The Kid

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Chapter Nineteen

The sound of it, the strike of ash versus horsehide was heard for miles.

Thousands of eyes followed the white sphere as it rose. Jason had put everything he had into the swing, knowing it to be his last, and the ball was still rising when it disappeared.

If they had cheered before, if they had stomped and shouted only moments ago...the crowd of baseball fans were deafening then, all but two of them--the respective owners of both teams--on their feet, jubilant at the sheer triumph, the wonder of what they had just seen. The stadium shook with the noise of it.

Out on the grass, the Mets in the outfield that had been given no chance to catch The Kid’s strike started drifting in, the game over. Shady Jeffries shook his head, looking impressed. Sammy Washington jumped up and down on second base for a moment, and then started a triumphant strut to third, heading for home, waving to the crowd and expecting that Jason would begin his own long walk as well.

And then people started noticing that something was not quite right.

For Jason, it was like time stretched out--later he would be able to remember everything, every last moment and sound as if it had been mimeographed across his mind. Once he had seen his final homer disappear over the far wall, once the cheers began, The Kid had quietly stepped back from the plate, doffing his blue batting helmet, letting it fall unregarded to the ground.

There was something he was supposed to do, after such a hit; a formality, really. He had done it so many times--a stray thought recalled the first time, when he had cartwheeled out of sheer joy all the way to first base...so long ago.

Not that night.

As the crowd realized that the usual day-follows-night sort of ritual was being broken, that the home run hitter had not started trotting his happy way around the bases, the cheering slowed and dropped considerably in volume, in a wave from the seats behind home plate around the sides of the park, until everything became very quiet.

The Kid was still holding the bat, it was still warm in his hands. He let it drop to the ground. It didn’t matter anymore.

“Hey, uh, isn’t there something you should be doing?” It was the catcher for the Braves, Jason couldn’t remember his name and didn’t acknowledge the question.

Staring hard at the little white line that led to first base, and from there to second, and third...Jason knew that just one step in that direction would lead to another, until he couldn’t stop.

But that wasn’t the plan. For better or worse, Robert P. Germane had taken that away from him...and so Jason “The Kid” Stiller turned away from the enticing path.

Forever.

In the absolute stillness that had enveloped the stadium, the awful, heart-wracking sob that burst out of him echoed off the back wall.

Then he gathered his courage and strength one last time, and straightened, and started walking. Not towards first base, but away, in the direction of his team’s dugout.

His walk was the center of attention. Thousands upon thousands of people sat as if frozen, unable to take their eyes off him, and the thought that was running through every mind was so strong as to almost be audible.

He didn’t run the bases.

There was an indelible breach of code being committed, as if the sun had decided to go from west to east just for fun. Something was terribly wrong at Three Rivers Stadium.

He didn’t run the bases.

By the time he reached home, Sammy’s strut was greatly subdued; he stood on the plate itself and looked from the catcher to the umpire, wondering what was going on.

He didn’t run the bases.

Shady Jeffries, who had started away from the mound, intending to shake The Kid’s hand, was still, halfway between his perch and home plate, as confused and uncertain as everyone else in the stadium.

He didn’t run the bases...

It was so quiet...Jason could hear his feet scuffing the grass, could hear the legs of his pants brushing against one another.

Then his feet slapped concrete, down four steps into the dugout, where a gaggle of his closest friends gaped at him. He stopped by the dearest to him, looking his manager in the eyes for a long moment. He was remembering a great many things that night...and it came to mind that another time, long past, he had stood in that dugout hoping his manager would praise him for a job well done. He didn’t know if that praise would still apply. It was just something else that wasn’t so important anymore.

The manager of the Boston Braves looked like he had a thousand things he might say--and was stuck, trying to decide which one went first.

Jason looked at him, and smiled. “See you around, Deeg.”

The entire world seemed so amazed, so stunned, so disbelieving of what had happened that nobody moved or spoke or did anything as Jason turned, walked past the Braves one and all, through the clubhouse...and was gone.

* * *

Like the breaking of a magic spell, the crowd turned to one another, murmuring and then talking and then shouting for some answers. For some explanations.

Sitting in his seat in his stadium, having just seen the most talented player on his ballteam hit the winning run and then walk away, Robert P. Germane sat aghast, just trying to take it all in.

Had they just won the game? Had they lost? Was the game even over? Nobody seemed to be playing anymore, but then noboby seemed to know what to do.

How could the boy walk away like that? He had been offered everything, everything in the world that he wanted...and he had pushed it aside.

For about a minute Robert P. considered that, realizing somehow just how free Jason Stiller had the right to feel. Nothing whatsoever had a hold on him. For about a minute Robert P. was deeply jealous.

Then he remembered his daughter, the daughter who was not sitting next to him.

* * *

Jason had stuck to the plan, and now he was on his way, if all had gone well, and she could go meet him and leave the life of slavery behind.

Raven wiped her eyes and allowed herself just a quick moment to feel how much she loved her man.

It was one quick moment too many, as her father looked around, and up. And then he found her.

For just a moment their eyes met, and that instant spoke volumes.

Then Raven turned and ran for her life.

* * *

Down in the dugout, the Nationally Certified Since 1903 Boston Braves were staring at one another, utterly aghast and agape at what they had just seen.

“Did he--”

“I don’t believe--”

“Did anybody else see--”

“Deeg, why did he do that?” Bud Tripplehorne’s authoritative question cut through the growing talk. Everyone turned to look at Dennis G.

He didn’t know what to say. Still feeling more than a little shocked, and wondering how anybody could have had the strength, the iron will to turn and walk away from their hard-earned glory...he wanted to be proud and enraged at Jason all at the same time.

Bud’s question might have meant the deeper situation, the one none of the rest of the Braves knew about, but D.G. didn’t feel like speaking towards that. “I don’t know, Bud. I’m not sure the game’s over.” Come to think of it, did they even have a rule for not running the bases? He wasn’t even sure. “Brice, go into my office, get my rulebook. Conroy, go find the Commissioner, he should be up in the pressbox.

“Tell him I’m on my way. We’ll get this all straightened out.”

Then the manager of the Braves sat down on his seat once more, rubbing his hand across his face, wondering how the boy could have done such a thing to him.

* * *

Dodging the seemingly endless throng of people that had nothing better to do than stand around and discuss how a baseball player could avoid running around the bases, Raven sped down the hall as fast as her feet and propriety would let her, trying to avoid bumping into more than two people every passing second.

She knew he was behind her somewhere but couldn’t look. Couldn’t stop to wonder where or how it was all going to turn out. There was a plan, or there had been, before she had gotten careless, and she needed to see things through no matter what.

The women’s lavatory on the lowest level, the small one near the clubhouse, had a bag crammed full of last-minute things that were all she had to start a new life with. Raven knew it was foolish, unnecessary, but she had spent an hour arguing Jason into letting her bring that and so had to stop for it.

Thankfully the duffel was still where she had left it. Grabbing it, she turned and pushed her way back out of the bathroom door almost before it had swung closed again.

And Raven stopped dead in the middle of the corridor, as her father reached the bottom of the stairs that led back outside, back to the free world.

“RAVEN!”

She had seen him angry before...or thought she had. This was a level of violent rage that was completely new and utterly frightening.

Caught by surprise, the young lady with the striking green eyes let out a squeak of fear--and began hightailing it in the other direction.

She would have to go through the Braves’ locker room, and a distant bit of her mind brought up, as she ran, that doing so meant going through absolutely forbidden territory...

But everything she was now doing had been forbidden. So who cared.

She banged through a doorway she had never been through before, and wasted several seconds running around lockers, looking for the exit to the stadium. The place was eerily quiet, not a soul to be seen.

Her father came through the Clubhouse door just as she found the one leading to the dugout.

* * *

The Braves, to a man, were still sitting where they had been. D.G. had just gotten up to go talk to the Commissioner and figure out what was going to happen next--when Raven Germane burst out of the door leading to the clubhouse, running right past them all, up the concrete steps and away across the infield.

As they all looked at one another, wondering if the day would get any stranger, the owner of the Braves slammed through the same door, and there was dangerous fire in his eyes.

Dennis G. Muldowney somehow instantly understood what was taking place, and decided in that same instant that he would help Raven if he possibly could.

So he stepped right in Bob’s way, daring the man to knock him down.

And thusly was he knocked down, as Bob Germane went through him as if he wasn’t there. That got Dutch and Bud more upset, and they tried to grab the team owner before he could get away. They managed to slow him for a second or two and then he broke free and disappeared, still chasing her.

D.G. hoped fervently that she would beat him.

* * *

Due to shock, or perhaps the question of whether or not the game was really over, Raven found that almost everybody was still waiting in their seats, and she herself was relatively alone as she pounded through the front doors of the stadium, down the seven wide steps, waving at the nearest taxi as if her arms were on fire.

The cabdriver knew a fare when he saw one, and wasted no time getting around the front of his rig and slipping into the driver’s seat. “You’re in a tizzy, ain’tcha?”

“Boston Station, and please hurry.” She was looking through the back window even as the cab started moving, sure that...yes, she was still being chased, the owner of the Braves, her father, still hot on her tail.

She saw him hailing his own taxi, and encouraged the driver again to hurry, and sat back against the seat, trying to catch her breath so that she would able to use it to pray.

* * *

It was very late that night when Dennis G. finally got home. His wife had been at the game, watching with Missy Tripplehorne and Sally Cattan, but when The Kid threw everything into a frenzy, after awhile it didn’t look like there was going to be any more game, at least not that night...so she had gone home.

Dennis was glad of his wife, glad she was waiting up for him. Glad she knew that her husband was likely having a hard evening.

For a long while he just held her, let her rub his back, feeling how tired he was.

He heard her voice under his chin. “So how did everything turn out, in the end?”

Such an understanding woman, letting him talk about the normal, everyday things. Letting him work up to the difficult, deeper questions.

Taking off his jacket, feeling the Kid’s gift package still inside the right pocket, D.G. sighed, wondering what had happened to everything he understood. Especially baseball. He had been fairly sure he understood baseball, that the game couldn’t come up with any more surprises.

She held his hand as they sat on the couch. D.G. chewed on the inside of his cheek, trying to recall how the whole mess had been ironed out. “Well, I tell you. The Commissioner had himself a pickle on his hands, and no mistake.

“After the boy decided not to run around the bases, the entire game kinda ground to a halt, and after a little incident in the dugout--” he might tell her about Raven and Bob, but not just yet, “--I went up to talk to Wes Hurrand.” He meant the Commissioner, but since Gertie had met the man, he knew she understood. “Gary Simms, the manager of the Mets, showed up soon after.

“It took us several minutes just to come to the conclusion that we weren’t all dreaming--that a sane, healthy American boy had just hit a home run and then decided he didn’t want to run the bases.”

“Isn’t there a rule about that?”

D.G. sighed again. The Kid had managed to create the biggest confusion possible...he couldn’t imagine it was by accident. “Well, you’d think so, wouldn’t you?

“We all got out our rulebooks and started looking, while the game and the fans and the players all waited on us...and things got worse as we looked at the official regulations.” He stopped then, and asked for a glass of water, and patiently she got it for him. He sipped at it, having just realized a very dry throat. “Thanks. Anyway, uh, we found a lot of rules, and some of them were about the baserunning.

“There’s a rule about passing another player when you’re both running the bases. There’s a rule about running the bases out of order...there’s even a rule about running the bases backwards, if you can believe it...”

“But no rule about not running the bases at all?”

“No rule about not running the bases at all.”

Gertie tilted her head. “I would expect the Commissioner to label Jason’s act under running the bases out of order.”

D.G. sighed. “It got a lot more complicated than that. See, we were down by one run, and Jason’s hit was a homer, and Sammy was on second...let me explain it like this.

“There ended up being three camps on this call. The first camp, the one I was heading up, said that running the bases after a home run is just a formality, look at all the guys over the years that have just taken their sweet time doing it, so both Sammy and Jason’s run counted and we won the game.

“The second league, which Gary Simms was in charge of, said that Jason’s not running the bases meant that he was out, and Sammy was also out, and that made three outs and game over and the Mets won.”

How in the world could such a simple game have become so confusing? Dennis G. wondered, not even finished explaining the possibilities. “And the third camp, and I don’t know who came up with this, said that Jason was definitely out because he didn’t run the bases, but Sammy’s run counted...and so the game was still going, the score was tied, and we needed to get somebody up there to bat.”

“Goodness.” She looked like she sympathized, even if she didn’t completely understand. “So what happened?”

“We argued about it for a good half-hour, and then the Commissioner finally called everything to a halt, said that as far as he could figure Jason’s run should’ve counted, the Braves should’ve won...but just because The Kid pulled something so unsportsmanlike as walking away from the game, he went with the third camp, called it a tie game, and since we’d lost the momentum of the evening, we’re going to meet again tomorrow night and get things settled.”

“One for the history books.”

“And no mistake.”

“Did he say if Jason would be allowed to play tomorrow night, if he’s there?”

“He didn’t, but Gertie...I’m pretty sure Jason’s gone. For good.” He knew this would lead to more questions, and hoped that somehow he would be strong enough to tell the true answers.

Dennis G. knew his wife pretty well. “Honey...there’s something you’re not telling me.” Before he could say anything she continued, “There’s something you’ve been not telling me for the past week.” Sitting forward on the couch, she looked him square in the eye. “I don’t buy that Jason was just sick, the way he played three games straight and then disappeared for three more. I don’t buy that he just came back from illness this evening to play better than I’ve ever seen...and I don’t know what in the world to think about what happened tonight.

“You’ve spent enough time telling me about the thrill of hitting a home run, about the glory and the joy and the wonder of trotting around the bases...near as I can figure, Jason just won the World Series.

“And instead of accepting his reward he walked away. Why don’t you tell me why that is.”

He met her gaze, feeling deeply ashamed of himself and guilty at not doing anything to fight the evil that had sprouted in the midst of his ballclub that week. But he was a wise enough man to know that she would not condemn him, and that maybe he could even lean on her for help. To do what he must.

And so Dennis G. Muldowney told his wife everything. The conversation with Bob Germane, the cheating, the gambling, Jason’s terrible decision...and though it hurt, he told her about how he had done nothing.

In the end, she forgave him. But in the end she loved him much too much to let it go at that. “And so what are you going to do now, Dennis G.?”

He knew that look. In truth, he had been expecting it. “Do?” In his stubbornness, however, he wouldn’t make it easy for her.

“Yes, do, Mr. Muldowney. The boy’s letter pleaded with you to do what was right. You’ve spent the past week avoiding that responsibility. So what are you going to do now?”

He had thought about this question more than a little, and for some reason, at that moment, remembered his wife’s story about the inventor...and wondered if he finally got what it meant. “Gertie, would you still love me if I didn’t manage a baseball team?”

“Oh, Dennis...” she shook her head, and there were tears streaming down her face. Tears that matched his own. “I don’t care what you do with your life, I’ll always love you. Even if you can’t face up to this truth right here, I’ll still love you, and stick by you.”

He wondered how in the world such a wonderful woman had come to love him. It didn’t seem to make any sense.

The least he could do was rise to the occasion. “I won’t make you stick by me in my sin.

“It probably means the end of my time on the Braves, maybe the end of baseball for me forever...but if Jason can do it, so can I.” He took a deep breath, gathered his strength, and stood. Before he left the room he kissed his wife tenderly on the forehead. “I’ll be up to bed in a few.

“I’ve got a young punk reporter to talk to first.”

* * *

Boston Tribune

column copy, KG

Editor-in-Chief, RY

Heart of a Hero, continued

...and at the end of it all, Jason Stiller had the courage to do the right thing.

You’ve just read the complete truth, as told by The Kid himself with the support of Dennis G. Muldowney, manager of the Boston Braves. That tale of deception and rule-breaking came out in this paper by this reporter last Sunday morning, disturbing more than a few quiet breakfasts. If you found the story to be amazing, shocking, absolutely unbelievable...you’ll have to get in line, folks. I spent the hardest night of my life writing the copy on that one, and I almost didn’t believe it.

Almost. Except for the sources that the story comes from, not to mention that little piece of admissable evidence, the list of figures that pointed right at Bob Germane and continues to finger him at the heart of the matter, much as he tries to deny it.

As you no doubt are aware, there will be a trial over this, and if Mr. Germane doesn’t end up in jail, he will most likely lose any standing he had in the National League, not to mention the ballclub itself.

This could be considered sweet justice for a man who richly deserves it; however this reporter does not agree with the Commissioner’s ruling concerning the three supposed “co-conspirators”: Dennis G. Muldowney, Francis “Bud” Tripplehorne, and one Jason Stiller.

Since all three have admitted the truth about that fateful week, and none are denying any charges that have been brought against them, there will be no trials. And thusly, by the word handed down from the Commissioner’s office on high, Dennis G. is no longer the manager of the Braves, though Mr. Tripplehorne, just as guilty as the manager of the Braves in this situation, is only fined and removed from the first seven games of next year.

Where is the justice in this? But furthermore, why are the two Braves being punished at all? They kept silent when they might have spoken--does this truly make them accessories to the crime?

I, for one, would not consider a man guilty for actions taken under duress--point a gun at my head and give orders, I’ll likely follow, right thing to do or not. Bob Germane was holding the livelihood, the paychecks...and more deeply the dreams of those three men hostage, and while I hope he gets everything that’s coming to him, I cannot agree with how the “co-conspirators” have been treated.

Especially The Kid. Bud Tripplehorne will lose some money and a few of next season’s games, and Dennis G. takes a hard blow at being removed from his spot on the Boston Braves, but even he can likely get a job elsewhere. If any club owners are listening, take a look at this man, at the way he ordered his ballteam the past few years, and consider whether or not he would be an asset to your own team!

But don’t bother remembering how good The Kid was, don’t try looking him up and signing him.

Thanks to his Holiness, the Commissioner, upset that Jason not only said nothing, but sat out three games in apparent agreement with Germane’s scheme, The Kid will never play baseball again. Ever.

How could Jason’s leaving town, missing games four through six, help the Germane cause? The point spread was destroyed, the money received from loss by the Braves would have been negligible. Jason wasn’t helping anybody cheat. I have never been a fan of Wes Hurrand, but this call is by far his nastiest and most short-sighted.

But I have little enough voice to even tell the news...I have no power to erase what has been carved in stone. Jason Stiller will never play professional ball again.

And so Bob’s threat comes true, the evil presiding over this mess manages to steal first--because even though Jason did what was right in the end, he still loses everything.

For what it’s worth, this reporter believes the Commissioner wanted to throw not only the book but the ledger as well at Jason Stiller simply because he had the guts and the audacity to turn away, last Saturday night.

But if you were privileged enough to see it for yourself, then perhaps you saw the look in his eyes.

As one of the man’s friends, I got to speak to him before the game started, folks...and you could see it, to look at him. Jason Stiller knew he was playing his last game.

What this entire fiasco says about our nation’s values as a whole...I just don’t know. That a simple, entertaining competition could be twisted six ways from Sunday all so a rich man could become a little richer; that any one person could have so much power and clout that he could grind a man’s hopes, his dreams, under a golden heel; and then, when all is said and done, the dust cleared away, and the truth revealed...

The one person who acted honorably, who did what was right, is ridden out of town on a rail.

Or he would be, wouldn’t he? You’d tar and feather him if you could get the chance, wouldn’t you? Because he didn’t play the game according to your rules, because in the end he showed more courage and spirit and heart than you can imagine.

Perhaps I’m just an idealist. The only real reason I was allowed to write so much about this situation is because of the relationship The Kid and I formed during this season...and the talk around the newsroom makes me another bleeding heart, a young punk kid who doesn’t know any better, doesn’t know how the world works.

If this...is how the world works, then somebody write me a ticket off.

Maybe the “real world” will get to me someday, maybe I’ll bow to the inevitable pressures of money and fame and cutting corners, looking out for nobody but myself...

...but whether or not you get to me, there’s at least one guy that slipped through your fingers, one man you couldn’t touch.

Wherever he is, I’m glad that I knew him, glad for the rest of my life that I got to call Jason Stiller my friend. I hope he can truly get away from the stench of it all, find a reward of sorts for having to remain on this rotten earth: peace.

The peace that, with any luck, comes in spades. From doing what he knew to be right.

Jason “The Kid” Stiller did what he knew to be right.

I don’t know of anything more, anything better, with which to define a hero.

And you can quote me.

end

Epilogue

“Raise you a dollar.”

“A dollar? You must have a lotta faith in that hand, Tripplehorne.”

“Try me and see, Pickens.” Looking across his cards, Bud dares the man to match him or raise the stakes. Pickens looks at his cards and then lets them fall facedown onto the table, muttering.

Dutch Cattan taps his own cards on the tabletop, looking straight across and meeting Bud’s eyes. “I’m fairly sure you’re bluffing, Mr. Famous Pitcher, so I’ll just see your dollar and take my chances.”

“It’s only money, Dutch, not like you ain’t got any more where that came from,” Bill Pickens jibes, now that he has given up himself.

“Pick on somebody else, Pickens.”

“That wasn’t even funny the first time, and the first time was back in ’29.”

Dutch laughs. “And after two decades you still don’t get it.”

“If I may, gentlemen,” primly, Lefty Baxter tosses his cards down with Bill’s. He catches a look from Tripplehorne.

“You had to interrupt us to do that?”

“I just wanted to make sure you knew where I stood.”

The bigger man laughs. “Whatever you say, Lefty. Guess it’s just you and me, Dutch.”

“Call ’em.”

Bud has no expression on his face as he puts down a pair of eights, his bluff called. The full house Dutch displays, grinning, is more than enough to win the small pot. “You almost had me, Bud, if it helps ease the pain any.”

The starting pitcher for the Boston Braves snorts and gathers the cards as Dutch gathers his winnings. Bill Pickens, shortstop, laughs after taking a drag of his cigarette. “Seems like your luck hasn’t come back to wish you Merry Christmas, Bud.”

Dutch suddenly seeths. “Shut your trap, Pickens!”

“What’d I say?”

Betraying no more emotion than a raised eyebrow and a tightening of his jaw, Bud passes out the cards with his left hand, trying to use his right as little as possible.

Lefty, usually found covering the Braves’ second base, notices and frowns. “I thought you were healed up?”

At first Bud doesn’t act like he’s heard the question, and almost an entire hand passes before he grunts, “Apparently I’m as healed as I’m going to get.”

“Huh.” Lefty says a lot because he doesn’t say anything; every man at the table is thinking the same thing and it doesn’t need to be said aloud.

Which doesn’t stop Bill Pickens from saying it because he has to say something. “Gotta wonder what the chances are for the Braves next year, huh? That is, if there’s even a ballclub left, after this stupid scandal?”

Dutch Cattan, third base and a solid hitter to boot, doesn’t look up from his cards. “Shut up, Pickens.”

“Well c’mon, we don’t really believe what the papers are saying about Mr. Germane, do we?”

Nobody answers. He tries again. “And the stuff about Deeg--that couldn’t possibly be true, could it?”

Dutch, being a good man, says the only thing he can think of that might help. “The Braves’ll always be there, Bill, don’t worry about that.”

It is small comfort. Silence reigns for several hands, until Bud laughs to himself, and Dutch asks him what the joke is.

The pitcher has a faraway look behind his eyes. “I was just remembering that five-hits-out-of-seven business D.G. threw at the Kid, the first day.”

Chuckles make the round of the table, as all four men remember the day, almost nine months before, that had marked the beginning of spring training.

“That had to have been the doggonedest ten minutes I’ve ever seen,” Dutch says, tapping his latest hand with a fingernail.

Lefty Baxter tosses his cards onto the table, shaking his head. “Except for the last pitch of this past World Series, perhaps?”

The tapping stops while Dutch thinks about it. “Hrm, you might be right. That last show of his sure was something.”

Pickens purses his lips. “Could you have believed it possible? Could you have imagined an honest-to-goodness ballplayer pulling a stunt like that?”

“Not in a thousand years. Not in a million.”

“What was he trying to do, ruin baseball? It’s not like he really had to--well, you know.”

“No.” Bud slowly folds his cards into a pile on the table. “He was trying to do the right thing.” He says no more, but looks sorrowful, as if something good in his life has gone away. He speaks again under his breath, but it is a small table and all hear: “I wish I could say the same.”

The table sits quietly for a moment until Bill Pickens suddenly laughs. “Made a scene his first day and his last, didn’t he?”

Dutch also grins. “That was The Kid for you. Seems like just yesterday, don’t it? That he creamed Bud’s magical fastball?”

“Just like yesterday.” Bud squares his shoulders, deciding once again to put off any soul-searching, any changes in his life for another time.

Tomorrow would be soon enough. Or the day after. “Raise you a quarter.”

“That’s high stakes again, Bud. I fold.”

“Nothing surprising about that, Pickens. Nothing surprising about that.”

The game goes on.

* * *

The young lady was easily the most beautiful woman on the train-station platform, and most of the men that noticed her would have been willing to admit her the most beautiful woman they might have ever seen. Black flats set off an ankle-length and darkly red dress--but her outfit, though striking, was instantly forgotten when one saw her face.

Her deep green eyes were excellently contrasted by long, chestnut brown hair that shifted from one shoulder to the other as she stepped and dodged and even pushed her way down the wooden slats that bordered the train.

It looked as if the beautiful woman had been crying, and most of the men that saw her would have been more than willing to ask her if anything was wrong...but she was searching faces, she was looking for someone in particular, and though her green eyes took in every man there, few even managed a smile before she had moved past. Before she was gone, in a whirl of dark red skirts and a brown suitcase.

The beautiful woman was worried and scared. The wooden platform was very large, but she had searched her way from one end almost to the other and he wasn’t there--every face after face was another face that wasn’t his, and if she couldn’t find him...

Someone else on the platform was searching, but not silently; a tall man with a face the color of her dress, far back the way she had come, was looking over the crowd and calling for the person he sought. He was obviously connected to the beautiful woman, by the way she stiffened when she heard his voice; she knew if she looked back that the man would be wearing horn-rimmed glasses underneath a shock of dark hair streaked with gray--but there was no need to look back.

Rather she looked harder, and moved faster, resisting the urge to scream, to stamp her foot, to hit someone or something out of frustration because she wasn’t like that anymore, she was trusting in her Lord now...and the man she searched for, he had also said that she didn’t have to do such things...

...and she wanted so badly for them both to be right, and for his face to be one of the faces she saw, but he wasn’t there, she couldn’t find him, and the platform was almost finished, the train was about to leave and the horn-rimmed glasses were getting closer and despite being easily the most beautiful woman on the train-station platform she was out of time and beyond hope.

Then, just as Raven Germane strode past the end of the train where the platform fell away into dark nothing, a hand caught her wrist, and she turned suddenly--and saw the most familiar and comforting brown eyes in the world. “Going my way?”

“Yes.” She almost sobbed the word...it had been a trying day, and Raven felt no shame in crowding up the black metal steps behind him until they were both on the flat deck of the caboose and she could just hold and be held very tightly. “Oh, Jason.”

His breath made the skin of her neck tingle. “It’s okay now. Everything’s okay. I’m here.”

For a moment they stood together as if the world had frozen around them, as if the train and the people and Boston beyond were of no consequence, no importance whatsoever. Just the strength in his arms, and the comforting whisper in her ear.

A whistle blew somewhere, and with a bit of a start the train began slowly rolling forward, and as it did so her man turned them both so that she was as far away from the platform side of the train as could be. “Did he see you get on?”

Such a thoughtful man. When he had turned he had even pushed her suitcase against the railing with his foot, to make sure it didn’t fall off, get left behind. She loved him all the more as she peeked out past the side of his head at the rows of milling people that the train was leaving behind.

There was a tall man there, with horn-rimmed glasses and gray in his dark hair. The man was still looking around, still searching the masses for his daughter. He didn’t look up at the train.

And then the platform was past and growing quickly smaller, the warm lights receding into the safety of knowing darkness. “Apparently not. I guess we’re safe.” A thought struck her. “Shouldn’t I have given somebody a ticket, or something?”

For the quickest of moments Raven had the wonder of being kissed on her neck, just under the ear...which was a new experience and one she immediately filed away as worth future thought. Her love gave her just the quick buss and then answered her question. “I just talked to the conductor a few minutes ago--turned out he was a baseball fan. When I said you would be in a bit of a hurry, he let me pay both tickets and said that just this once he would let it go and not ask questions.”

Before she could tell him how wonderful she thought he was, he kept going. “And by the way...what happened to leaving the park before the end of it all?”

“I forgot, Kid, caught up in the struggle of man versus the entire world.”

He pulled away a bit to look at her, and then reached out a gentle hand as if to stroke her cheek. She was quite prepared to let him.

It was no kiss on her earlobe but rather a tweak between his thumb and forefinger. She gave a little interjection and he laughed. “Serves you right. I lay out a nice, neat, perfect plan and you almost get us caught.”

It was too dark, on the back of the train, to tell from his face how serious he really was. Raven decided to be straightforward. “Well, I would rather not have been chased through Boston by my father...but I’m not sorry I stayed to see you win the day. So there.”

Just then a startlingly bright moon came out from behind the low clouds, catching his eyes and his smile. Her breath caught somewhere in the middle as his thumb, finished tweaking, ran gently down the line of her jaw. “You always plan to be this mean to me?”

“Yes.”

“You ought to be nicer. I’m the one who has to sleep in the dining car.”

“It’ll be good for you.”

“That a fact?”

* * *

“It should build a little character.” And then in the moonlight he saw her wrinkle her nose, and smile, and he felt his knees go a bit weak.

There was no truly good way to express how he felt. So he went with an old classic. “I love you.”

“I’ll see you in the dining car.”

And then she deftly reached around him, picked up her suitcase, and disappeared into the dark caboose, leaving only an impish grin behind.

He considered staying out on the train deck all night, just to spite her, but he was in love and willing to forgive--and it had indeed been a long day.

Having had time, unlike some people, to pack properly for the journey, Jason thought it might be nice to find something to help pass the time--figuring Raven wasn’t sleepy either, given the recent excitement.

The door to his cabin--her cabin, rather, which would just also happen to hold his belongings until they got to Iowa--was locked, perhaps not surprisingly. She responded to his knock, and consented to open the door a crack and hand through his chessboard and the velvet bag with the pieces.

Then the door was shut in his face, quite properly, and Jason grinned to himself. Wherever God led them as far as the future went, he knew he had trouble on his hands, now that the quiet, reserved, proper lady had let her true rascal self out.

He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

When she finally sauntered into the dining car, up to the table where he had laid out the chessboard, Jason looked up to meet those incredible green eyes...and chestnut hair tied back in his favorite ponytail, and not only that--the lady wore overalls and a work shirt.

An outfit he had seen before, the day they had painted Hattie’s old room. The day of their first kiss.

He couldn’t help it. As he stood, he said it again. “You look beautiful.”

She sat, as did he, before speaking. “Where have I heard that before?”

“I’m sure I don’t know.”

“You never come up with anything original. ‘Gee, dollface, you look beautiful.’”

“Gee, dollface, you look like something the cat dragged in.”

Her eyebrows rose at least an inch, but the smile beneath them said the lady could laugh at herself as easily as she could laugh at him. “Remember what I told you would happen if you ever called me that again?”

“Yes I do.” He couldn’t stop staring into her eyes. He hoped he never had to.

“And?”

“You said we’d have words.” He reached across the table and gently took her hand, and she let him. “Which frankly sounds wonderful.”

* * *

She couldn’t remember feeling so peaceful and happy. There was no certainty that her father wouldn’t come looking...and she knew that someday there would be that to deal with, and if she knew her Lord any--and she was learning--there would be forgiveness necessary as well.

But that was later. As it was she felt safe, and in love, held close by her Savior and in the company of her best friend.

He had such a pretty smile. “It seems to me, Mr. Stiller, that I had to take a raincheck just a few hours ago on something very important to me.” She dared him to have forgotten.

He hadn’t. “You want your kiss delivered right here?”

“And why not?”

“It’s pretty public.”

“I don’t care.”

“Neither do I.” And his smile widened, and he leaned forward over the chessboard as she leaned towards him, and her eyes closed...

And there was no contact. Teasing was teasing, but this was too far--her eyes snapped open again, as Raven prepared to be a little upset; but her beau was looking not at her but over and down, at a strange child that was tugging on his jacket.

The boy looked to be about ten or so, was wearing glasses and carrying a glossily new baseball mitt. “Mister?”

Raven looked around the car, knowing there had to be--yes, a man who was obviously the boy’s father was sitting a few booths away, blushing and apparently embarrassed that his son had interrupted their tender moment.

Jason saw him as well, and he gave the man a smile and a shake of his head, letting him know it was all right.

Then he turned his attentions down to his new friend. “Help you?”

Raven kept an eye on her love during this; having had a thought or two on the possibilities of Jason Stiller being, eventually, the father of her children. He had better be good with little tykes...

“Yeah, um, Mister? I was just wunnerin’, um, if you--I mean, uh, did you play ball? I mean baseball, when you were a kid?”

Apparently the boy was not a Braves fan--he didn’t seem to know Jason from Adam.

He must’ve noticed the same thing, and as she watched she saw that same shadow cross her love’s face. Things past, but too fresh to be forgotten yet. “Sure, buddy, I...I played ball when I was a kid. Why?”

“Well, I--I’m Charlie, by the way--I wanted to play at my school, you know, this year. And Dad got me a mitt--” he held up his treasure as evidence, “--but he doesn’t know how to get it ready, uh, you know?” Charlie pounded his fist into the new mitt as if to emphasize his point.

For her part, the request had Raven completely mystified, but Jason’s nod was full of understanding. “I see. Well, here’s what you want to do.”

And she watched, forgotten, as Mr. Stiller and Charlie went over the finer points of Neat’s Foot Oil and wrapping the mitt around a ball and storing it away...and she learned more than a little about the kind of father her man would someday be.

Raven was thanking God for just about everything when the boy, his face all smiles, turned and ran back to his father, who gave Jason a grateful wave.

“You’re a nice man, Mr. Stiller.”

He turned back to her, remembering her for the first time in five minutes. “I try. Sorry about that.”

“No problem.”

Just when Raven started thinking about that kiss she still hadn’t gotten, Jason got a very strange look in his eyes, and sat back. “Will you give me a minute?”

“Of course.”

With that he stood, walking back in the direction of the cabin, leaving her wondering at that strange look. It had seemed like sudden inspiration, but then had been overcome with another wave of that shadow pain. Whatever he was doing, Raven would bet it had to do somehow with the past.

She couldn’t imagine what, though she entertained herself with trying until he walked back into the dining car, something in his hand.

Striding right past their table Jason walked up to Charlie and his father, and said hello, and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, and as Raven watched he put a baseball into Charlie’s hand.

The child looked even more grateful and excited, and it was another minute of thank-yous later before her man could get back to the table.

When he sat down, he didn’t say anything, and Raven looked as deeply into his eyes as she could, trying to understand.

His smile was real, if a little small, but his eyes were bright, as if he were about to cry.

“Where’d the ball come from?” Even as it left her mouth Raven realized it a pretty stupid question. Jason Stiller had just spent six, seven months as a ballplayer--it made sense that he would have a baseball or three.

But there was more to it than that, although Raven couldn’t figure out what exactly...

Jason looked out the window for a moment, and then back at her, his smile a little wider even as a pair of tears rolled down his strong face. “It was just a souvenir, something I picked up my first day.

“It didn’t matter all that much anymore.”

Raven thought maybe she understood a little. Looking into his eyes, there was no truly good way to express how she felt, so she went with an old classic. “I love you.”

He grinned, and wiped the tears away. “It’s your move.”

So they played, and had a late supper, and talked of many things...and by the time she had beaten him twice in a row, it was no longer that day but the next, as the train chugged along its arrow-straight path, through the surrounding hills that gleamed under the softest silvery moonlight.

the end

Author’s Note

I almost always enjoy reading more about a book I like. And I figure if you’ve stuck around this far, you had a decent time, so the following is a little bit about how “The Kid” came to be.

By the way, thanks for coming on the journey in the first place. When I wrote the book, back in 2000, I had written several (all right, twelve, five of which might actually be worth publishing—stay tuned) and was very familiar with the publishing process. I’m sure there are ways to get a big-time New York type Publishing House interested in your book, but I’ve never managed it.

I did get “The Kid” entered into a contest—to move on to the second round required 100 points. I got 94. One of the two judges gave me an extra six points because the ending you’ve just read left some things unanswered; another judge took off six points because the ending left some things unanswered…

But enough about frustrated writers. I’m writing this mainly to answer the most common question authors get: “Where did you come up with the idea?”

Especially where this book is concerned, the question is a valid one because (I’ll whisper this to you, since we’re friends) I don’t really care for baseball.

Hopefully that is a complete surprise, after the last couple hundred pages; I’d like to think I’m writer enough to punch up a subject I’m not keen on—and if I am going to watch some of America’s National Pastime, I would hope that the game would be as exciting as what was apparently going on back in 1949.

But if you remember the moment in Chapter Eight, where Brice and Jason are discussing the ‘baseball fantasy’ that every little boy has—I had that fantasy myself as a little boy. Even though I really didn’t care for baseball I can still remember standing on my bed, imaginary bat in my hands, at the bottom of the ninth, seventh game of the World Series.

And I can still remember the one time that I cracked that ball over the fence, watched it sail off in my mind’s eye…and then something hit me.

What if I didn’t run the bases?

Of such moments are novels made. It was such a strange thought that I held onto it, and later when I started writing books I remembered it, and put it in my Grab Bag of ideas. Why would someone not run the bases? I had to write the book to find out.

And here we are.

But while I got to answer my own question, none of the publishers I sent to wanted to see more (maybe I just don’t write a good Query letter?) and The Kid languished on an electronic shelf for seventeen years.

Then a Facebook friend posted that she had just self-published a book, and would anybody want to read it and leave her an Amazon review? And I thought “Gosh, I haven’t thought about self-publishing since that disaster in 2010 where I spent $200 getting NAME WITHHELD Ltd. to publish my Nitpicking series and only earned $100 of that back before they went bankrupt.”

I was intrigued enough to ask my friend for more info—and found out that it doesn’t take a third-party publisher anymore. (Maybe it didn’t then and I’m just a moron. We’ll never know.) Anybody who has a book can publish it.

Believe me when I say I have some books. “The Kid” was just the first of the dusty novels I plan to resurrect, so if you had a good time, Watch This Space because more are coming!

And it seems people are having a good time, which was what I wanted in the first place. To take this book that I put so much time and effort into (I read ‘Baseball For Dummies’ so I could get the details right, you think I did that for my health?) and give it to the world. Let whomever might care find it and be blessed.

Including, as it turned out, me. Because when I went to read through the book for the audio recording, and got to Chapter Fourteen, where Bob Germane is telling the boys they must throw the Series…I had completely forgotten about that. I wrote the book seventeen years earlier, and it was news to me! Suddenly the ending, where Jason doesn’t run the bases, made so much more sense… I recall being amazed and rather proud of myself.

My wife was, too—I brought the audio recording along on our annual roadtrip, and while she has admitted that she was braced to be supportive but didn’t expect to actually be drawn in—it got to where she wanted to know what happened next, too. Amazon wouldn’t allow her to leave a review, apparently because we have the same last name, but she has told me it would have been four stars. (She doesn’t give anything five stars, so I’m honored.)

Thanks to this book I also got to have a first-time-ever, cross-that-off-my-Bucket-List experience of addressing a reading group as a Visiting Author. My wonderful friend Sarah (who will have a character named after her in the next novel) was so supportive she got mutual friend Marlys and her whole Get LIT group to read The Kid, and then I got to swing by and have Chinese food and answer questions, talk about the writing process—it was a blast. Thanks, ladies. One of the best Friday nights I’ve ever had. Let’s do it again sometime.

Thanks also to big sister Elsa, who despite being one of the busiest people I know (besides moi) made a point of getting the audiobook, and then admitted to me last Sunday that several chapters in, she stopped to Google Jason Stiller, wanting more details. Having forgotten that it was a fictional book she was reading. (No worries, E—James Michener did the same thing to me once.) She wondered aloud if Millie’s story of the salesman was foreshadowing (guilty!) and whatever might happen between Jason and Raven.

My sister, who bought the book on Kindle within thirty seconds of me texting her that I had published it (I will never forget you did that, Squirt) said much the same thing when she was finished: “I want more. I didn’t want their story to end.” Which makes a writer very happy, believe me.

The first question the Get LIT group asked: “So what happened to Jason and Raven?”

My answer was honest: I don’t know. They never told me.

I believe that they made it safely back to Gillett Grove, and if they were smart, maybe somewhere else just in case Germane Sr. came looking. I also believe he might not ever have been able to come looking, or send anyone to look, being kinda tied up with his own legal issues in Boston.

One thing I’m definitely sure of is that they made it. They both went through too much that summer not to.

Thanks for this. Thanks for sticking with me through the story. Here’s to many more.

--Will “Swing For the Fences” Nuessle, November 2, 2017

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