Bells, Part III

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Updated: August 30, 2019

Bells, Part III

“I go and it is done. The bell invites me.”

–William Shakespeare, Macbeth

 

They arrived at the entrance to Tania’s apartment—near the water—about half a mile from the stadium.  A shrouded cumulus loomed over the city like an old enemy, and somewhere off the coast a freighter blasted two long, somber reports.  As the 3-Series came to a halt, Tania frowned, looking at Ricky from the passenger seat.  James was in the back, snoring.

“So you’re just not going to tell me?”  Tania gave Ricky a stern look. “What did Vail say?”

Ricky looked ahead, watching the windshield wipers stream against the glass.  It was a hot, foggy evening along the Duluth waterfront.  Tania’s seat belt alarm chimed impatiently from the dashboard.

“It’s Saturday night, Tania.”  Ricky replied.  “Go do whatever young people do.”

Thinning her expression, she stared at Ricky for a moment, eventually retrieving her purse and leaving the car.  Ricky rolled down the window.

“Hey,” he shouted to her as she headed up the concrete steps toward the apartment foyer.  She stopped and turned, frowning at Ricky.

“Thanks.”  He offered a weak smile.

Without replying, she turned back on a heel and made her way through the doors.   James chuckled quietly from the backseat.

“Ricky, you’re gonna be alone all your life.”  James looked at Ricky through the rearview mirror with one eye shut, his hands behind his head.

“She’s my assistant, dad,” Ricky sent the passenger window back up and pulled onto Boardwalk Street, the dim visage of Doyle Buhl Stadium looming in the distance along the road.  “I don’t have to share personal phonecalls with her.”

“Son,” James replied, adjusting his wristwatch, “You’ve got a lot to learn about what you do and don’t have to do.”

Pulling to a red light, Ricky shook his head and looked up, hopeless, at the roof of the BMW.

“No man’s an island,” James continued, picking at his fingernails.  “That’s what your mother would say.”

“Says the asshole who lives alone on a literal island.”

“Never said I was alone,” James said with a chuckle.  He leaned back, sighing.

“It’s about thirty years late for this conversation, dad.”  Ricky looked at James in the mirror, shaking his head.

“Hell,” James said with a shrug, returning the toothpick and pulling a cigarillo from a tin case, “you want to die alone?  You’re forty years old, for Christ’s sake.”

“I’m the General Manager of a professional baseball team.”

“Who gives a shit?  You gonna put that on your tombstone?”

Ricky didn’t answer.  Pausing, James opened his mouth to speak, and gave up, tossing up his hands and leaning back again.

The two remained silent for the rest of the drive uptown to The Esquire.  Thunder rolled over Lake Superior— rain was returning.  Ricky’s digital watched sounded 10 PM.

It was a typical midsummer night in Duluth, with the glow of a dozen new skyscrapers looming over the hills—all built in the last two decades, thanks to rise in inland shipping and the interlake technology boom.

Ricky pulled into the roundabout at The Esquire, both hands on the steering wheel.  They sat in silence for several moments.

“Come have a drink with me, son.”

“I’ve got meetings early, dad.”

“Oh, Jesus Christ, Rick!”  James shouted, so loud that a few heads turned from the sidewalk.  Ricky raised his eyebrows and turned.  “I’m your god damn father and I’m asking you to come have a drink with me for twenty fucking minutes!  Lose the millennial-angst-bullshit act and come talk to your old man!”

Ricky held his hands up, looking over his shoulder.  “Alright” he said, quietly, killing the engine.  “Alright.”

Red-faced, breathing deeply, James nodded, straightened his shirt, and left the car.

 

In the suite—which was lavish, even by uptown standards—James poured an amber ration of scotch into a crystal tumbler.  Ricky studied the room—draped in heavy, velvet curtains—a sort of crisp Victorian feel—and he paused as his eyes were drawn to the oxygen mask at the foot of the bed and the pills on the nightstand.

“It’s all bullshit, Rick,” James said, pushing the tumbler into Ricky’s hand and sitting on the ornate red sofa in front of a brass-lined electric fireplace.  “Getting old is complete bullshit.  I used to run marathons.  Now look at me.  Kept alive like some sort of freak with machines and drugs.”

“You’re alright, for seventy-seven.”

James waved a dismissive hand at his son.  “Bullshit.  It’s criminal, the way the body betrays you.”  He reached for another cigarillo.

“I don’t think you can smoke in here.”

“They can kiss my ass,” James answered, puffing plumes of smoke alive with a silver zippo.  The lighter had a U.S. Army logo embossed into the face.

Ricky set the tumbler on the mahogany coffee table, leaning back.

“So,” he said, studying his father.  “I didn’t know we were telling people mom had cancer now.”

Looking up from his lighter, James frowned, puffing more smoke with a hand cupped over the cigarillo.  He snapped the zippo shut and threw it on the table.  “It’s easier.”

“Easier,” Ricky repeated ironically, nodding.  He looked toward the curtains at the waterfront glow.

“Jesus Christ, Rick—what do you want me to say?”

“The truth,” Ricky answered, looking back to his father.

“I don’t want to discuss this,” James snapped.  He reached for his own tumbler and took a heavy pull, smacking his lips.  “That’s not why I’m here.”

“Why are you here, dad?”

“To see my god damn son,” James answered hotly, pointing his cigar at Ricky.  He pulled one leg over the other.  “Tell me about your job.  Tell me about this rebuild you’re working on.”

Ricky gave a dry look to his father. “You want me to tell you about the rebuild?”

“Don’t be so fucking patronizing, just tell me about it.”

“You’ve never been interested in my job before.”

“First time for everything, son.  Go on.”

Ricky sighed, shrugging.   “Alright then.”

He gazed out through the window to the looming silhouette of the stadium.  Rising, he paced over to the large balcony window and drew the curtains.

“There’s plenty of market for this team,” Ricky explained to his father, “but Free Agency is a short-term solution.  We need players with team control to organize a return to 2026 Duluth.”

James nodded, listening.  “So you’re stocking the draft?”

“That’s the idea.”  Ricky returned to his chair. “Not just this year—we need to rebuild the entire farm.  We have three future stars and a power hitter—that’s it.  And when their service time is done we won’t be able to afford any of them.”

“Service time?”  James tilted his head.  He drank more from the tumbler.

“Service time toward free agency eligibility.  Good, young players tolerate a shitty team until they can legally make a fortune somewhere else.  And, of course, there’s arbitration.”

“Sounds like some pro-union bullshit.”  James laughed to himself.  “More complicated than it seems.”

“You have no idea,” Ricky replied with a slight smile.

“So what’s the big deal?  Sell ‘em off and stock the farm—sounds pretty standard.”

Ricky sighed.  “The Board—that is—the trust that runs Arne Bong’s estate, hasn’t approved a rebuild strategy.  They want us to make the playoffs by 2031.”

“Arne who?”

“Arne Bong, dad.”

“Oh yeah,” James said, snapping his fingers.  “The guy who’s dad flew with my old man.  How you got the job in the first place.  You’re welcome, by the way.”

Richard ignored his father’s remark.

“The problem is, we can’t wait for the Board to approve a rebuild.  We need the picks, now, before another team like Canton gets their hands on them—or they go for more expensive closer to the deadline.”

“So you’re trying to make deals without your boss’s approval?”  James smiled, shaking his head.  “Maybe we’re not so different, Rick.”

“It’s what’s best for the franchise.”

“But not your job,” James said, pointing his cigar at Ricky.

Ricky sighed.  “It’s complicated.”

“Sounds pretty straightforward to me.  You’re trying to get your ass fired.”

Ricky shook his head.  “The board—they’re all Arne Bong’s relatives, not big corporate suits.  They don’t care about money—all they care about is Arne Bong’s legacy.”

“Legacy.”  James grunted, staring at the fireplace.

“They’re delusional,” Ricky continued.  “If Duluth doesn’t rebuild the farm now, they’ll keep losing for another ten years, then they rebuild a decade late, and after Canton and Kalamazoo.”

James smiled.  “Denial can be a powerful thing, Rick.”  He shook his head.  “But you’re a smart guy.  I bet you have it all figured out.”

Ricky shrugged.  He reached for his tumbler and drank the scotch, sighing.

“This is good,” James said, nodding and saluting with his glass.  “Father and son, drinking scotch, talking baseball. Almost like a normal family.  Good shit.”

“Normal.”  Ricky stared at his father.

James chortled.  “Look, Rick…”  James sighed, rubbing his chin.  “I know I wasn’t…I mean, I couldn’t be…around.  And I know you think that I was too hard on you.  But when you’re as old as I am, you learn that you could do a lot fucking worse than have an uptight, busy dad.”

“That almost sounded like an apology.”  James flushed.

“You think I owe you an apology?”

“It would be a start.”

“You want me to apologize?”  His father glowered, setting the empty glass hard on the table.  “Apologize for what, exactly, Rick?  For giving you all the white privilege a punk-ass kid can ask for?  For bailing you out of jail in three counties?  For paying for your stupid fucking year in the Pioneer League?  I gave up my fourth star for you, son, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“I didn’t ask you to,” Ricky replied, looking down.

“Oh, the god damn hell you didn’t!”  James stood, pointing a finger at his son.  “You think they were gonna let me be Chief of Staff, after I bailed my asshole Cadet son out of jail blowing 0.2?”

“I was only at West Point because of you,” Ricky replied venomously.  He rose to meet his father’s glare.  “Everything, always, about you.  Did you ever think there might be a reason I drank myself into a stupor every night there? I didn’t even want to be in the fucking Army, dad.”

“No, no, of course not!”  James shouted with an ironic air, throwing his hands up.  “Hotshot Ricky McCoy, the darling of Onslow County, too good to wear any uniform but pinstripes.  How many kids in North Carolina could afford to travel around with an amateur team for a year, Rick?  Or did you think it was talent that got you on that team?”  He leaned a hand on the sofa, out of breath.  The old man pointed an accusatory finger at his son.  “You were no god damn good, Ricky, and I was the only one with the courage to tell you.  And your mother—on and on about how talented you were.  Both of you in god damn denial!”

“You want to bring mom into this?”  Ricky laughed his hands on his hips.  “Mom, whose suicide you can’t even bring yourself to talk about?  Who’s in denial, dad?”

“Well beg your fucking pardon if ‘My wife blew her brains out all over the veranda’ doesn’t fit naturally into conversation, you fucking asshole!”   James hurled his tumbler into the wall, where it shattered.

Ricky recoiled as his father heaved the glass, cursing under his breath.  He looked on in disbelief, scotch dripping slowly down the wallpaper. James sank back into the sofa.  “You don’t think I think about that every god damn day?”

Ricky shook his head, looking down at his father. He crossed his arms. “You’re really going to try and sell this shit to me?  Is that why you flew out to Duluth—so you can sleep better with your Myrtle Beach gold diggers on Castle Island?”  He laughed to himself.  “You are one selfish asshole.”

“Don’t you fucking lecture me, boy,” James growled, looking up.  “She cried for weeks each time you’d stumble home on one of your pill-fueled rampages, screaming at her, blaming her for your stupid fucking problems.”

“That’s not fair,” Ricky answered weakly, unable to look up.

“You’ll shut up and listen to me, boy.  You want to talk about denial?  You’ve got a living, breathing daughter who’s grown up without you, son.  When was the last time you called her?  Do you know a single damn thing about who she is—who she wants to be? Or do you just cut a god damn check once a month and dust your hands off?”

“That is completely different,” Ricky snarled.  “I didn’t ask her mom to walk out.  I fought for custody for three years.  And when I lost, she wanted nothing to do with me.”

“As if that’s a god damn excuse!”  James pounded his fist on the table.  “She’s not a child anymore.  You need to keep trying.  And now!”

“And what the fuck do you know about trying?”

“I’m doing it here, now, God damn it!”  James roared, unable to rise.  He beat the table with his fists, tears streaming down his red cheeks.  He placed his face in his palms and sobbed on the sofa beneath the glow of the chandelier.  The service phone rang, and Ricky ignored it.

He studied his weeping father, his chin set.  A clock chimed eleven in the evening.  He glanced at the clock—it’s slim, ornate hands, it’s silver polish—the pendulum swinging imperviously under the long shadow thrown by the flickering fireplace.  From the carpet, shards of broken crystal tossed spectrums on the painted ceiling.

“How long?”

James looked up at Ricky, his face smeared and blemished.  He stifled another sob.

“Four months.  Maybe five.”

Ricky nodded slowly.

“Cancer?”

James grunted ironically, his hands limp between his knees.  They shared a long, complex silence.

Ricky nodded.  He turned, pouring a new glass of scotch on the server, sitting down, and sliding it across the table to his father.  Watching the glass, James looked up to meet his son’s stare.

The old man sighed, both hands on his glass.  His voice was strained, but calm. “You’ve never loved anything but baseball your entire life.  Since you were old enough to put on a glove and run around the yard.”  He smiled fondly into his glass, moving it in circles.  “You’re a selfish, miserable asshole, Ricky.  Just like me.”

Ricky listened quietly.

“You love baseball like I loved the army.  But it won’t love you back—and you can dig through every corner of the god damn PEBA universe—but you just can’t rebuild a life like you can a ballclub, boy.”

—–

The powerful lights to the stadium boomed to life, one by one, with a yawning security guard shaking his head and scratching at his side.  “It’s real late to be tourin’ the field, Mr. McCoy,” he shouted over the rain, shaking his head with a slight grin.  He held his cellphone up to the keypad to punch in the combination.

Ricky nodded, grateful to be out of the sweeping deluge.  “A deal’s a deal, Al.”  He offered faint smile, running a hand through his soaking hair.   “Monday through Wednesday off.”

The janitor unlocked the heavy gate that led into Left field.  “Anything for the big man,” Al answered with a broad grin.  “Set the alarm when you’re done?”

“Same as always,” Ricky replied.  Al smiled, tipping his Warriors hat and wheeled away, his mind already on a newly developed fishing trip to the UP.

Ricky walked out into the grass, his slacks and leather jacket soaked.  It was after midnight.  The garish, gray dome was pulled over the stadium like the mouth of a surfacing nautilus.  The rain hammered the dome in a deafening salvo, stirring the empty field with a solemn resonance. He looked at the perfect emerald of the outfield, the pristine baselines, and the recently tilled infield.   Overhead, the old-fashioned scoreboard that once belonged to the Minnesota Twins still captured last night’s loss like an epitaph.  He ran his hands along the wall by the warning track, bending low to take a handful of dirt and run it between his fingers.

Give sorrow words,” Ricky quoted, tracing a finger through the dirt. He sifted the soil between his hands.

“I figured Al let you in.”

Ricky looked up.  Tania stood at the entrance, clad in a yellow raincoat, soaked brunette strands running out of her hood.

“Got your message.”

“Couldn’t sleep.”  Ricky slumped down, back against the outfield wall, feet out in front of him.  He took a baseball from his jacket pocket and tossed it up to Tania.

Catching the ball with both hands, Tania studied it with a small smile.  “Are you drunk?”

“Stone sober, for once.”  Ricky shook his head.

“I figured.”  She thought for a moment, frowning, tossing the ball back to Ricky.  He caught it nimbly, returning it to his pocket.”

“You told me you didn’t like Shakespeare,” she said, walking over to him.  She slid down beside him with her hands in the pockets of her raincoat.

Ricky shrugged. “I lied.”

“Why?”

Ricky shrugged.  “It’s complicated.”

“Lying always is,” Tania answered, looking out toward home plate.  “If you keep sneaking into your own stadium, they’ll lock you up with Bob Mayfield.”

“Can’t be any worse than a Board meeting.”

She smiled, shaking her head.  Eventually, she looked at him. “Why do you come here?”

He puzzled, bringing a hand to his chin and failing to find words.   “It’s the only place that make sense.”

She considered his response.  She followed his gaze out along centerfield to the forest-green pallor of the empty ballpark.

“Dan Vail took the deal, Tanya.”  Ricky let out a burdensome sigh.  “It’ll be in the news tomorrow morning.”

Eventually, she gave a wry grin.  “I found out about the trade right after your phonecall.”

She smirked at Ricky’s surprise.  “It turns out, Dan Vail has an assistant too.”

They both laughed.

“I guess it’s official, then.”  Ricky said.

Tania nodded quietly.  “You think they’ll fire you?”

“Maybe.”

“Which means I’ll get fired too?”

“Definitely.”

She shrugged.  “I’ve thought about going back to school, anyway.  My mom is always willing to lend me the basement.”

He smiled at that.  “What’s your mom like?”

She looked at him, pausing and suppressing an ironic smirk. “My mom?”

“Yeah.”

Tania laughed.  “You know, this is the first time you’ve asked my about my personal life.”

Ricky nodded firmly.  “First time for everything.”

She smiled.  “She taught eight grade chemistry and biology.  It helped with the meth lab, before she retired.”

“And your dad?”

“English.”  They exchanged a humorous expression.

“Are they good parents?”

Tania gave a thoughtful expression.  “I think so.  They try to be.”

“Trying’s half the battle.”

“Ricky?”

He drew his gaze from the field to Tania, sitting next to him.

“I’m sorry about your dad.”

He paused, nodding slowly and looking forward.  Tania watched him.

He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.  He felt lightweight, drifting, and exhausted.  There was so much he wanted to say—so much he wanted to take back.  As if time and life were piles of sand, to be shifted and moved and put back together.

“I don’t know what to do.”

Nodding, Tania studied the stadium.  “It’s not easy starting over,” she said quietly.

Ricky exhaled, looking to the lights up above.  He removed his phone from his jacket, unlocked it, and began tapping out a message.

“Ordering takeout?”  Tania asked dryly.

Ricky watched his phone, his finger hovering over the “send” button.

“Rebuilding,” he answered with a satisfied grin.

For some time, they leaned against the center field wall and looked up together, letting the rain ring from above like so many bells.