The Kid

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Chapter Fourteen

Jason walked into the office that he hadn’t been inside for quite a while, not since he stood in there and held Raven after Daddy had screamed her half to death.

It didn’t look like the owner of the Boston Braves would be screaming that night. He sat comfortably behind his desk, and the expression on his face was very relaxed and content.

Jason was immediately on his guard.

* * *

After he held the door open for Tripplehorne, D.G. walked in and shut it behind himself. He took the last chair and faced his boss and former friend, noting the smug look in Bob’s eyes.

Dennis G. had not seen Robert Germane wear that look very often, and he knew two things immediately, and suspected a third: that Bob had something up his sleeve, that whatever was coming involved a great sum of money...and D.G. had a sudden sinking feeling that he was not going to like it at all.

* * *

For his part, Francis Tripplehorne took his seat, shook hands quickly with Jason to congratulate him on another great game, and then sat back quietly.

He wasn’t sure why he had been called to this war session, or whatever it was, but he was more concerned with his arm, and his future, than whatever foofaraw Robert P. Germane wanted to shower over them all.

Bud reminded himself not to fall asleep in front of his boss and settled in to weather the storm--whatever might be coming.

* * *

The owner of the Boston Braves looked around the room, satisfied himself that all of the pieces were in place, and with a contented sigh, started in. “I’m quite sure that none of you have any idea why you’re here, tonight, but if you give me a little time to explain things I’m sure everything will be clear. Now what I have to say concerns the future, starting with--”

Showing his usual lack of respect, Dennis interrupted. “Just a thought, Bob, but why don’tcha tell your players what a good job they’ve done, winning the first three games like they have? Come to think of it, the whole team might benefit from a few kind words out of the head office.”

* * *

D.G. felt strange--for no reason, he had said that. Not because he really thought it would help, and not because he felt the team really gave a rip about their owner’s opinion--not after all of the time he had treated them all as just cashflow and nothing else.

For just the shortest of moments D.G. recalled being friends with the man once, many lifetimes before. And it saddened him.

But he didn’t stay sad long, braced himself for the rebuke...that didn’t come.

Something was definitely up.

* * *

Robert considered lambasting D.G. for speaking to him like that...but in the end decided it would be easier to agree with the man. Dennis was going to have a lot to swallow as it was--and he needed to keep the team manager in good spirits, didn’t he? “You know, Dennis, you are absolutely right. I do know that I have a responsibility to this ballclub, beyond just providing for you.”

He looked at Tripplehorne and Stiller in turn. “I’ve loved baseball all of my life, and the two of you have provided me with some of the finest sights I think I may have ever seen.” It was amazing even to him, sometimes, how easily lies could come out. He didn’t even have to think about it anymore.

And the best part was, unless a person knew what was true and what was not, they couldn’t really tell if he was lying. He had it down to a science. It was almost fun, sometimes, the way he could get inside people’s minds. “And that’s no lie, gentlemen. I suppose I’ve been a little distracted--but things have worked out nicely. The money troubles we’ve been skirting for a long time, the clouds have opened up and a whole raft of sunshine has come down upon us.

“We’re going to be taken care of, the Braves are about to come into serious funds, and then I can sit back and just enjoy great baseball for the next decade. I’m telling you, it’s going to be something.”

* * *

Jason didn’t know Robert P. very well, though perhaps as well as anyone around...either way, when he caught a look square into the man’s eyes, when he managed to collect a little bit of what lay there, waiting to be exposed...

It gave him chills. Something in this room was very, very wrong, and suddenly Jason wished he could just run, find a place to hide, a place of safety.

But Germane had neatly trapped him--in more ways than one, he was sure of it, he could feel it--and all he could do was hang on.

* * *

Well now, “The Kid” looked pretty scared. Almost like he was cornered.

Good.

This was more-or-less entirely about him anyway.

“Let’s put baseball aside for a moment and lay the ground rules. Are we all agreed that as far as the chain of command goes, Robert Germane is listed on top?”

No answers meant no arguments. Excellent.

“Well then. I hope it is then understood that as the head of this family, what I have to say goes, and if you don’t like the rules, the orders, you’re free to leave--” he looked at Jason and D.G. in turn, “--and I’ll just deal with that.

“You all should know me well enough to figure that I have a backup plan in case what I have to say frightens any of you. If anyone in this room decides he can’t face up to orders, decides to cut bait...that’ll be just fine.”

* * *

What in tarnation was the man going on about? D.G. felt fear like a shadow clutching at his heart.

The Braves. It had something to do with his Braves.

Not for the first time, Dennis G. Muldowney wished desperately that he knew how to pray.

* * *

“I can assure you, gentlemen, that you are not at all going to like the plan I’m about to lay out. But if you are willing to think of your careers, of the long-term benefits, maybe things won’t seem so bad after all.” Robert faced down the three musketeers--wondering to himself if they would indeed act as one. These boys were thick as thieves sometimes, especially since the troubles had been cleared up...and he had a feeling that whoever the leader was out of the three strong personalities returning his gaze, the one who led would probably be followed.

That was the one difficulty, in Bob’s opinion. At one time he would have simply addressed Dennis, knowing anybody else on the Braves would fall in line.

But this kid...he did his own thing, worked to his own benefit.

Robert P. Germane could respect that. Reminded him of himself. “Here’s the long and short of it, gentlemen.

“Tom Kravitz, the owner of the New York Mets, has made a deal with me concerning the rest of this Series. As you surely know, the World Series games are attended by the most people, listened to on the most radio sets, and generate more money than any sport on this earth. The World Series is the ripest plum when it comes to money-making sports.

“And the three of you are well aware of how much I like making money.” His smile was almost wolfish, and completely unashamed.

* * *

For some reason D.G. had a premonition, understood exactly what was going on, and his mind filled with memories of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Chicago White Sox and that terrible scandal back in 1929.

It was about to happen all over again, he could somehow sense it.

Oh God, Dennis thought, he can’t...he can’t!

* * *

The look in his manager’s eyes didn’t slow Bob down for a moment. “I can see that Dennis has already thought ahead and figured out where I’m going. I might as well lay it on the table: you are all here tonight so that you can understand how Tom Kravitz, myself and the three of you are going to work together to make certain the outcome of this year’s World Series.”

* * *

It took Jason a moment to comprehend, not because he wasn’t intelligent enough to get it...but because the thought, the possibility was so amazingly unbelievable to him.

Bob was going to force them to throw the Series?

All Jason had ever really wanted to do with his life was waiting in the coming game...and now the owner of the team, the father of the woman he loved, this awful man had all of The Kid’s dreams in his big, cold hands.

And he was twisting very hard.

Jason wanted to protest, wanted to say something, but his voice refused to work.

* * *

“Nothing to say, Stiller? That’s a first.” Bob sat back, making sure nobody was going to interrupt him with a diatribe on the sanctity of baseball and the ‘right thing to do’ and all of that nonsense.

Apparently not. Such a surprise. “Tom and I worked it out--on paper, no less, I’ll show you the figures if you really want--and I’m sure you all know that the point spread for the Braves is pretty high. Everyone in the country believes that we’ll win that fourth game tomorrow. How could we not, with our star hitter?”

Jason’s unbelieving expression didn’t change. Some people just couldn’t take compliments. “But what the country doesn’t know is that our star hitter is going to have a little trouble with his game. Call it what you wish, Jason, make it the flu, a broken arm, girl trouble--” their eyes met briefly, “--I don’t care, but you are going to help me and Tom out on this one.

“The Braves will just barely lose tomorrow, and Friday, and Saturday...and then they’ll lose very big on Sunday. I know it’ll be a blow to your pride, and believe it or not I can appreciate that.” The smile was gone but the elation in his features refused to be hidden away. He was so clever when he really got down to it. “But we will all make an enormous profit by the end of this week--and then next year? You’ll get to the Series again. You’ll get another chance.

“Your career will be set for life, Kid. You said you wanted to be a team player.” Bob removed his horn-rimmed glasses, wiping them on his shirtcuff. “Now is your chance to prove that.” He sat back in his chair and waited, knowing that at least two of the men in the room would have something to say in a righteously angry fashion.

Let them speak their piece...he was prepared.

It looked like his manager would go first.

He would be the easier to control, of the two men in the room that had consciences.

* * *

“After all the years we’ve worked together, Robert Germane, I cannot believe what that cock-a-whoop brain of yours is capable of. No,” D.G. corrected himself, “It’s not your head that’s so frightening, it’s your heart. I swear that thing must be as black as pitch.”

“What does the condition of my heart have to do with anything, Dennis?”

“Just this, now that you ask--I will not be a part of what you’ve got planned. If you want to cheat, if you want to spread a black stain over America’s national pastime, you can do it without me.” D.G. stood up, full of vim and vigor, knowing he was doing the right thing.

If he had been smart, he realized later, he would have left then, before Bob got a chance to say a word.

* * *

“That is exactly my point, Muldowney. I can do this without you.” He caught his manager’s eyes, and they stared at one another for a full minute.

And in the end, Robert knew Dennis wouldn’t leave. He didn’t even have to say it, if only because they knew each other so well.

Dennis G. Muldowny was dependent on the Braves. Dependent on baseball. Just like Tripplehorne. Just like the snot-nosed Kid. And he might have to explain it to Jason, take him through things step-by-step, but D.G. understood. If he left, if he walked away from the Braves, he would never...ever...be a part of baseball again.

“Willing to give up your dreams, Dennis?” He might have to pull out all the stops with Jason Stiller, but this old man wasn’t going anywhere. Not that it would hurt to offer a little candy. “You’ll get your Series trophy, my friend. I promise that. Just not this year.”

* * *

D.G. locked eyes with Bob for a long time...but in the end he had been beaten when he walked into the room, and they both knew it.

Life wasn’t anything if baseball wasn’t involved. He loved his wife and daughters, and maybe he loved baseball more, and maybe that was too much.

But they were his dreams, weren’t they? He couldn’t...couldn’t just let them go. And they both knew it.

“Blast you, Germane.” Dennis G. Muldowney sat down and put his face in his hands.

* * *

One down. “Bud, you have anything you wish to say at this point?” He’d save the real challenge for last.

* * *

The way Bud figured it, if he played along that meant that Bob Germane had to be nice to him...or else. And that meant staying on with the Braves, arm or no arm.

It was not a difficult decision to make. “You know me, Bob, I follow orders.” Not that he felt very good about it...

* * *

Excellent. They were almost through. “And what about you, young man?”

Robert had thought long and hard about how to present the news to Jason Stiller. He had been keeping more of an eye on the boy than anybody realized, and after the months The Kid had been in Boston, Robert P. had him pretty well figured out.

As far as the owner of the Braves could work out, Jason Stiller had three weak points: his pride, his past...and a certain young lady.

Robert knew how to appeal to a man’s pride, had more information than Jason did about the past...

And he was not in the least squeamish about using his own daughter as leverage.

However, he would have to play it carefully. Whether the boy was aware of it or not, Jason Stiller could be quite dangerous to him.

Robert P. Germane was banking on the fact that The Kid didn’t know that.

* * *

Jason felt exactly the same way as his manager...and while he and Bob stared at one another, gave himself a full minute to consider why.

A sense of decency? Good moral character?

What was it Bob was asking...just that he cheat, that he deliberately play a bad game--four bad games, rather--and in the end there would be just compensation.

Just? Jason repeated the word to himself. It wasn’t just, any of it. It would be horrible sportsmanship...and what would the people think, anyway? How bad would he look if he suddenly stopped being able to hit?

He held onto that and set forth to do battle. “Absolutely not, Mr. Germane, and I’ll tell you why.

“It took a very long time to convince your manager, this team, and the people of Boston that I belonged out here. You believed in me from the start, I still have that letter which brought me out here for spring training,” and Bob’s eyes narrowed at the mention of it, as a strange and quickly hidden smile danced across his face, “but it took a lot of work to be accepted by everyone else around here.

“I just can’t do it to them, Mr. Germane. Besides the fact that it’s completely wrong,” and he looked hard into the other man’s eyes, “I have an agreement with every fan that pays their hard-earned money to come through the stadium turnstiles.

“And that agreement is that since they’ve paid to see me play, I play the best doggoned game I can. I’m sorry, but I refuse to help you out tonight.”

Then he sat back, feeling pretty good about himself, although he was certain the struggle was not over.

* * *

By no means. Dennis could tell that Robert P. was just getting warmed up. He figured he couldn’t make Jason’s decision for him, but he might be able to encourage him a little.

“That’s telling him, Kid.”

* * *

D.G.’s interruption notwithstanding, Jason was following the script he didn’t know existed to the very letter. Robert knew a little something about baseball, and he had decided his first pitch would be a nice, soft floater...and The Kid had already swung at it early and missed. “Jason, you must believe me--I care about the fans, the devotees of this ballclub even more than you.” There was an extremely rude noise from the manager’s chair but the owner went on regardless. “Not just because their money, that money we’re all agreed I’m so fond of, pays for the Braves to exist.

“Jason,” and he began to turn on the charm, the warmth, that he kept in a special box until it was needed, “I’ve been attending games at this stadium for the past fifty-three years. In truth it hurts me deep inside to make this decision.

“But think of the future, Jason. I know none of us want to be in this place, none of us want to put a stain on the sport that we love,” and his voice dripped honey now, salve to the open wounds, “but I swear to you that it will all be worthwhile. Get this nasty week behind us and the next decade, or two, or three for the Boston Braves will make baseball history.

“It’s just four games, Jason. Make it through the next four games, and you can look ahead happily to four thousand.

“I’m willing to trade the unhappiness of this Series against the joy of winning perhaps the next dozen. You’re a star, Jason, a shooting star...” and his voice dropped down low, as Robert used up all the sincerity he had ever known, “and we will get ’em next year.”

It was a fairly critical moment, and if Dennis decided to step in and wake the Kid up--the older men knew each other too well for the sincerity to stick--then things might take a nasty turn.

But D.G. had closed his eyes, apparently pretending he wasn’t even there.

Excellent.

* * *

The trick didn’t work the way Robert expected. Jason was intelligent enough to know beyond any doubt that he was being bamboozled. He wasn’t hogtied by the man’s words.

But his resolve weakened...just a touch. It seemed like maybe the honey-dripped words made a little sense.

* * *

Robert could see it in his eyes, could see the boy weaken. It was time for a curveball to keep him off balance. Suddenly he acted unsure, almost pleading. “Jason, you think I’m a bad father, don’t you?”

* * *

“Huh?” The question caught him broadside, as was intended.

“Tell me the truth.”

“Well, yes, I suppose I do.” Now that he had been challenged something rose in him, a remembered anger and mistrust that had festered for quite a while...not that he knew what was going on.

* * *

Like clockwork. He had to give The Kid a hand, for being so especially predictable. Now that he had changed strides, Robert gave off a slight air of concern and wounded pride. “You’re probably lumping this latest mess in with all the other things you’ve decided about me over the season.

“You can’t see that I love my daughter, you refuse to believe that I’m doing what’s best for the team.” Slowly he let a hard edge come into his voice, the former honey replaced with freezing ice. “As far as your sacrosanct morals and values are concerned, what I’ve asked of you is completely and utterly wrong, is that not so?”

* * *

Jason felt his confusion growing, but grabbed for what he was certain was the right answer. “Yes, sir, I have to say that I do and it is so.”

“What gives you the right to judge me, Stiller?”

It was an innocent enough question, perhaps, but Jason saw a sudden light in the eyes of his boss. Robert Germane knew something he didn’t.

* * *

“Mind if I tell you a little something about yourself?”

Hmm, apparently the boy was speechless. Thinking about it, Robert realized he rather liked that. “I’ve heard you talking for the past months about your terrible father.

“About the man who refused to grieve your mother’s death, who went about life as if everything was fine, who never loved you or her or anybody. Isn’t that right?”

There was a response, but it was slow and quiet and very confused. “What does my father have to do with any of this?”

The owner of the Braves continued almost merrily. “Not much, I suppose, unless you think you have a right to denounce me as a bad person. Unless you think you can set a moral standard for the group here that I should match.

“Do you know why you got to come out here for spring training?”

* * *

All of a sudden the world made no sense whatsoever. Jason looked to his manager, to his fellow teammate, and they seemed as mystified as himself.

Small comfort. “I sent a letter to the Braves asking for a chance, and you wrote back giving me that chance.”

“Provided the money for the train and everything.”

“Yeah.” At least one thing that had always seemed a bit out of sorts--his tryout with the team--was apparently going to be explained. However, Jason had a terrible feeling that he wouldn’t enjoy learning the truth.

* * *

My, but this was enjoyable. He had wanted to get this boy off-balance for months. “Did it ever seem a little strange to you, that of all the ballclubs you sent letters to, as well as the fact that nobody ever got their big chance through such a cock-a-mamie stunt like letter writing, didn’t it seem odd that I, Robert P. Germane, skinflint and tightwad that I am, would send for you and pay your way here sight unseen?”

Obviously it had. “Well?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’ve never asked me about it. You’ve never brought the subject to light--what was the explanation you decided upon, if one may ask?”

The answer was slow. “I figured you believed me when I said I could really hit.”

Robert laughed. “Nobody’s arguing that you really can hit, Mr. Stiller, otherwise we wouldn’t be here tonight. But a nice, handwritten letter from a nobody, from some inbred, corn-fed hayseed like yourself didn’t move me any further than the distance from my desk to the wastebasket.”

* * *

Now all Jason wanted was an escape, from the insults and whatever nastiness lurked on the horizon. “So why am I here, then?” he asked quietly, bracing for the answer.

* * *

“You are here because the day after I received a letter from you, I received a letter from Fred Stiller.”

“My...father?”

It was just beautiful. The boy couldn’t be more loopy if he’d been in a boxing ring. “That’s what he said, son, and that wasn’t all.

“He indicated his concern for your baseball dreams, and he seemed to realize how foolish it was for you to write letters to the clubs--didn’t it ever occur to you to maybe try out for the bush leagues? Even the minors?”

“I wrote letters to everybody.” The voice was very quiet, almost ashamed.

Robert shook his head. “What I know of baseball I could fit into an ashtray, but even I know you didn’t have a chance with that ploy. So did your father.” He stopped there, made the boy prompt him.

“And?”

“And he offered me five thousand dollars if I’d just send a scout, have somebody come and watch you play baseball for Smackey’s hardware. Said he had seen you play, that it was worth a look, and whether or not I agreed with him, he’d make it worth my while.”

* * *

The news was so shocking, so surprising, so unbelievable ... and yet it explained so much.

It explained why he had gotten his chance sight unseen. It hadn’t been sight unseen.

As well as confused, Jason felt downright idiotic. He should’ve known the letter-writing had no chance, why couldn’t he have just tried out for the minor leagues and taken his lumps?

Because if he couldn’t be the best...

Bob continued over Jason’s self-torture. “The offer was so generous, why I felt magnanimous and came out myself to take a look. If I remember correctly you hit five home runs that fall afternoon, and after thinking about it over the holidays I decided that it was worth giving you a shot.

“After all,” and Bob smiled again in the way that chilled the blood to see, “one ticket from Nowhere to Boston was easily covered by your father’s donation to the Braves.”

“You actually took the money.” As soon as it was out of his mouth, Jason wondered why he was surprised.

Apparently so did his boss. “How long have you known me? Grow up, Kid. And while you’re at it,” getting back to his point, “You can put a lid on how you think I should treat this ballclub, my daughter, or anybody else.

“As far as I can tell, you should have just as guilty a conscience as I.”

* * *

“The question...” and now Robert leaned in, ready to deliver his final pitch, “is whether or not you find your conscience as easy to soothe as I do mine.” He found he couldn’t read the look in The Kid’s eyes, and that troubled him slightly.

But in the end, if you knew where to push, every man, especially a snot-nosed, wet-behind-the-ears-of-corn punk like his star hitter, had his weak spots.

Robert P. Germane planned to push very hard. “Since they probably don’t have a lot of math where you come from, I’ll make the equation nice and easy for you.” He leaned in and looked the boy right in those unreadable eyes. “You have two choices.

“If you do what I want, it may be a hard week to finish out but I promise, I give you my word that after the season is over all your dreams will come true.

“You’ll get to play baseball for as long as you wish, have whatever perks or bad habits you want--nobody in the history of baseball has ever had as nice a career as you will.

“There will be autographs and applause until you can’t stand it, you’ll have a house or two out in the country, a nice, shiny fleet of automobiles...heck, I’ll even spring for the phone books you’ll need to put on the driver’s seats so that you can look over the steering wheel.” The insult failed to change the look on The Kid’s face. “You will have any and everything your heart desires.” Waiting a long moment, Robert felt the smile on his face growing.

It was a marvelous offer, truly it was. Especially the last part. “Including my permission and encouragement to court my daughter.”

* * *

Jason tried desperately not to let the impact of those words show on his face and failed. Cursing himself, he saw Bob’s grin widen. The man knew exactly where the weak spots were, and he was stomping them into the ground.

Raven. He couldn’t think about her now. Telling his heart to be still, if at all possible, Jason threw a barb of his own in hopes that he might survive the attack. “You’re the master of all you survey, Bob, why can’t you just give me her hand in marriage?” Maybe Germane would show a little weakness himself.

* * *

Did the boy expect to rattle him? Now, in his triumph?

“I can, if you’d like. The only reason I did not is because I expected a sermon on how Raven has a mind of her own.

“Let me assure you, my daughter understands when things are in her best interests. I’m sure she would be much happier with you than with some old, rich friend of her father’s.”

* * *

At those words such an anger rose inside Jason Stiller that it frightened him...but rather than lunge over the desk at his boss, rather than shout or throw things, he shut his eyes against the pain, against the fear, begging the God he didn’t know to help him out somehow.

“Like I’ve said, Jason, if you help me out--you get everything you’ve ever wanted. Including her.”

Now the other side of the coin. “If you refuse...well, son, I can’t have people working for me that I don’t trust. You can understand that.

“And not only will you no longer be a member of the Boston Braves, I will also make it a personal mission to see that you never, ever play baseball again. Not in the majors, not in the minors, not in the bush leagues, not in the garage league, not in any Iowa field. You will never, ever stand behind home plate again.

“And that beautiful daughter of mine will marry the oldest, meanest, most disagreeable man I can come up with.”

Was there no end to the evil of this horrible person?

“I’ll make her life miserable as well. Think about that when you’re making your decision.”

It was monstrous. Everything Jason held onto in life, it was all crumbling in his fingers, and the only man he really trusted around Boston had already given up, had already let Robert P. Germane walk all over him.

* * *

D.G. sat in his chair wishing to be anywhere in the world but that room.

He was hating himself for not speaking up, angry with himself for not saying a word to help Jason, ashamed that he had let Bob win so easily...

But he didn’t have the courage to fight the thing, not anymore.

Therefore he did not speak up, did not say a word to help Jason, and let Bob win.

* * *

“If it helps your decision any, Stiller...she most certainly does love you.”

...The Kid hadn’t thought, hadn’t dreamed the night could be more painful.

She loves me?

Not that Jason trusted the judgment of Robert P. Germane as far as he could throw the man--hmph, there was a thought--but the possibility meant so very much to him...

Jason Stiller sighed with the weight of it all, no longer caring if Bob saw his weakness or not. The man knew it existed.

The Kid leaned forward, putting his head in his hands.

* * *

Somehow, Robert reflected, he just had that effect on people. Time to wrap things up. “So your decision has been laid out for you. You’ve got the evening to think it over--you don’t even have to tell me what you decide,” as if he didn’t already know how things would roll, “just make it plain with your batting performance tomorrow night.”

And if they all needed a bit more incentive to do the smart thing...the owner of the Braves selected a paper from his desk drawer and laid it on the polished wood where they could all see it. “These are the gambling figures, gentlemen--I told you it had been worked out, didn’t I?

“Tom and I have thrown all our available capital into this venture, into a number of large bets placed on the suddenly world class New York team. That number on the bottom--that is approximately how much money this venture will make. Subtract ten percent for Tom Kravitz since he doesn’t have to do any real work or take any real risk, and what’s left will be split three ways.

“One-third for the Braves, one-third for yours truly, and one-third split between the three of you.”

Dennis had apparently found his tongue. “I don’t want a red cent from you, Germane.”

“Ah, thank you, Dennis. Well then, Mr. Stiller, you and Mr. Tripplehorne get to split a third. That makes one-sixth for you.”

When the boy met his eyes, it was obvious The Kid was trying very hard to keep a lid on his emotions. Bob reminded himself to be careful, it wouldn’t do to push too hard. “We don’t have a lot of math where I come from, sir.”

“Have Dennis work it out on paper for you. He’s a smart man.” A last look at Muldowney...and yes, they understood one another.

Things could not have gone better. “That was all I had, gentlemen. You are dismissed.”

* * *

And then Bob turned away as if they weren’t even there.

Jason felt the anger rising in him again, backed by a wall of shame and despair...he picked up the paper with the large and tantalizing sum of money listed at the bottom and crumpled it in one fist, imagining what he could do to Robert P. Germane with the tensed, strong muscles in his arms...

Then he felt D.G.’s hand at his shoulder. And he shoved the paper into a pocket, allowed the hateful fantasy to drift away, and followed his manager and friend out of the owner’s office.

* * *

Without a word exchanged between them all three slowly walked the length of the corridor, down the stairs, around the bend and into the Braves’ clubhouse.

It was deserted, all the other players having gone home to celebrate their continued good fortune.

D.G. wondered how things would go, the next few days--he couldn’t imagine Jason doing anything else but what Bob wanted. And how would his teammates take that, just rolling over and letting the Mets win?

The team might just be destroyed by it. Not that Bob cared. He could afford to buy a dozen new teams, couldn’t he?

D.G. sighed. He had seen the bottom line on the whole illegal transaction...and yes, Bob would easily be able to afford a dozen new teams.

He felt so ashamed and wished he knew of something to tell the Kid, some way to make it better. Make it easier, somehow.

It was Bud Tripplehorne that broke the silence. “Kid, do you know why Bob had me in that office?”

Jason’s face was ashen, and his voice dull--the sound of a man who was so inundated with his worst fears that he had gone numb. “What?”

Bud flexed his arm, looking like what he had to say would be difficult. “Just now, when we sat in there listening to Bob throwing horse manure around like it was gold. You’ll notice that he didn’t try to convince me to cheat in these games?”

“Yes.” The Kid looked like he was thinking. “Seems a little strange, now that I think about it.” It didn’t sound like he really cared, though.

“Bob’s pretty smart, and he’s observant to boot. Somehow he’s picked up on the fact...the fact that I can’t pitch worth nothing anymore.”

D.G. heard more pain in Tripplehorne’s voice than he could have imagined...was everything difficult and nasty in the world going to be dragged into the open?

“He didn’t need me to be there so I could promise to do a bad job. He knows full well that even if I go out and do my best tomorrow, and Friday, and Saturday...I still can’t beat the Mets--not anymore.”

Jason’s voice was flat in the clubhouse stillness. “So why were you there?”

“Way I figure it, Germane thinks that I have some influence over you. He had me in there as insurance, in case Deeg decided to talk you out of things or you got your own head in the matter.

“He thinks I can help you make up your mind.”

With a sigh, the rookie leaned against the wall. “So go ahead, already. Not like you could make things worse.”

“I only have one thing to say, Jason. I’m gonna be watching to see whether or not you do what’s right.”

* * *

For a long moment Jason let that sentence bounce around in his brain, until it registered--and then he wondered if he had mistaken Tripplehorne somehow. “Huh?”

Bud said it again. “I’ve got my eye on you, and I’m hoping you’ll figure out the right thing to do.”

* * *

Now it looked like The Kid had a bit of interest in his surroundings again. “Why?”

Bud coughed. “I dunno, Jason. Maybe because you seem to have life a little better worked out than I do. Maybe for no reason.” Looking uncomfortable, Bud got to his feet and said his goodnights, leaving the clubhouse behind.

The manager of the Braves was still searching desperately for words of wisdom, of comfort, of anything...

“Do you think he was telling the truth?”

“What’d you say, Kid?”

“Do you think he was telling the truth?”

“Who? Tripplehorne?”

Jason sighed again. “Robert, about my father and the five grand.”

D.G. thought about it for a moment. “I couldn’t say--but why would he lie?”

After that The Kid sat looking at nothing for the longest minute...and then like lightning he stood bolt upright. “See you later, Mr. Muldowney.”

“You--what? Kid, where are you going?”

He was grabbing his jacket and moving quickly. “I’ve got a train to catch.”

Somehow D.G. both understood and was completely mystified. “You ever coming back?”

Jason stopped, as manager and player regarded one another. Finally he shook his head. “I don’t know.”

And then he was gone.

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