CURVE BALL

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Chapter Seventy-Two

Fear claimed Jack. Fear as if he was reliving his parent’s stories of survival from the Nazis. “YOU ARE A DEAD MAN,” played in his head. This time it wouldn’t be the sound of marching jackboots. It could be the guy on the corner or the woman at the bar who had the seductive smile. It was the Ritz and Linzie’s murder all over again. As Jack rode in the cab a recitation from the Jewish High Holidays popped into his head. It was a prayer that listed the good and bad that may happen in the year to come. Who by fire, who by drowning… he put his hands over his face. He hadn’t thought of the High Holidays for years. Was he about to be punished for his nonobservance? Holy shit. He stared out the window. Now anyone could be the one to end his life. He had to get away.

Jack never pitched again. If the Dodgers had called, he wouldn’t have known. He didn’t answer his phone or check his mail. He left town. He stayed at out-of the way motels for no more than forty-eight hours. They weren’t the accommodations he had grown accustomed to as a major league ball player. The bed sheets were thin, as well as the walls. Johnny Walker helped him get through the nights. Sometimes when he went for ice, he bumped into the floozy who occupied the next room. Even in his drunken state he had standards. In the afternoon he’d drive down I-40 toward Arizona. The car was old and rusted in the front. The air conditioner didn’t work. He would sweat through his shirts. Some nights instead of going to his room he would find the nearest dive until closing. The women at those joints wore jeans that looked two sizes two small and they spilled out of them. Their faces showed the years hadn’t been kind. They knew all the pick-up-lines a man had and could drink most of them under the table. He spent a small fortune on whiskey and cigarettes. He woke every morning in a stupor and coughed his lungs out.

A month passed. “Who shall fuck’n live. And who shall fuck’n die. Who by fire and who by water,” the prayer still haunted him.

He stopped reading road signs. He didn’t know where he was or cared. Arizona? Nevada? It didn’t matter.

He had pulled off the highway late at night and checked-in at the first place off the road. In the morning, from his room he saw a phone booth near the entrance of the motel. He stumbled towards it. He had the receiver in his hand and a fistful of change. Who to call? Danny the Dodger P.R. guy? He put the change down and fumbled for his wallet. A card with the name Brown Derby fell. “Shit.” He bent to pick it up. Hey he could give that waitress… He rubbed his face to remember… Carrie that’s it. She had come to his room the night before the game. “What a piece of ass.

J-e-s-u-s.” Her naked image flashed across his mind and was gone just as quick. An 18 wheeler passed while he had the phone in his hand and blew a gust of wind. He used his sleeve to wipe the dirt from his eyes. His gaze followed the disappearing truck. “ Shit, that aint going to happen. Oh hell.” He put a dime in the slot and heard the dial tone. He’ll call Fred. Fred would know what to do. He put more change and began to dial. But before the connection was made he hung up. “What the fuck could he say? Fred, a woman was killed back in Chicago some years ago, and the mob has been after me since.” No, this was his problem, his alone. He walked back to his motel room. He sat on the creaky bed and stared into the small mirror above the plastic wood-like bureau. There was some scotch left in the bottle and he reached for it. He took a swig and spit it out.

“I can’t sit around waiting,” he said. “No more.” The bottle slipped from his hand. The bastards can’t get him if he disappeared.

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