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HARVEY BLISSBERG STOOD IN the doorway of the Ninth Avenue bar, watching the man who had been watched by millions the night before as he flied out to end the World Series. It was less than sixteen hours since the New York Mets had beaten the Boston Red Sox in the seventh game of the Series, and less than two since Harvey had taken the Pan Am shuttle down from the city of the losing team to the city of the winning team.
In the brown light of the bar a fly orbited Dave Kasick's head like a little loud planet. He was oblivious to it behind his designer sunglasses. Harvey was certain that even the detonation of a hand grenade at Dave Kasick's feet would have occurred well below his threshold of awareness.
Travel bag in hand, Harvey walked slowly toward Kasick's booth, took the bench opposite him, and counted five empty tumblers on the table. A grizzled piece of lime lay in the bottom of each of them. The ice cubes in three of the glasses were still in various stages of decomposition, indicating the furious rate at which Kasick had been absorbing his favorite fluid, Stolichnaya vodka. Kasick's large hand enclosed a sixth, half-filled tumbler. Given his present condition, there was little prospect of the glass reaching his mouth any time in the near future.
When Harvey leaned over and removed the sunglasses, Kasick's eyes were closed. The bender had rubbed all the handsomeness off his face. Harvey knew from experience what would be required. He gently removed the active vodka-and-lime from Kasick's hand and poured it over his head. Kasick seemed not to notice. Harvey took Kasick's nose between two knuckles and pulled it to within a few inches of his own. Kasick's left eyelid twitched slightly.
"Batter up!" Harvey yelled in Kasick's face.
One of the few other patrons in the bar, a man in only marginally better condition than Kasick, lifted his head at a nearby table and inquired, "What inning is it?"
Harvey released Kasick's nose.
Kasick slowly smacked his lips twice. "I—" he managed to say before the effort exhausted him.
Harvey laid his chin in his right palm. "Yes, Dave?"
"I ... am ... "—he opened his right eye—" ... faced. I ... am ... completely ... faced. And it is ... is sho unlike me." He was wearing a slice of lime on his head.
"No, Dave. This is just like you."
Kasick's head teetered on his neck, dropped forward against his chest, and popped up. "And who are you?"
"Take a guess, Dave."
"I'll need"—he closed his eyes to reflect—"a clue." His breath was quite bad.
"A clue," Harvey said. "All right, Dave. Several years ago this man was your roommate on the Boston Red Sox, the team for which you still play. It was his honor to rescue you several times from the brink of personal degradation in dives around the American League."
"I'm ... afraid ... I'm afraid I'll need ... more'n that."
"The first name is Harvey."
Kasick shook his head. "Thash not a whole lot to go on."
"I'm being careful not to make it too easy."
"Then jush give me the lash name."
"Dave, that'd give it away."
"Hey, let me be the judge. Wha's your lash name?"
Kasick rubbed his two day's growth of beard. Between the stubble and the sunglasses, he would have gone unrecognized. "Let me take a shot in the dark," Kasick said. "Your name's Harvey Blishberg."
"You're getting warmer."
Kasick slammed his hand on the table, knocking over two of the six glasses. "Harvey Blishberg! So! And how is your large and exquisite pershon?"
"Fine, thank you."
"Okay," Kasick said. "Now who am I?"
"Oh, Dave, I knew it would come to this."
"Well, damn it," he said with great urgency, "who am I?"
Harvey sighed. "You're Dave Kasick, Dave. You play the outfield for the Boston Red Sox. You're one of America's most popular athletes."
"Tell me more."
"You hit thirty-four home runs this past season. Your gilded tongue and your ebullient personality have made you a favorite of post-game interviewers and lady baseball fans everywhere. You're an alcoholic."
"You know, this pershon ... shounds ... shounds vaguely familiar ... to me."
"Well, you think about it for a moment."
Harvey got up, went to the bar, and asked the bartender for a pitcher of ice water and a towel. "How long has he been here?" he asked.
The bartender consulted a watch halfway up his forearm. "Let's see. He was here when I started my shift. So I'd say he's going on eight hours." He bent down to fill a pitcher with ice.
"Don't you have a policy about how much a guy can drink in this place before you kick him out?"
"Sure, we got a policy," the bartender said, sliding the fluted plastic pitcher across the scarred bar. "If a guy's brain-dead, that's it. We cut him off. No more to drink. That's the policy. Don't matter how much he kicks and screams." He handed Harvey two bar towels.
"You know," Harvey said, "if more bars in New York cared as much about their customers as this place, I think we'd see a real significant drop in the city's alcoholism rate. Thanks for the water."
As Harvey approached the table, Kasick was saying, "Hey, tell me more about thish Dave Kasick. I shwear to God I know him."
"I'll tell you more about him in a minute," Harvey said. "First I want to get that piece of lime off the top of your head." He stood behind Kasick and poured the contents of the pitcher over him.
Kasick's body barely registered the event. When the pitcher was empty and Harvey had taken his seat across from him, Kasick blew some ice water at him and said, "Well, tell me, did you get that piece of lime off my head?"
"You're a dickhead, Dave," Harvey said, whipping the two towels at him. They hit him in the chest and dropped in his lap.
"You know this guy you were talking about, Harvey? Well, I've got to confess something to you." His dark hair hung down his forehead in spikes. The gray buckling linoleum around his chair was flooded.
"What's that, Dave?"
He wiped his face. "You're not going to believe what I'm about to tell you."
"I think that guy is—are you ready for this, Harvey?"
"I'll brace myself, Dave."
"Well, I think that guy is me." He covered his eyes with his right hand. There was a blood blister on the tip of his middle finger. "Now I feel like—I—I'm having a vision that I've just played in ... a World Series. Am I right?"
"And we lost the Series, am I right?"
"We lost it in seven, am I right?"
"How'd I do, Harvey? It'll come back to me soon, but I think I'd like to know now."
"You did just fine, Dave. You hit two-seventy-three and played the outfield with much grace and aplomb. In game six you even threw out a runner at home."
"Well, that's good to know." Harvey could tell how far Kasick was from sobriety by the fact that the movements of his mouth were still badly coordinated with his speech. "How'd you find me?" Kasick asked. There was more jaw action than the words warranted.
"I assumed you'd be in one of the sinkholes on Ninth Avenue you used to drag me to when we were in town playing the Yankees. Your taste in bars, Dave—must be something in your steel-town background."
Kasick pondered this information with the false gravity of the drunk. "I had a fine upbringing. But why'd you find me?"
"Roy Ganz asked me to."
"For God's sake, Dave, sober up."
Harvey sighed. "Ganz is executive producer of 'Last Laughs.'"
Kasick squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. "Wait—why'd this person ask you to find me?"
"Do you mean why did Roy Ganz want you found, or why'd he ask me to find you?"
Kasick clutched the edge of the table with both hands. "Give me both barrels, Harvey. I can take it."
"Roy Ganz wanted me to find you because you agreed to guest-host the show this Saturday night. But, as I understand it, you didn't show up because, apparently, you were busy getting completely faced, you dickhead. So Roy Ganz's people called your agent, who told them he had no idea where you were, but that I might."
"I'm your former roomie and drinking buddy, Dave. And, as you may know, since I left the game you still play so admirably, I've been making my living as a private detective."
Kasick licked his lips contemplatively. "It's coming back, coming back, coming back to me," he mumbled. "This show you're talking about—I believe there was ... there was some talk about my being on the show."
"Not talk, Dave. You and your agent agreed to it."
"But it's a, if I'm not mistaken, a live show, Harvey. In front of many, many million Americans. No can do."
"I've come to take you back, Dave."
Dave fished an ice cube out of a glass and lobbed it into his mouth. "No, Harvey, I'm not going!"
"Yes, you are."
"I've got stage fright." He broke the ice cube between his teeth.
Harvey patted the breast of his mountain parka. "You're not going to make me use my tranquilizer gun on you, are you, Dave? You know, if I have to, I will. If it's necessary, I'll return you to Roy Ganz with a tag in your ear."
"If I don't bring you back, I don't get paid. I took the case on contingency," he lied.
"They're paying you? To bring me in? How much are they paying you?"
"Two grand if I bring you back today."
"Bounty hunter," Kasick said. "That's all I'm worth? Two lousy grand?" He reached into his pants pocket and brought out a stack of bills folded in half. He dealt out twelve one- hundred dollar bills on the table in front of Harvey, and then slapped down three twenties. "There we go—what's that? Two grand?"
"Okay. I'll write you a check for the rest." He pushed the money at Harvey. "Just please don't take me back."
Harvey put his hand over the bills and pushed them back across the table. "Let's go, Dave."
"Harvey, I can't go ahead with it."
"For God's sake, be a big boy. You're an MVP."
"Dave, you're a shoo-in for American League MVP this year. So act like one. You know, Roy Ganz probably could've had any New York Met he wanted for the show this week. But he wanted you, Dave. You're hot shit. You're somewhere between a cultural icon and a national treasure." Kasick's role as TV spokesman for a popular motor oil had as much to do with his current crest of celebrity as his baseball career.
"M ... V ... P ... M ... V ... P," Kasick said slowly, with a little lopsided smile. "Most Vicious Prick in the league?"
"Let's go," Harvey said, unable to contain a grin.
Kasick was busy thinking. "Much Vanity on Parade?"
"Let's go, Dave." He stood.
"More Vodka, Please."
"I'm giving you ten seconds to stand up, Dave. Unassisted." Harvey was not smiling now.
"Me Vacate Premises?"
Harvey looked down at his former roommate. "Must Vamoose, Pardner," he said. "Me Very Pissed."CHAPTER 2
HARVEY PUSHED A DAMP Dave Kasick into a cab on Ninth Avenue, got in after him, and directed the driver to the offices of "Last Laughs" in midtown Manhattan. He thought it wiser to produce Kasick as soon as possible, even in this sad and fragrant state, than to waste another hour making him presentable at his hotel. Harvey was also eager to conclude the transaction and make the six o'clock shuttle back to Boston.
"More Vodka, Please," Kasick said while the taxi idled in rush hour traffic on Forty-second Street.
"Be quiet, Dave." Harvey rolled down the window another few inches.
"Championship ring would've been nice," Kasick murmured.
"You almost had it."
"I don't believe in almost, Harvey."
"Well, it'll have to do for now," Harvey said. Although he and Mickey Slavin had watched grimly on TV back in their Cambridge home as the Red Sox surrendered to their ancient curse and pissed away late-inning leads, the Series had been an exhilarating dose of miraculous occurrences that, when over, moved Mickey to mutter something about "a major spiritual experience." The games had left them with the impression that baseball was less a metaphor for life than life a metaphor for baseball. At the very least, the games had forced them both to abandon the customary cynicism of their respective roles—Harvey as a former major leaguer, she as Boston's only female television sports reporter.
The security woman at the Art Deco elevators in the ANC network building lobby did not believe that the derelict clutching Harvey's arm could be in any way associated with "Last Laughs." She agreed to let the two of them pass only after calling up to the twenty-fourth floor.
At the bank of elevators on the twenty-fourth, they were met by a young woman in green suede pumps and matching jade earrings. "How nice to meet you," she said to Kasick, who didn't answer because he was busy wiping some residue from his mouth with a corner of his denim jacket. "I'm glad you're all right."
"You have an extremely generous concept of all right," Harvey said, still discreetly supporting Kasick with a finger through one of the back belt loops of his jeans.
"And you must be Harvey Blissberg," the woman said. "I'm Paula Coles, the talent coordinator."
"Pleased to meet you."
"Thanks for finding him."
Kasick suddenly started rotating his head.
"Well," Coles added with a worried expression, "we've got four days to get him ready to perform live sketches on national TV."
"Oh, I believe he's ready now," Harvey said. "Provided you've got a lot of sketches involving a thirty-two-year-old ballplayer with delirium tremens."
She glanced at Harvey, as if to say, Nice try, but why don't you leave the comedy here to us.
"Many Vile Projects," Kasick mumbled.
She turned to Harvey again. "What'd he say?"
"He said, 'Many Vile Projects.'"
"Well," she said, lightly clapping her hands. "There's a shower in the executive men's room. I don't think Roy wants to see him like this. I want to get him cleaned up for the writers' meeting at six. I'll have wardrobe send up some fresh clothes for him."
"Sixteen-and-a-half, thirty-five," Kasick said. His eyes were closed.
"Now what's he saying?" Coles said.
"I believe he's telling you his shirt size."
Coles swiftly led them down a carpeted corridor, past white walls covered with framed vintage movie posters. She turned Kasick over to a young, casually dressed man with scarlet-framed glasses, and guided Harvey toward an open area, where several women were on the phones at their desks.
"Wait here just a moment," she said. "Roy wanted to see you. I'll make sure he's free. Of course"—she smiled wearily—"he's never free, so what I really mean is I'll see whether this is one of those moments when he can be deceived into thinking he's free to see you."
She headed for a closed door at the far end of the open area, leaving Harvey standing awkwardly between a desk and a rubber plant in the offices of the comedy show that had, as the critics were fond of saying, reflected and defined a generation. Harvey, like so many others in his generation, remembered the show's first broadcast back in the mid-seventies, an event that now belonged in the Baby Boom's canon of historical moments. You remembered exactly where you were for the assassination of one Kennedy, possibly both; the first time you heard the Beatles' "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"; Martin Luther King's assassination; the killings at Kent State; the secret bombing of Cambodia; Nixon's resignation. And you remembered where you were the night that a dapper twenty-eight-year-old former television child-actor named Roy Ganz suddenly appeared on your set after the local evening news. He was standing behind a butcher's block holding a meat cleaver.
"Hello," he had said dryly into the camera, "my name is Roy Ganz and I'm the producer of the new network comedy you are about to see. It will be performed live, which makes me very nervous. But we're the generation that likes to take chances. That's why we're doing the show, and that's why you're watching it. I hope you like it. In fact, I really hope you like it. Because if it doesn't work, if the next sixty minutes don't prove to be funny, I will reappear at the end of the show and chop off my pinkie with this meat cleaver. That's right— I will dismember myself on national television as a token of how seriously I take this new enterprise. I will also be dismembering myself so that nothing that the network executives have in store for me if I fail can really hurt me. So remember: if you enjoy the show, I won't have to mutilate myself—it's that simple. Remember: my pinkie is in your hands. The choice is yours. Thank you and welcome to 'Last Laughs.'"
Excerpted from Saturday Night Dead by R. D. Rosen. Copyright © 1988 Richard Dean Rosen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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