Warren Friedman

Sample Chapter


Chapter 1

March 31, 2013

          Ted Banks felt luckier than most Chicagoans. His nighttime security job at the Science Museum allowed him to enjoy all of Chicago’s offerings during daylight hours. Spring, summer, and fall meant only one thing to Ted: Cubs baseball. From his family room easy chair in North Chicago, he’d watched thirty home openers. Opening day was a bonus, a day of new beginnings, the day when Chicago started the season tied for first place. In the crisp springtime air, the promise of a winning season, maybe even an incredible season, flew like a banner over the city. Each and every Cubs fan longed for a world championship, a title that had eluded them for 105 years, since 1908. Even apathetic fans desired a championship, if for no other reason than to stop hearing about the drought, or the curses.

          Ted may have felt luckier than most Chicagoans in the past, but this spring his luck appeared to be running out.

          Still cloudy from the injected drug, Ted’s mind drifted to the absurd, wondering if baseball fans had attended the 1908 Series by foot, automobile, or horse. Over the years, Chicago had played many important games, but as far as Ted was concerned, none were as important as today’s. Sweat slowly dripped down his forehead and cheeks as the game went to commercial, reaching the bottom of the ninth and the Cubs trailing the Mets, 3-2.

          A voice bellowed from behind.

          “Mr. Banks, you’ve no idea what impact you’ll have on the Cubs. Win or lose, I believe you and I are going to make America take notice of our beloved Cubs. For your sake, I hope they rally, but I don’t think this team understands the true meaning of a life-or-death situation.”

          “Come on, guys, two more runs, just two more runs,” Ted moaned under the tightly wound gag in his mouth.

          Fighting the ropes that bound him to the chair, Ted watched the naked actor in the erectile dysfunction commercial sip wine in the bathtub; he appeared content and confident of a long night. Ted Banks, however, feared by evening’s end he would be getting the short end of the stick. As the advertisement faded back to the game, Ted stared at the screen with desperation. Max Neyland, the play-by-play broadcaster, continued.

          “Here’s the answer to the trivia question, “What’s the translation of the Latin words Eamus Catuli? Those are the words on the sign located across the street overlooking the right-field bleachers on Sheffield. Well, the two translations we hear the most are ‘Let’s go, young mammals’ or ‘Let’s go, young bears’. That’s as close to ‘Let’s go, Cubs” as you can get in Latin, isn’t it, Ben?”

          “You bet, Max,” replied the Cubs color commentator Ben Fair. “The Cubs will bring Petronsky, Carrisquillo, and Bailey to the plate to battle right-hander Barry Jones, who has kept the Cubbies off-balance all day with his assortment of off-speed pitches to go along with his ninety-seven-mile-an-hour fastball, but he looks tired out there right now. Petronsky has taken three straight pitches as Jones is having trouble locating the strike zone, running the count on the third baseman to 3-0. Here’s the windup and the pitch . . . and there’s ball four.”

          “Jones walked Petronsky on four straight pitches, and now the Cubs have the lead-off batter on first to start the ninth,” yelled Fair.

          The masked man behind Ted nudged him.

          “Hey, Ted. Did you hear that? Sure gets your heart pumping, doesn’t it?”

          Now, like Cubs manager Doug Cahill down in the dugout, Ted began to think of all the possibilities. Should Petronsky steal? Should he be sacrificed over to second? Or should Carrasquillo hit away?

          Neyland ranted from the announcer’s booth. “I mean, this guy can’t bunt. Heck, he’s only had four sacrifice bunts in his entire major league career. No, the man’s a power hitter, and he’s one of only two guys on the team who can win this game with one swing of the bat from the left side. Especially against a right-hander like Jones. But wait, here comes the Mets manager from the dugout. They apparently aren’t going to let Jones face the left-handed hitting Carrasquillo. The manager is pointing to his left arm, and that means he’s calling to the bullpen for big lefty Kurt Hammond.”

          Ben Fair shared some stats with the audience. “Hammond’s mechanics were off in the preseason, walking fourteen batters in twelve innings. Carrasquillo might be better off if he leaves the bat on his shoulders, like Petronsky did, and tries to take a few pitches for a walk.”

          Ted squirmed. “Shit!” he thought. “Carrasquillo can’t hit left-handed pitchers to save his ass—let alone my ass!”

          “What’s wrong, Mr. Banks? Not a big proponent of the lefty-righty theory?”

          Managers love playing the percentages. And the percentages say that left-handed hitters don’t hit as well against left-handed pitchers as they do right-handed pitchers. Last year, left-handed batters hit .251 vs. left-handed pitchers, but hit .281, thirty points higher, against right-handed pitchers.

            “I happen to love it,” the voice of the intruder continued. “If this overpriced piece of garbage can’t hit a lefty, he shouldn’t be in the big leagues. I’m telling you, Teddie, baseball doesn’t teach the fundamentals anymore. It’s sickening!”

          To Ted Banks, the pitches began to resemble the last few grains of sand in an hourglass.

          “Strike threeee!” blared the broadcaster. “Carrasquillo never swung his bat at any of those pitches as he heads back to the bench. Nothing wrong with Hammond’s work on that at bat. Here comes Vinnie T. to bat for Bailey, which is a good move. The catcher went 0 for four today with three strikeouts. Bailey’s a great hitter, but he may have come back too soon from that nagging oblique injury and he’s not swinging well. Hopefully, Vinnie can keep this inning alive.”

          Vinnie Thompson, a thirty-eight-year-old first baseman/third baseman with bad knees, was a free agent pickup for the Cubs in the off-season. Every other year, he has a good year. Last year, he was outstanding.

          “Thompson digs in from the right side of the plate. Hammond gets the sign. Here’s the pitch—it’s fouled back out of play. The guy attempting to catch the ball dropped it, and the fans are booing. From my count, there have been thirteen errors today: one on the field and twelve in the stands. Hammond is in his stretch—he throws and—there’s a weak dribbler back to the mound. Hammond fires to second for one, back to first, it’s a double play! The Mets have taken the season opener from the Cubs, three to two.”

          “Well, Mr. Banks, the Cubs may have let you down, but I’m gonna see that you get into the Cubs Hall of Fame. They are going to remember you, and trust me, you are going to spur your beloved Cubs on to greatness this year.”

          Ted struggled in his chair to see the man in the shadows behind him; the man who had forced his way into Ted’s apartment; who had bound him to his chair, drugged him, and gagged him; who had forced him to watch the game at the end of a nine-inch stiletto blade. Ted felt the blade at his throat then the blood running down, down, down. His attempts to scream were muffled by the warm blood gurgling in his slashed throat. His murderer’s voice seemed quieter as Ted began to slip away.

          “Thank you, Ted. The Cubs will win it all this year. Trust me; I’m making you a hero.”

* * *

          Banks’s lifeless body slumped in the leather chair, soaked in blood. The killer made sure Ted was dead then placed a Chicago Cubs baseball cap on Ted’s head, dimmed the lights, and headed out the door into the cool Chicago afternoon.

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