“Oh,” Mitch said, gazing up at the baseball game on the old TV hanging over the bar. “You’ll never guess who I saw yesterday.”
“Who?” Frank asked, picking at his Cole slaw.
“I don’t know how you can eat that crap.”
“Hey, if I’m paying eight bucks for this meal, I’m eating everything. So who’d you see?”
“Tony Jeffries. Why does that name sound familiar?”
“Former second baseman, played here for a little while.”
“Oh, yeah okay. Didn’t he do something? Something big? I remember hearing his name a lot.”
A man with short blonde hair, holding a large glass with foam hanging over the edge approached the table. He pulled out a chair and sat down.
“Ask Sam about Tony Jeffries,” Mitch said.
Sam frowned. “Why are you talking about that guy?”
Frank gestured to Mitch. “Mitchy saw him yesterday.”
“What? Where’d you see him?”
“It was around Fifth and Walker. He was going into a deli.”
“Jesus. Tony Jeffries. I hadn’t thought of that name in years.”
“What’d he do again, Sam?” Frank asked.
“Are you kidding? Seventh game of the World Series? The error? Tony the Goat? Any of this ringing a bell?”
“Oh, okay, I remember now. I thought he got run out of town. Wasn’t he getting death threats?”
Sam nodded. “He was, and rightfully so.”
“Well, if he left he’s back now,” Mitch said.
Sam picked up his glass and then put it down roughly, some beer dripped out onto the table. “Tony Jeffries. Jesus. That guy ruined my life.”
Mitch laughed. “Aren’t you exaggerating a little there, Sammy?”
“No. He ruined my life, well at least up to that point he did. Picture this: I’m nine years old, the team is my life. We won a record number of games that year. The division was sown up by July, winning the pennant was a joke; the Series should have been a cake walk. Instead, Michaels, our best pitcher gets hit by a line drive in the first inning of game one, he’s out for the series. O’Neal, who was hitting the ball like they were pitching it underhand, goes out with a hamstring, and yet game seven with two outs in the ninth and Hernandez on the mound, all we need to do to win the game is for Jeffries to pick up the ground ball and throw it to first. How hard is that? Instead he throws it away and the floodgates open. We haven’t even sniffed the Series in the twenty years since then.”
“At least you’re not bitter,” Frank said after a moment.
“I wanted to kill that guy. Seriously. Even though I was only a kid, I actually thought about killing him.”
“Hey, if he’s back in town, you might get a chance,” Mitch said.
With a gasp, Sam sat up quickly in bed. He was breathing hard and sweat covered his forehead. He looked around the dark bedroom and then slowly lied down again.
“What is it?” Stephanie mumbled, her face pressed into her pillow.
“Nothing, just go back to sleep.”
She turned on her side and pushed her dark, tangled hair out of her face. “Was it that baseball dream again?”
“Um, no, it was nothing.”
She turned on the lamp on the nightstand next to her and sat up. “Don’t lie, Sam. It was the baseball dream, wasn’t it?”
Sam shook his head but then nodded. “Yeah. I just can’t get this guy out of my head. I told you about the World Series, right? The error he made?”
Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Only about 50 times. Can’t you just let this go? It probably wasn’t even him. Didn’t Mitch claim to see Jessica Simpson last year at a taco stand?”
“Yeah, but in his defense, that guy did look a lot like her. Maybe you’re right.” He started getting out of bed. “I’m not going to be able to sleep for a while, I think I’ll go watch TV, they’re usually showing old games this late.”
“Yeah, go watch a baseball game, that’ll help you sleep,” Stephanie said, sliding back under the sheets.
The doors slid open and Sam walked out into the parking lot. Because he had forgotten to put his hood up, the rain pelted his head and he cursed under his breath. He shifted the heavy paper bags in his hands so he could reach into his pocket for his keys. As he approached his car, he noticed a short, middle-aged man a few rows over.
“Hey!” Sam yelled and headed towards him.
The man didn’t acknowledge him and kept walking. Sam began walking faster.
The man was now opening a car door. Sam dropped the bags and started running.
When Sam reached the man he grabbed his arm and spun him around.
The man had a mustache and a dark complexion and Sam’s angry expression instantly changed to surprise. Looking terrified, the man stared up at him.
“Oh, I’m, I’m sorry,” Sam stuttered. “I thought you were somebody else. Sorry.”
Passing a few puzzled onlookers, Sam quickly picked up his soggy bags and slunk back to his car.
Sam took his golf bag off his shoulder and leaned it against the counter. He hugged Stephanie from behind as she chopped carrots and kissed her cheek.
“Hey, how was your day? You didn’t terrorize any more people at the supermarket, did you?”
Sam smiled. “No, not today.”
“Yeah,” he said, opening the fridge and grabbing a beer. “I think you were right about Jeffries, that probably wasn’t him. I mean, why would he come back after all these years? And even if it was him, so what? It was 20 years ago, I guess it’s not really not that big a deal anymore.”
Stephanie smiled and kissed him. “I’m glad to hear you say that. Oh, could you get that?”
Sam picked up the ringing phone. “Hello?” His smile quickly dropped off his face. “I’ll be right there,” he said and hung up.
“Who was that?” Stephanie asked.
“Mitch. He’s down at that diner on Ninth.”
“What, does he need a ride or something?”
“What is it? Dinner’s going to be ready soon.”
“Yeah, this won’t take long.”
“Sam, what’s going on?”
“Um, okay. Tony Jeffries is down there, can you believe it? He’s there right now eating a corned beef sandwich.” He walked out of the kitchen; Stephanie followed him into the hallway.
“What? Sam, what are you doing? Didn’t you just say you were going to let this go? What happened to ‘it was 20 years ago, it’s no big deal’?”
Sam shook his head. “Steph, you don’t understand.”
“So you’re gonna go down there and do what? Yell at the guy? Beat him up? He’s an old man now, can’t you just leave him alone?”
Sam stopped and turned around.
“Think about this: I’m nine years old, the team is my life. We won a record number of games that year, the division was sown up in July, winning the pennant was a joke, the Series should have been-“
“Just go, Sam,” she said with a sigh. “Call me if you need bail money.”
Sam parked behind an SUV and bolted across the street, narrowly avoiding a honking pickup. The bell over the door rang as he went into the diner.
After a moment he spotted Mitch sitting at a booth and went and sat across from him.
“Okay, where is he?”
“Wow, he’s gained a lot of weight, hasn’t he? And he used to have long hair, remember?” Sam picked up a fork and started bending the flimsy metal. “But that’s definitely him. I’m going over.”
“Wait a second, Sam. You’re not actually going to kill him, are you? I mean, you’re a good friend and everything, but I think I’d be forced to testify.”
Sam noticed the fork in his hand and dropped it on the table. “No, I’m not gonna kill him, but I have to talk to him.”
“What are you going to say?”
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for 20 years, Mitch. He has to know what he did to me, what he did to this town. I have to tell him how that one error caused me to lose faith in humanity, in everything good in the world.”
“He did all that?”
Sam nodded. “Here I go.” He slid out of the booth and headed for Jeffries. “Hey, Tony. Tony Jeff-“
“Jeffries!” A tall man wearing a greasy baseball cap backwards stood up in front of Sam.
Jeffries looked up from his sandwich.
“I knew that was you,” the man continued. “You have some nerve showing your face in this town again.”
Jeffries lowered his eyes and started eating again.
“Hey, Jeffries, picture this: I’m ten years old, I worshipped the team, watched every inning that year, we had the best record in the league, and even with Michaels and O’Neal out, the Series should have been ours. If you just make that one play, that one little play, the game’s over.”
The man began walking over to the table.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself? Huh, Goat?”
Jeffries put down his sandwich and picked up a bottle of ketchup. He stared at it for a second and then in one swift motion cocked his arm back and threw it. It hit the man right between the eyes and with a groan he dropped to the floor.
Jeffries picked up his sandwich again and just before he took a bite, he peered up at Sam. Sam swallowed hard.
“Hey, Tony Jeffries, how are you?” he muttered and quickly turned and went back to Mitch’s table.
“Wow, the guy’s still got an arm,” Mitch said as Sam sat down.
“Yeah. Why couldn’t he have been that accurate 20 years ago?”
“I don’t know, why don’t you go ask him?”
Stepping past the unconscious man — who was now sporting a large red welt on his forehead — a waitress walked over to Jeffries’ table and put down another bottle of ketchup.
“Hey,” Sam said, grabbing an onion ring off Mitch’s plate. “It was 20 years ago, I hardly even think about it anymore.”
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED