CURVE BALL

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Chapter Fifty-Five

The attitude in the Dodger clubhouse had changed from somber, to cautious optimism, to the smell of victory. The fifth game of the World Series had just ended and they edged the Yankees 2 to 1. After dropping the first two games in New York, they now had won three in a row. They were one game from winning it all.

Jack was all smiles. This was the second game he was used as a relief pitcher in the ninth inning. Both times he shut the Yankees down.

His control stunk in New York. Nothing he threw went for strikes. Was it rust or his mind dealing with shadows of his past? But California was different. He felt it in practice. His body was looser and his mind focused. His pitches had zip and accuracy. The ball went where he wanted: high, low, inside, outside. He was his old self. The California sun was good for him. He took in the congratulations from his teammates. It had been awhile.

“Hey Rakow tomorrow is a travel day before heading to New York. Many of the guys are going to the Strip for a few pops. Come on along,” Danny McHugh the Dodger press spokesman said, “You’ve been living like a monk the last week. There can’t be that much going on in your hotel room.”

He thought about it. After his New York run in with Fred of the L.A. Times and that note, he made a decision. He went to Danny and asked him to run interference for him with Fred. It seemed to work. He was left alone, at least until the end of the series. As to the other matter of the implied threat, he kept that to himself. He wouldn’t go out after a game. He’d go from the ballpark and back to the hotel. He ate from room service and watched movies. It wasn’t glamorous, but it kept him out of trouble. He was a winner now. What the hell, there’s only so much Chinese food one can eat.

“Sure, great idea Danny. It’ll take me ten minutes to shower and change.

Traffic was typical L.A. The 101 were clogged with cars. Jack rode as Danny’s passenger. He would have been swearing and talking to himself but for every second or third car was a convertible, with a blond or other sweet thing. “Jesus, one is better looking than the other. What have I been missing?”

“Put your eyes back, Jack, wait till we get to the Derby.”

“Is all of L.A. like this?”

Danny laughed, “Not all, but lots. They’ll do anything if you’re famous or near famous. So watch yourself. You can end up being a trophy.”

“Imagine that.”

The 20- minute trip took close to an hour.

“That’s the Derby,” Danny said.

There was a line that stretched almost a block. “All those people want to get into the place?” He asked.

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll have no problems. We’re the heroes of L.A. Drink it in, Jack. Everyone here has short memories.”

The entrance to the Derby was elbow deep with people. A tall dark haired hostess in tight black slacks and white mid-riff top led them through the crowd to the VIP section. The bar was made of mahogany and there must have been fifty cushioned seats around it. Away from the bar and well spaced throughout were stylish tables to place drinks.

“What do you think?” Danny asked.

“Quite a place. What’s over there?” Jack pointed to the sectioned off area adjacent to the floor to ceiling windows.”

Danny smiled, “You either get lucky in one of those curtained off areas or you sign a deal and make a fortune. This is Hollywood--- my man. What’cha having?”

The VIP section filled up with people, and he raised his voice. “Scotch.”

Danny held up his hand. Seconds later a 20ish looking woman wearing a skimpy black top came to them.

“Hi, I’m Carrie. What would you like?”

“What an open question,” Danny said.

She smiled. “I mean to drink.”

“Of course. I’ll have gin and tonic, and for him,” he pointed to Jack, “a scotch.”

“Neat or rocks?” She smiled what must have been her customary smile. A look of recognition crossed her face. “Are you, I’m not suppose to ask, but I’m a huge baseball fan, Jack Rakow?”

“Sure am.”

“Wow, you sure know how to handle those Yanks. That was sortta dumb. I mean…”

“It’s okay. I get tongue-tied too.”

“Hey, Carrie, over here,” Danny said.

She turned toward him and her business smile returned. “Gin and tonic, got it, Bombay or Tanqueray?

“Oh, baby, what we could do in Bombay.”

“Well we’re in L.A. I’ll get the drinks.”

They watched as she went to the bar.

“That’s what I mean Jack. You’re the hero today, and I’m well… who cares.”

“Hey, look at this way, you’ll be here after I’m long gone.”

“You got a point.”

“Hold the fort, Dan, I’m going to the john. Where is it?”

“Behind the bar.”

He threaded his way through the crowd of beautiful people. Several he recognized from magazines and TV. He didn’t stop to chat. Near the bar their waitress looked up and stepped towards him.

“I’m glad you got a way from your friend,” Carrie said.

“Just going to the john.”

She smiled and tore the bottom of her note pad. “Here’s my number. Call me. I get off about 11.” She flicked some hair from her face. Her breasts almost declared independence from her top.

He crumbled the paper in his hand and stuffed it in his pocket. “Sure,” but he had no plans to follow-up. No matter how hot she looked.

He did allow himself to imagine her nude as he walked into the empty bathroom. The image vanished. He exhaled and went to the urinal.

“Well kid you pitch’n so much better.”

The voice startled him. He hadn’t heard anyone enter.

“Yeah, to some people you’re do’n real real good.”

Jack zipped up and turned around. It was the same guy who had greeted him on his first day with the Dodgers. He even wore the same brown hat.

“What the fuck do you want?” Jack said. He was about ten feet from him.

“Ooh that tone, not good pitcher boy. Don’t expect to go anywhere. It’s just you and me until we understand each other.”

What?”

“There’s some people on the other side of the door to make sure we’re not disturbed. Capish?”

Jack moved toward the entrance.

“Don’t try it. The boys already have a certain opinion of you, and it’s not good. Their idea is to make sure you don’t pitch again. I’m more reasonable. I want to see you do your thing. It will make our winnings so much sweeter. Of course you have to be in the right frame of mind.” Without warning, he landed a punch to Jack’s midsection, and then his face. He threw a few more blows before Jack sank to the floor. The man stood over him. “Now, do you understand what I’m talk’n about?”

Jack focused on the man’s brown leather shoe, as he tried to breathe. He didn’t answer.

The man kicked him twice in the stomach.

“Alright, okay, I understand,” Jack, said the words spoken barely above a whisper.

“My hearing isn’t what it used to be. Say it again pitcher boy.”

Jack held up his hand and slowly sat up. He stared at his attacker. “You’ve made your point.”

The man reached down to help him.

Jack stared at him. “I’ll get up on my own.”

“Suit yourself, but remember. This was only a warm-up. One more thing, that girl in Chicago at the Ritz, you remember?”

“What about her…?”

“She was murdered and there ain’t no statute of what-do-you-call-it.”

“Hey wait a fuck’n minute,” he said. He used a wall to steady himself. “I had noth’n to do with that.”

“We’ll see kid, we’ll see. Just keep it in mind when you get the ball tomorrow.”

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