Green Monster: A Sam Skarda Mystery #2by Rick Shefchik
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After a second World Championship in four years, the Boston Red Sox have finally buried the Curse of the Bambinoaor have they? Sox owner Louis Kenwood receives an extortion note signed aBabe Rutha claiming that the 2004 World Series was fixedaand demanding $50 million to keep the information from getting to the press and the Commissioneras office. If the allegation of a fix becomes public, Kenwood fears irreparable damage to the value of his franchise and to his legacy as aLucky Louie, a the man who finally brought a championship to Boston after 86 years. Thus, the Red Sox turn to private detective Sam Skarda to find out whoas behind the extortion plot. Kenwood insists that his beautiful executive assistant Heather Canby accompanyaand monitoraSam on every step of his investigation. Unsure whom he can trust, Sam follows the clues to the Los Angeles underworld and then to the slums of Venezuela. Can he assemble all of the pieces to this puzzle before more lives are lost and scandal blasts the Red Sox Nation? Green Monster is the second novel in the Sam Skarda series, following Amen Corner.
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By Rick Shefchik
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2008 Rick Shefchik
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBoston, Massachusetts—
Lou Kenwood lowered the sports section of the Boston Globe and looked at the ocean through the back window of his Lincoln Town Car. A smile spread across his face.
Despite a string of recent losses, the sportswriters were still calling him "Lucky Louie." He never got tired of that.
Louis Albert Kenwood was seventy-eight years old. He was a billionaire. He had a thick mane of white hair, the constitution of a fifty-year-old, and a replica of the 2004 Major League Baseball World Championship trophy sitting on a glass-covered pedestal in his downtown Boston office.
Some men cured disease. Some won. Some put out fires, rescued drowning children, wrote beautiful music, designed magnificent buildings, gave millions to charity. Lucky Louie Kenwood had the good fortune to own the Boston Red Sox when they finally broke the eighty-six-year "Curse of the Bambino" and won the World Series for the first time since 1918. No scientist, soldier, firefighter, artist, engineer, or philanthropist had done nearly so much for the populace that lived between Connecticut and Quebec. Lucky Louie was the most beloved human being in New England—even among sportswriters.
Kenwood set the paper down next to him and stared out at King's Beach. He could see the peninsula community of Nahant from the road; he always wondered whether he and Katherine might have been better off buying an oceanfront home there instead of on Marblehead Neck. There was something more dramatic, and even romantic, about being surrounded by the ocean, but they hadn't been able to find a house that was big enough, and private enough, for their needs, so they'd gone farther up the shore. Their home on Marblehead Neck was huge, secluded, and provided spectacular views. The neighbors were similarly well-off, and respected the Kenwoods' privacy.
Kenwood instructed Paul, his driver, to take the same route into the city each day, detouring away from Route 1A to hug the beach on Lynn Shore Drive. Raised in western Massachusetts, Kenwood was still fascinated by the Atlantic; the sparkling blue ocean calmed him on sunny mornings and energized him on days like this, when the raw power of a storm surge swallowed the sand and crashed against the seawall.
Whatever the weather, it was always a great day to be Lucky Louie, the owner of the Boston Red Sox.
Ever since that glorious October evening when the Olde Towne Team beat the St. Louis Cardinals and took home their first World Championship since 1918, the turnstiles had not stopped whirling. When they repeated three years later, it was no longer considered a miracle, but the beginning of a new Red Sox dynasty. The Sox no longer needed to coast on the good will of its New England fan base; they had made the first steps toward replacing their hated rivals, the Yankees, as the dominant team in baseball. The charming, patched-over relic that was Fenway Park played to capacity crowds at every home date. Each time Kenwood glanced at the big trophy in his office, he could still feel the sting of champagne in his eyes and remember how it felt to be wearing a ruined $2500 suit and a dopey grin that lasted so long his face hurt the next morning. The replica trophy from 2007 sat in the club president's office; it looked identical, but Lucky Louie Kenwood—and everyone else in the organization—knew which one meant more to the team, the fans, and the region.
When he bought the club, Kenwood had been convinced that the Sox needed a new ballpark, just as all the other major league baseball teams were blackmailing their cities into building them new ballparks, in order to rake in more money to compete against each other in the game's murderous salary spiral. But that was before the Curse of the Bambino was broken, and the fans fell in love with the Sox in a way that surpassed all previous levels of obsession—and this was a town where the newspapers did a front-page story each February on the team's equipment truck leaving for spring training in Florida.
It wasn't just that the Sox had come back from a three-game deficit to defeat the hated Yankees 4-3 in the League Championship Series, or that they'd flexed their muscles and crushed the power-laden Cardinals in a four-game World Series rout. The astonishing and sustained outpouring of love occurred because this team had allowed every Red Sox fan in America to finally taste victory after generations of bitter disappointment. The eight dark decades had commenced after the Red Sox—then the most successful team in baseball, winners of five World Championships between 1912 and 1918—sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. Ruth's departure to New York initiated the Yankees' run as the greatest dynasty in professional sports, and began two decades of total ineptitude by the once- proud Red Sox. The futility of those years turned to agony after Tom Yawkey bought the Sox in the late '30s and restored the team to respectability through lavish spending. The stage was then set for what writers eventually called The Curse of the Bambino—a litany of mistakes, failures, and misfortunes resulting in Red Sox losses: Pesky failing to throw out Slaughter in the '46 Series, McCarthy starting the washed-up Galehouse in the '48 playoff, Lonborg running out of gas in Game Seven of the '67 Series, Johnson going with Burton instead of Willoughby in the ninth inning of Game Seven in '75, Torrez giving up that homer to Bucky Dent in the '78 playoff, the ball going through Buckner's legs in '86, Little staying with Pedro too long in '03 ...
And as each season turned into the next, with Yankee championships piling up as fast as Red Sox failures, smug New York fans would hold up signs that simply said "1918"—reminding Boston fans how long it had been since the last World Series win by the Red Sox. The Yankees were not just envied rivals; they were the Evil Empire.
Kenwood had lived and died through every one of the famous disasters in Red Sox history, but he never believed the franchise was cursed. Like any right-thinking New Englander, he was a Sox fan from birth, saving money from his paper route in Pittsfield to attend a few games each summer at Fenway. From Ted Williams to Mo Vaughn, he'd seen them all, and seen them all fall short when it really mattered. While the Sox were failing with spectacular regularity, Kenwood was succeeding beyond even his most unrealistic dreams. He made a fortune in retailing, and turned it into a bigger fortune on Wall Street.
Then he bought the Boston Red Sox, and, miraculously, they won. They did what no Sox team since Babe Ruth's time—not the clubs with Teddy Ballgame, or Yaz, or the Rocket, or Nomar—had been able to do: They saved generations of Sox fans from going to their graves without seeing their beloved ballclub win a World Series.
Ever since that night, when church bells rang from Bangor to Hartford, Red Sox Nation had repaid Lou Kenwood many times over, with sellouts, astronomical television ratings, and souvenir and apparel sales second to no other team in the majors. For his part, Lou Kenwood had returned the favor by delivering another championship. Yes, the sweep against the Rockies had seemed something of an anti-climax, but now the Red Sox had something they could once have only fantasized about: taunting rights over the Yankees. And it felt good.
Kenwood had constructed a team that seemed destined to elbow the Yankees aside as kingpins of baseball. Boston—always known as The Hub—was being restored to its rightful place, abdicated for almost ninety years, as the center of the baseball universe. Sox fans now expected the team to win, expected management to outsmart the Yankees when it came to accumulating baseball's top talent, and expected Lucky Louie to outspend his mistakes, as the Yankees had always been able to do.
Lou Kenwood had no idea how long this stunning reversal of fortune could last, but he didn't expect to see the end of the love affair he was enjoying with New England. Fans still wanted to shake his hand, say thanks, and have him kiss their children; even the sportswriters, who were more comfortable tearing into local owners than celebrating them, kept the "Lucky Louie" name going, as though it were printed on his driver's license. And why shouldn't Kenwood feel lucky? At his last checkup, his physician told him he was in perfect health. He'd go another ten years, easily.
Not everyone in his life was so fortunate. There was Katherine's hopeless condition, of course. And Paul's father.
"How's your dad's health, Paul?" Kenwood asked his driver.
Paul O'Brien, wearing a black chauffeur's cap over his curly reddish-brown hair, took his eye off the constricted roadway that led through Revere and glanced in his rearview mirror without turning his head. Kenwood knew that Patrick O'Brien had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease, but Paul never spoke about his father unless asked.
"He's gettin' along, sir," O'Brien said. His South Boston accent was engaged in its never-ending struggle with the more appropriate diction of a billionaire's personal driver.
"Does he still watch the games?"
"Oh, he never misses the Sox. I have to remind him who they're playin' now and then. He remembers the Yanks, the Tigers, the White Sox ... he doesn't too good ... so well ... with the Blue Jays or the Rays."
"Neither do I, sometimes," Kenwood said. "Remember, if there's anything your family needs ... his care must be getting expensive."
"Thank you, sir, but, you know, like I've said ... we manage," Paul said. His tone suggested the subject was closed.
Kenwood acceded to stubborn Southie pride, and turned to the Globe business section while Paul navigated the Lincoln onto the McClellan Highway in Chelsea, which slowly funneled them through the Sumner Tunnel and into downtown Boston. Kenwood always stopped at his offices in the One Financial Center tower before going out to the ballpark.
They parked in the underground lot and took the express elevator up to the 40th floor. Paul accompanied Kenwood into the office and then excused himself, waiting to be summoned for the drive out to Fenway later in the day.
"Good morning, Mr. Kenwood," his receptionist said as he passed her desk.
"Good morning, Ellie. Coffee and a blueberry scone this morning, please." "Of course."
"Tough game last night, Louie," Bill Edmunds, his vice president of acquisitions, called to him from his open office door as Kenwood walked toward his office. "You ever seen a guy screw up an easier pop fly than the one Hurtado dropped in the twelfth?"
"It reminded me of that ball he dropped in the Series, when he was with the Cards."
"Yeah, you're right. So we're another game back in the loss column."
"There's still time, Bill," Kenwood said. "Two weeks left—the Yanks know we're not going to give up."
"Shouldn't we be looking at some kids?"
"That's what I want to talk to Joe about this afternoon. He says that right fielder at Pawtucket looks pretty good. We might sit Hurtado down for a couple of games and see what the kid can do up here. If Hurtado won't sign, we need options."
"Have you listened to the call-in shows lately? The fans are really dumping on Ivan. If we don't make the playoffs this year, I don't think they'd want him back."
"I never listen to those shows," Kenwood said. "We've got all the experts we need on our payroll."
Bill Edmunds' responsibility at the Kenwood Companies was looking for properties to purchase, but he was a Sox fan like everyone else, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk baseball with the owner every morning. Edmunds knew enough not to offer serious suggestions; that was better left to the hard-core callers to the talk shows and the baseball nuts who posted on the proliferation of Sox websites.
Kenwood walked into his office, a fifty-by-fifty corner suite with ten-foot windows that looked toward Fenway Park to the southwest and BMW Bay to the southeast. The replica of the World Championship trophy, with its thirty gold flags surrounding a silver baseball, rested atop a four-foot-high pedestal against the wall. Above it hung an oil painting of Fenway Park, looking from home plate toward the Green Monster.
The office walls were adorned with photos of himself, standing with the key players from the championship team, and with Sox greats from the past: standing next to Ted Williams' wheelchair and shaking his hand at the '99 All-Star Game; his arm around Yaz at an old-timers' day; sharing a joke with Pudge Fisk at a Jimmy Fund event; and standing between Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky at a Fenway ceremony honoring the old double-play tandem. There were framed stories and photos from the championship seasons, with LUCKY LOUIE and KENWOOD the prominent names in the headlines.
Kenwood picked up that morning's copy of the Herald. The headline on the sports page read:
"Sox feel the Big Hurt(ado)"
The sports desks never ran out of puns.
He dropped the paper on his desk, eased himself into his leather swivel chair, and picked up the stack of mail that Ellie had left for him. It was standard stuff except for a black envelope with his name and address spelled out in white ink. He slit it open with the commemorative letter opener presented to him by the Boston Chamber of Commerce at a banquet following the 2004 World Series. Inside was a piece of black stationery with more white writing:
The 2004 World Series was fixed. Unless you follow my exact instructions and pay me $50,000,000, a player will confess that he participated in throwing that Series to the Red Sox. He'll go to the press and to the Commissioner of Baseball no later than Oct. 1—just in time for the playoffs.
Think I'm joking? Don't bet on it. If this becomes public, no one will ever trust baseball again. The Red Sox will be the new Black Sox. The 2004 World Series—your proudest moment—will be remembered as a fraud. You'll go from hero to pariah overnight. Don't spoil all those precious memories for your fans. And don't go to the cops. I'm watching you.
I'll contact you again in a few days to tell you how to deliver the money.
Use your head, Babe Ruth.
Chapter TwoMinneapolis, Minnesota—
Marcus Hargrove counted out "ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR!" and Sam Skarda hit the first ringing C chord of the Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" on his Fender Stratocaster. A half-dozen couples pushed their chairs back, got up from their tables around the dimly-lit Boom Boom Room bar and jostled for position on the dance floor as Hargrove belted out the first line of the Motown classic.
Sam loved the grainy texture to Hargrove's voice, and he loved the way Hargrove worked himself and the crowd into sweating ecstasy as he prowled back and forth in front of the band like a caged panther. A couple of nights a month, Hargrove shed his Minneapolis Police Department identity by putting on his Otis Redding suit and vest and singing with Night Beat, the oldies band Skarda had formed when he, too, had been a member of the MPD.
It was a warm Friday night in mid-September, and owner Ted Tollefson, a hulking figure with a shaggy walrus moustache, had propped open the front door to the Boom Boom Room to allow some fresh air to circulate. If somebody complained to the cops about the noise spilling out onto Hennepin Avenue—well, everybody in the band was, or had been, a cop. In addition to Sam and Marcus, drummer Stu Winstead patrolled a beat in Nordeast; bassist Bear Olson was a vice cop; and keyboard player/singer Jean Dubrovna was an investigator with the juvenile unit.
Sam had been their colleague until resigning as a homicide detective in April. Thanks to a generous payment he'd received for some emergency detective work at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, he'd applied for a private investigator's license and opened a practice in White Bear Lake, an old-money beach town just north of St. Paul. There was no reason to ask clients to find a place to park in Minneapolis just so they could visit him in an overpriced downtown office building. Besides, most of the detective work people seemed willing to pay for was happening out in the suburbs.
He had some money now, but he still played the same '59 Strat through the same Deluxe Reverb amp, and he still lived in the same bungalow in South Minneapolis. Sometimes old things were better things. But after furnishing his office, he allowed himself two indulgences: He bought a new Mustang convertible, and he joined the White Bear Yacht Club, a 1927 Donald Ross golf course on the edge of the lake. It was the club where Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald had lived in 1922, until being evicted for throwing too many drunken parties. His office was a five-minute commute to the golf course.
Excerpted from Green Monster by Rick Shefchik Copyright © 2008 by Rick Shefchik. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Rick Shefchik was born in Duluth, Minn., in 1952 (in the same hospital as Bob Dylan, 11 years later.) He graduated from Duluth East High School in 1970 and attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., where he received a B.A. in English/Creative Writing. After working in public relations and as a full-time musician, he began his journalism career at the Duluth News Tribune in 1978. He moved to the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1980 as a television critic, and became a feature writer and columnist in the 1990s, writing a weekly syndicated parenting column for the Knight Ridder Newswire. He lives in Stillwater, Minn., with his wife and two children.
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