage and voluptuous presence. Jessie was twirling one golden lock around a manicured finger as if she were oblivious to Carter's attention. Finally, he glanced back at me. "Fraternal, I assume?" I nodded, surprised to find myself seething inside.
But determined to overcome my tongue-tied state, I sparred with Mr. Carter as best I could about the family's interest in baseball and the lack of obvious resemblance between Jessica and me. Still, my internal distress did not subside. I guess I hadn't realized, until that moment, how much I craved recognition for myself.
Even more disturbing was the contempt I felt for my husband, who now came out of his funk and started playing up to these rich and powerful men. "What's that you're working on, Thomas?" asked Carter, glancing at the legal brief or whatever it was that had absorbed Tommy all afternoon.
"Oh, I don't think he's at liberty to say-" I jumped in, before Tommy brushed me off with a wave of his hand.
"Honestly, Randi," he said, "you act like I'm a CIA agent or something." He exchanged an amused glance with Carter, as if to say, aren't women overly dramatic at times? He spilled a few details about the case, and Carter reminisced about a deal or two that Tommy's firm had negotiated on his behalf. Tommy nodded knowingly, as if he had been personally involved in that work.
The pair of owners moved on to my parents, charming them, and then to the politicians, neutralizing them. All this time, my sister had been silently taking in their moves. When they approached her, she met their gazes head-on. "I already know quite a bit about you gentlemen," she said in a mild tone, "and I suspect you know me by reputation." No wonder I admired her more than I resented her.
After exchanging pleasantries with Mr. Castilla and thanking Mr. Carter for his hospitality toward her family, Jessie slipped almost imperceptibly into journalist mode. "I thought I might be privileged to encounter one of you today, but certainly not both of you. You're not in the habit of attending games together, are you?"
"It's a pretty small club we belong to," said Carter, smiling. "It's hardly surprising that we would run into each other at a game."
"Our friendship goes back a long way," added Castilla in a calm voice that displayed only a slight accent.
"I didn't know the two of you were particular friends." Jessie spoke as if she had certain knowledge that they were not. "And isn't this an unusual time to be hanging out together?"
Carter and Castilla offered further explanations that I knew my sister would recognize as glib. Having grown up in the post-Watergate era, she considered every official statement a potential cover-up. She was always "following the money" and cultivating her own modern-day Deep Throats. She defined her journalism as an ongoing battle against new and evolving forms of Fascism.
I thought this was pretty ambitious for a mere sportswriter, but Jessie always had aspired to be greater than her current career. I often warned her not to alienate too many high-level sources, as she had been known to do before. I feared it might happen again as she zeroed in on the surprising fellowship between these two team owners. Luckily, her pursuit of this possible story was overtaken by events on the field. The Busters' three best hitters were coming to bat against the Keys' formidable pitcher, Ron Olgesby, in the sixth inning. The ace had scattered only five singles so far and had throttled the third, fourth, and fifth batters in the lineup. The two owners departed, presumably to watch this critical half-inning from a more private vantage point.
"Those two are definitely up to something," Jessie declared. "It smells like collusion. I'm going to track them down and ask a few questions before this day is over."
"I'd be careful with those guys if I were you," I said. "Do I need to remind you about the biggest source you ever blew? Deirdre Smith is at the game today, in case you've forgotten. Upstairs in the presidential suite. But have we been invited there to see her? You'll never get near her again, since you saw fit to insult her."
Jessie winced at my mention of the daughter of the president of the United States. We had first gotten to know Deirdre during our high school summers when we'd attended an arts camp. Her father had been a Virginia congressman who was eventually elected governor. We'd kept in touch with Deirdre during our college years and managed to get ourselves invited to a weekend retreat for young women at the governor's mansion in Richmond.
"Are you ever going to stop bringing that up, Randi? We were college kids then, for God's sake."
"Well, how can I forget it, Jessie? It's not every day that I get to hear my sister refer to a roomful of prominent Virginia society women as sheep."
"How many female anti-feminist speakers did they expect me to endure?" returned Jessie. "All of them telling us that the heights of our ambition should be to marry prominent men and be stay-at-home mothers. They're lucky they didn't get a worse jibe than that from me."
"Actually, they did," I replied. "Remember when you proceeded to accuse Governor Smith himself of ignoring or succumbing to numerous examples of encroaching Fascism? If you didn't shock the gathering before, you did then."
"Well I'm sorry, Randi, if I spoiled it for you. I had no idea keeping Deirdre's friendship was that important to you."
"It wasn't," I said, "but you could have salvaged something from it yourself. She was perfectly sweet to us as long as that weekend lasted. She would have been willing to keep up appearances if you had met her halfway. And now that she's not only the president's daughter, but the wife of a Florida congressman, she could have been a fount of information."
"Well," snorted Jessie, "not all is lost. At least we've been on the White House holiday card list every year."
It was time to turn our full attention to the field. Jessie's sports writing had always focused on personalities and backstories rather than the technical aspects of games, and something told me that this would be the inning when those subplots emerged. Busters center fielder Petie Jansen was digging in at the plate. Following him would be first baseman Wilson Boyd, and then Manny, the right fielder. Jansen and Boyd were known to be best buddies, country boys who referred to themselves proudly as rednecks and who didn't hide their frequent irritation with the "immigrant" contingent in their sport.
"Watch Petie," I said. "He's overdue for some flaky behavior."
Jessie glanced at me with raised brows, no doubt wondering how well I knew Jansen. She had always grappled with the fact that Tommy and I had met both him and Boyd at a shooting range and had struck up an acquaintance while indulging in target practice together.
Besides that, I suspected she still resented Jansen for an incident this past May, when he and Manny had collided in the outfield while chasing a fly ball. Petie had walked away almost unscathed, while Manny spent a week in the hospital, undergoing tests to make sure the initial temporary paralysis he'd suffered was unlikely to recur. Petie paid him a visit, which happened to coincide with one of Jessie's sojourns in his room. She claimed that Petie had sneered to find her nursing Manny back to health by reading to him from her archive of articles. That day, Manny had requested to hear the one that had brought them back together a year earlier. Jessie had chronicled his ultimately successful battle to retrieve his son from his ex-wife, who had snatched the three-year-old after their divorce and fled with him to their native Cuba. (Continues...)
Excerpted from LET'S PLAY BALL by Linda Gould Copyright © 2010 by Linda Gould. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.