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By Pascal Marco
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2011 Pascal Marco
All rights reserved.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2005
Stan Kobe escorted his wife, Maxine, and their six-year-old twins through the backyard's iron gate entrance. Smoke billowed from three Weber charcoal grills, tended by a man wearing a white apron, which had handwritten on it in black marker: CHICAGO WHITE SOX — 2005 WORLD CHAMPIONS. "Can you believe this guy?" Stan chided as the family walked toward the boisterous crowd, drinking and laughing on the huge, Spanish-style patio.
What Stan had been thinking prior to arriving at Kaitlin Hanley's birthday party was the fact that just like the other three hundred days a year there wasn't a cloud in the sky as he sauntered into the festive Glendale, Arizona, gathering.
The Hanley's backyard events were always over-the-top affairs. Even at birthday parties for his kids, Brian Hanley put his best effort into making sure the adults had the most fun, and today was no exception. Beer and liquor flowed, and tiki torches rimmed the Pebble Tec pool, standing like soldiers waiting to be ignited for their winless battle against the approaching cool desert night.
"There he is, Stan the Man," Brian called, looking up, beer in one hand and meat tongs in the other. "Hey, nice pants."
Stan evil-eyed his pal. Brian had always teased Stan about the way he dressed off the job — "Early Sears, Roebuck" Brian called it — because when Stan was in the courtroom, standing before judge and jury, he never wore anything less than a cuff-linked, starched white shirt, adorned with an Armani silk tie, and topped off with a three-piece tailored suit.
"Maxine, what's it feel like to sleep with Arizona's most ruthless prosecutor? The man who's never lost a case."
"Well, I don't kiss and tell." Maxine pulled Stan close to her and fussed at his peach-colored polo shirt collar, tugging at the corners, flattening each one out. "Anyway, Brian, I think that's an awful nickname the press has given him. Stan's not ruthless. He's honest and truthful. As a matter of fact, he's the most decent man I've ever met. He feels for his victims, and I don't think there's anything ruthless about that."
Stan smiled at her as she gave her soulful answer to their host. He loved her so deeply. In fact, he believed marrying Maxine Marcy was the best thing he had ever done in his life. After they had met at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, it was the only thing that kept Stan in the Phoenix area. Once he had turned eighteen, he could have left anytime and no one — not one solitary person — could have stopped him. But once he'd been smitten by her, he decided, for better or worse, to stay in the so-called Valley of the Sun.
After delivering her heartfelt defense of her husband's demanding job, Maxine smiled wide as she leaned in toward Brian, giving him a quick peck hello. The big Irishman lingered with his lips puckered, then made a clumsy effort to inch toward her in a futile attempt to make the kiss last longer.
"All right, you two. Knock it off. This is supposed to be a kid's party, remember?" Stan said. At nearly five foot ten, just an inch shy of his height, Maxine was a gorgeous woman with beautiful olive skin and long flowing, dark hair. Looking into her deep green eyes usually took a man's breath away. But Stan didn't mind that Brian lit up when he saw Maxine or even flirted with her. Brian was his best friend and not part of the "Pussy Posse," Brian's name for his fellow cops; macho guys always on the make.
"Louisa. Lewis. Go find Kaitlin and wish her happy birthday. I think she's in the jumping jack," Brian instructed the Kobe's twins.
Maxine urged the twins on with a gentle nudge, and they ran off to join the screaming mass of kids scattered throughout the huge yard.
"Hi, Stan. Hi, Max." Claire Hanley's high-pitched, nasal voice was a perfect match to the petite blonde's frame. She walked toward the group, holding an empty tray in her outstretched arms. Brian took the tray from his dainty wife as Claire gave a hello kiss to Maxine and then to Stan. "Good to see you guys. You're just in time to eat. Can I get you two a drink? Pop? Wine?" She looked over at her husband as he fumbled with the food on the grill. "I'd offer you a beer but I see by the way my husband's handling those tongs that Mister Weber here may have drunk us dry already." Claire playfully squeezed Brian's cheek with a thumb and forefinger.
"Hey, Stan. How 'bout one of Claire's special margaritas?" Brian suggested, continuing his fight with the uncooperative hot dogs.
"Nothin' for me," Stan said. "I'm driving."
"Well I'm not!" Maxine jumped in. "A margarita sounds great!"
Brian looked up at Stan. "Hey, buddy. I gotta show you what I did with all my dad's baseball memorabilia stuff after he died. I wanna —"
"Uh, oh. Here we go," Claire interrupted. "Let's go fix you that drink, Max, 'cause Stan's gonna be a while if he goes into my husband's new shrine."
"Just a few minutes, Claire, that's all, darlin'," Brian said. "No long stories. Scout's honor." The detective lifted two fingers in a Boy Scout salute.
"Yeah, let's see it, Bri."
Stan's attempt to throw his buddy a life preserver didn't save Brian from Claire's scowl.
He and the City of Chandler, Arizona's top homicide detective had become friends since the first case they closed together, the Tisdale murders, almost thirteen years earlier. Both discovered they had originally hailed from the Midwest — Brian growing up in Chicago before his father moved the clan to the southwestern state; Stan from Gary, Indiana — and that both loved sports, especially baseball. But they became inseparable buddies the day when, over beers, each had described themselves a "diehard" Chicago White Sox fan.
"This-a-way," Brian said, waving for Stan to follow him toward the house as he handed a tray full of cooked hotdogs to his wife.
Claire and Maxine trailed off toward the kitchen while Brian led Stan down the hallway to one of the rear bedrooms. When he walked through the doorway, Stan was overwhelmed by the collection, which crammed the modest-sized room floor to ceiling with framed photos, news clippings, and trophies of all shapes and sizes. Worn baseball bats and gloves along with dozens of baseballs, faint signatures dotting most of them, occupied every open space. Stan smiled in sheer delight and began a reverent scrutiny of the scores of items. There wasn't an inch of the room's walls that wasn't covered with some type of baseball memorabilia. "Holy cow," he murmured. To say he looked like a kid in a candy store would have been an understatement.
Brian pointed to an old black-and-white picture on the wall. "Hey, Mister World's Number One White Sox fan. Do you know what this is?"
Stan stepped over to take a closer look at the photo. "That's good old number nine, Al Smith, getting beer dumped on him during the fifty-nine World Series. Any real Sox fan knows that."
As he answered his friend, Stan felt an unexpected twinge of unease. He struggled to push away the uncomfortable sensation that popped into his head. Entering the room began as an exhilarating feeling, but the sudden confrontation with these images, all seeming to stare back at him, began to unnerve him. Stan wasn't sure he could handle the unwanted sensation rushing through him. A sense of dread began to grip his mind and his body. This powerful emotion always crept over him whenever he encountered memories from his past. He needed to shove them aside.
As a child he had honed the ability to deftly cover up his painful feelings, keeping them tightly locked up inside, not revealing them to anyone. In this room he felt different, sensing something he hadn't felt in years — a desire to just pour it all out, freeing him from his horrendous pain once and for all. He paused a moment and regained his self-control again, continuing his conversation, reminiscing about the White Sox as if his unanticipated panic attack had never happened.
"They lost the Series in six games to the Dodgers. The papers reported the next day how crushed Sox fans were. My daddy said it was one of the best Sox teams ever assembled. He knew a lot of those guys."
Now I've done it! Why did I have to mention my father? He's never asked me about my dad. Why bring him up now?
On the other side of the room, his back to Stan, Brian mumbled as he took a deep swig of his beer, "What you say, pardner?"
"Nothing. Never mind," Stan said, wanting to change the subject. He turned to another photo on the wall. "Hey, this looks like a rare one." He stepped forward to take a closer look at the oversized photograph. It hung in an oval, antique-looking wood frame. Without thinking twice, he asked Brian, "Do you know what this picture is?"
"My guess is it's one of the turn-of-the century Sox teams," Brian shrugged, walking over to him. "My dad never labeled the darn thing. I have no idea what year it was taken. Do you?"
"Yeah, I do. At least, I'm pretty certain, that is. This looks like the World Series photograph of the entire nineteen-nineteen Black Sox team. Look." Stan began pointing to the faded images, tapping with a finger on the clouded glass as he recognized the players in the picture. His voice rose with each identification. "Here's Shoeless Joe Jackson and this is Eddie Cicotte. And here's Eddie Collins. This guy here is their catcher, Ray Schalk." He grabbed the frame by its edges and pulled it closer to him. "This is an extraordinary photo, Bri. There're only three copies known to exist. There's one in Cooperstown, one at the Smithsonian, and one in the National Archives." He looked right at Brian, confused. "Where did your dad get this?"
"No idea. Like I told ya, my old man was a Chicago cop. Back in the seventies." Brian took another gulp of beer then wiped his mouth. "In those days lots of things just kinda ended up on your desk, if ya know what I mean."
Stan's facial expression matched the tinge of anger in his voice. He told himself to go no further, to drop the subject before he was in too deep, but he was too excited to stop.
"Brian, you don't understand, do you? This was the Black Sox. Eight guys from this team conspired to throw the nineteen-nineteen World Series. Then they conspired to cover up their crime. They not only ruined one of the greatest teams of all time but the lives of almost every player on it. Every one of these guys you see in this picture, their lives were never the same again. Every one of them. Especially —"
Stan's voice trailed off. Okay, that's it. Do not go any further. Get yourself out of this while you still can.
He's my best friend. If I can't tell him, who can I tell?
"Especially a guy who played for them my father knew," Stan replied, voice quavering.
"Hey, pardner! You mean to tell me your old man knew a guy who was on the Black Sox? That is so cool. So cool!" Brian took another swig of beer. When he finished swallowing, he asked, "Did your dad ever get his autograph?"
Brian's childlike question made Stan chuckle despite his growing panic. Only a true baseball fan would ask such a question.
"Hey, what's so funny? I mean that is really cool that your dad actually knew someone from the Black Sox. So did you ever meet the old guy?"
Should I tell him? Should I finally trust someone with the story?
"Huh? What? Meet him? No. No. I never met him."
"Hold on there, pardner." Brian brushed Stan aside and moved in, pushing his nose inches from the milky-looking glass that protected the historic picture. "If this guy was on the Black Sox, he must have been like a hundred years old when your dad knew him, right?" Brian took another deep swig from his bottle of beer.
"Try eighty-five. Dad met him in nineteen seventy-five. I remember because I was twelve years old. The guy only played one year in the big leagues, nineteen-nineteen. He was twenty-nine years old at the time."
"Too wild, man. That is too, too, wild." Brian gulped again from his nearly empty bottle. "So, what was the old codger's name?"
"Hey. What are those?" Stan moved over to another wall, holding a grouping of baseball bats, ignoring Brian's last question.
"Oh, you're gonna love those," Brian said, diversion accomplished as he followed behind Stan, right in step.
A dozen or so antiquated bats covered the wall. In the center of the display, however, rested a modern-day Louisville Slugger. The pine-tarred lumber caught Stan's eye, drawing him closer. It was as if some urgent force propelled him toward the signature bat whose enormous size dwarfed all the others. Alarm bells sounded in his head, but he couldn't stop himself. Stan yanked the massive ash splinter from its bracket on the wall. He turned it in his hands a few times.
No! It can't be! He has the bat?
He shoved the bat in front of Brian's face, glaring at him. "Where did you get this?"
"Whoa! Careful there, buddy." Brian held his hands up in defense. "Dad said he got that baby right from the Bard's Room at old Comiskey Park. He said that's the bat Dick Allen hit his thirty-seventh home run with the year he led the American League in homers. I found it in one of his storage lockers the other day when I was cleaning out after he passed away. I just put it up there yesterday."
Stan's heart hammered in his chest. Even though he knew his next words might antagonize or at the very least bewilder his inebriated friend, Stan couldn't stop himself.
I've never come this close before. Do I really want to do this? Can I do this? Should I push this further?
"I know this is Dick Allen's bat and I know about Dick Allen's home run record, but your father didn't get this bat from no Bard's Room. No matter what he told you."
"What the heck you talkin' about?" The tone of Brian's reply sounded like that of the guy who throws the first punch in a barroom brawl. "You callin' my dad a liar?"
You're damn right he's a liar!
Stan knew he'd be entering into treacherous territory if he pushed this further. He dug down to take control of his emotions then took a deep breath before continuing.
"No. I'm not calling your dad a liar. I just know that this isn't the bat Dick Allen hit his thirty-seventh home run with. That's all I'm saying."
"How do you know that?" Brian slurred.
Oh my God! He doesn't know! His father must have never told him the story!
"Because — because I just do." Just tell him what he wants to hear and maybe you can still get yourself out of this. "Look. I'm sorry, man. Maybe your dad was right. Maybe this really is the Dick Allen home run record bat. I could be wrong." Still holding the bat in his hands, Stan rubbed the barrel several times, following its circular shape with the palm of his hand. He fondled the wood as if he were caressing a woman. When he got to the tip of the barrel he made an abrupt stop, closed his eyes, and dropped his chin to his chest.
"What's up, pardner? You all right? Listen, I'm the one who should be droppin' his noggin' after all the brewskies I've had today," Brian said. "So, tell me some more about your old man. How come you've never talked about him?"
Stan knew if he didn't leave now, he'd wind up telling Brian the whole story. He's got the bat! How can I ever get around this? He knew the moment wasn't far off from when he would have to face reality and confront the truth, not only with Brian, but also with everyone else important to him in his life, including Maxine. Especially with Maxine. Now wasn't the time, though. Not at a party for kids.
Like all the other times Stan had received a jolt that connected him to his hidden past, he felt the need to get out of there now, as fast as he could, before he divulged too much — before he let anyone into his protected past. He would catch hell from Maxine — I'll be sleeping on that damn couch again! — but that was something he was willing to accept.
Claire's chirping voice announced her return as she entered the trophy room, Maxine a step behind. "Are you boys about done in here. The food's getting cold. Those kids are hungry."
Excerpted from Identity: Lost by Pascal Marco. Copyright © 2011 Pascal Marco. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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