Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Free Featured Fiction: Hack: The Second Inning, #1

We're still alive and kicking! I promise more details in the coming weeks. For now, please enjoy this Thursday edition of Free Featured Fiction, finally taking us from the friendly, warm confines of the First "Inning" of the story into the dark, damp, pneumonia-riddled cockles of...The Second Inning!

Not only that, but I'm double-dipping this week: TWO installments for you. Can't beat that kind of value...or the price...

Here are the previous installments of this series:

First Inning #s 1-2

First Inning #3
First Inning #4
First Inning #5

DISCLAIMER: This story contains adult language and content--reader discretion is advised...

And now, without further delay, the Second Inning begins. Enjoy! -D.J.



Hack: The Complete Game
D.J. Gelner
Second Inning
#s 1-2
“BOOM!”
The door to the media room slammed against the wall. Hack’s usual sneer was even darker and more dour than it had been only hours before the Magpies lost their first game under his management, 5-4.
It had been a while since Hack had confronted the media, save for some particularly nasty spats in the catering line in the Jake’s press box back in Cleveland.
It was Hack’s least favorite part of the job: explaining his decisions to the vile, pasty, overweight, obsessive lot who devoted their lives to covering the exploits of men who played a child’s game.
That isn’t to say that he didn’t relish the occasional verbal sparring and repartee that accompanied press conferences, but by-and-large, Hack preferred to be in the safe cocoon of the clubhouse, away from the prying eyes of reporters eager to make names for themselves.
And yet, when Hack opened the door to the media room, he was shocked.
He had expected news of his arrival to have spread all over the state of Ohio, for reporters from Fox Sports and ESPN to travel to Hoplite to bother, or even beg him for a sound bite, a quote, a quip.
If that fellow who had caused him to smash his TV the previous evening showed up, all the better.
Instead, only four reporters and two cameramen sat in the rusty-looking squadron of perhaps a dozen folding chairs in front of the microphone, which sat atop a gerry-rigged podium. Behind the podium sat a professional-looking purple backdrop with the Magpies’ logo interspersed with a string of letters and symbols that Hack didn’t recognize as a web address.
 The lack of attention angered Hack even more; he strutted to the podium and allowed his anger to take control.
When he was a couple of steps away, a young black man with close-cropped black hair and glasses stopped him with a handshake and a smile.
“Hey, Mr. O’Callahan! I’m Marc Blake, Magpie media relations. Nice to finally—” Blake whispered. A photographer’s flash bulb illuminated the pair.
“Yeah, yeah, yer’ the one that wrangles these animals.”
Blake smiled perhaps a bit too broadly, “Something like that. Your introductory press conference is going to have to wait until after Friday’s game, but we figured you could have a short meeting with the local media tonight so that—”
“Son, I’ve managed in this game for over forty years. I know what the hell I’m doin’ when it comes to the goddamned press. Just stay outta my way, okay?”
Blake pursed his lips and shook his head, “This isn’t Philly or even Cleveland, Coach. This is Hoplite; be gentle, okay?”
“Fuck off,” Hack nearly pushed Blake aside as he stormed to the podium. Several more flashes.
“Turn that goddamned thing off,” Hack hissed at the photographer. The stunned cameraman made a face and typed in several commands on his camera’s touchscreen.
Hack stood as the assembled media sat at various levels of rapt attention, eager for the grizzled manager to make some sort of comment on the loss.
“Well…shoot,” Hack commanded.
“Coach O’Callahan, Jim Taggert, Hoplite Herald,” Taggert was a raspy old cuss of a newspaperman, cut from the cloth of the great beat reporters, to the point that his gray hair and complexion could be attributable to the newsprint that coursed through his veins. His voice was as deep and gravely as a potholed parking lot. “Tough one to take there in the bottom of the ninth. Your thoughts on the loss?”
“My thoughts? I thought it was pretty terrible, obviously. We were winnin’, then we weren’t winnin’ anymore. Only so much I can do in six hours.”
“So you pin most’ve the blame on the closer, Tommy Stearns, for the two home runs in the ninth?”
Hack knew a trap when he saw it, “Team sport, team loss.”
“Coach O’Callahan, Liam Canard, Magpie Mayhem dot com,” A short, thin kid with a bob-cut and thick, black plastic frames asked.
“What the fuck now?” Hack muttered with a cough. Fortunately, the bark didn’t inspire a fit, and effectively masked his profanity.
“Magpie Mayhem? Only the premier site dedicated to all things Magpies?” Canard snorted with too much unearned superiority. “Did you think about pulling Stearns after the first homerun?”
“I’d have to be a damned fool not to,” Hack said. “But fer’ tonight, all I had to go on were scouting reports, turned in by scouts who may or may not be thick-headed shits who have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about.”
An attractive blonde female who wore a loud, pink business blazer winced and shook her head at the video cameraman next to her.
“So for now? Right now? Sure, Stearns is the closer. But he fell in love with his fastball too much tonight. Trusted ‘the old way’ of doin’ things. Right now, everyone on this team should be on notice, no matter how good ya’ are or what kind of a prospect the team thinks ya’ are, if we don’t start winnin’, I’m gonna make some changes. Hell, I might make some changes fer’ Friday, just fer’ the hell of it.”
“But his xFIP is off the—”
“His what now?” Hack asked.
“XFIP? You know, expected fielding independent pitching?”
Hack shook his head at Taggert, “And here I was thinking that Stearns had some kind of disease. Last time I checked, son, nothing a pitcher does is independent of his fielders.”
“That may be true, but by using different metrics, it clearly was the right decision to—”
“It was clearly the wrong decision to give this kid a credential, Blake.” Hack stared through Canard, who cowered in his seat.
Taggert raised his notebook, “Coach, talk a bit about that throw Manny Poblado made in the sixth.”
Hack nodded curtly, “Hell of a throw. Rocket arm on that kid, ta’ backhand it in the hole like that, and rifle it over to Patrón at first ta’ get the guy, that’s somethin’ else.”
Taggert could’ve sworn he saw the gears already turning in the salty manager’s head.
“Coach O’Callahan, April Barker, Channel 7 News,” the woman in the pink blazer said, “Why did you decide to make your return to Hoplite, and why right now?”
“Whoa, hey, sorry folks,” Blake stepped forward, hands outstreched, “Coach is gonna answer questions about all’a that good stuff after Friday’s game. This is a game night only session.”
“Okay then,” Barker said. “How was your first game in Hoplite? What’d you think of the fans?”
“The fans? You think I have time to think about the fans during a game, Missy? Let me tell you somethin’, I didn’t meet any of these players until an hour before game time,” Hack paused to let the sentiment linger in the media room.
Hack didn’t have to tell them that it was his choice not to.
“I was tryin’ to get a feel for the club, figure out what’s what.”
“Did you?” Barker asked.
“What?”
“Did you get a feel for the club?”
Hack grimaced, “Gettin’ there. I’d like to get a little better feel fer’ ‘em. So if you’ll excuse me…” Disappointment washed over the faces of all those in the room, including Blake. Hack looked around for something to knock over and settled on the pitcher of ice water on the podium. He swatted the container with the force of a man half his age. Its contents spilled on the concrete floor below, fittingly close to one of the scattered drains as he waddled through the exit into the clubhouse.
He was met by Pete Moray’s pleasant face, made deceptively pudgy by the large dip he packed.
“Pete, I wanna talk to ya’ for a minute after I address the men.”
Pete nodded sharply with a tight smile.
Hack shuffled into the locker room, which was abuzz with activity. Mitch Henry had an icepack on his left shoulder, but nonetheless held court with the other blue-collar players on the squad, including Kyle “Oiler” Derrick and Colin “Murph” Murphy, who was scheduled to be the starting pitcher on Friday after the Magpies’ day off on Thursday.
Noticeably absent from the group was Tommy Stearns, who sat in front of his locker, hat brim pulled far over his head.
“Well, that was just fuckin’ wonderful, gentlemen. Absolutely fantastic. Henry over here goes out and throws a gem, and how do ya’ repay him? An error and a couple’a taters? And we lose the game.”
Henry’s glare over at Stearns pushed the nominal closer deeper into his chair.
“That was a dogshit game, men. A dogshit game by a dogshit group of players. Notice I ain’t callin’ ya’ a team yet. That wouldn’t be right. Because the way yer’ all playin’ right now, you’re like a goddamned bunch of girls.”
Hack spat the last word like it was the worst insult he could level at the players.
An errant chuckle echoed around the locker room, but whomever had released it collected himself before Hack could find the offender.
Hack slowly shook his head, “That may’ve been over the line a bit—I apologize. But mark my words, men: there will be changes. Tomorrow, we practice, 8:00 am.”
Hack expected a collective groan that never materialized.
“That’s all, gentlemen. Get plenty’a sleep tonight: this ain’t Charles’s practice yer’ gonna be goin’ through tomorrow.”
Hack marched off toward the coaches locker room, opened the door, and slammed it behind him.


“Who the fuck is Charles?” Mitch Henry asked the still-silent room.
#2





“How’s it goin’, Hack?” Pete Moray had spent the past twenty-five years of his life perfecting the art of talking with a dip packed firmly in his lower lip. The result was a booming baritone voice that seemed more fitting for a baptist minister than the hearty, but slim, assistant coach of the Magpies.
Especially since he still wore an old-fashioned chain connected to the temples of his out-of-style, gold glasses.
“Eh, we’re all waitin’ to die, ain’t we?” Hack asked.
Moray chuckled, “Shit, the way you’re goin’, you won’t have to worry about that for another fifteen years. I just assumed they’d dig a hole in the third base coach’s box and throw you right in, wouldn’t even stop the game.”
Hack shook his head, “How the fuck did you get a copy of my will?” Hack sold the joke without so much as a smile, but Moray couldn’t help but choke out a few hearty chuckles.
“Is that why you came back?” Moray had no way of knowing how accurate the jest was.
“Eh, just never shook the bug, Pete. You know how it is: through all of the ex-wives and season after season, we’re baseball men, through-and-through.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Moray said. “What can I do ya’ for?”
“Well Pete, I couldn’t help but notice that we’ve got a lotta’ Latin guys on the team.”
Moray laughed.
“What the fuck’s so funny?”
“Shit, we probably have the fewest Latin guys in the league, by far. We’re so white, guys on other teams are always kiddin’ with us that we should change our name to the Ghosts. Or at least the Seagulls. The game’s changed, Hack. It’s not like it was when we were in Oakland together for that year, all honkies and brothers.”
“Well, I know we only have the one brother, but this is somethin’ that was just startin’ to pick up right as I was retirin’.”
“You retired in 2006,” Moray said.
“Yeah?” Hack replied.
Moray allowed time for Hack to make the connection before he shook his head, “Never mind.”
“Anyway, I don’t know how to speak Spanish. And I’ll be damned if the Latin guys just sit in their own corner, playin’ cards and listenin’ to that shitty music of theirs.”
“So whattaya want me to do about it?” Moray asked.
“You know Spanish from managin’ down in winter ball, right?”
“Shit, I know it from a lot more than that. Playin’ winter ball, Latin teammates, I’m not just some dumb farmboy from Nebraska, you know.”
“Yeah, ya’ always were one of the sharper ones, Pete,” Hack walked over and put his arm on Moray’s shoulder. “Which is why I want you to teach ‘em all English.”
Moray’s eyes went wide and rolled, to the point that his head tilted backward momentarily, “What now?”
“Teach ‘em English. Get ‘em all up to speed.”
“That’s easier said than done, Hack. I haven’t taught anyone English before, and—”
“You taught yourself Spanish, right?”
“Well…sure.”
“How’d you do that?”
“I dunno…soap operas…cartoons…the odd hooker or two.”
Hack nodded, “Well, there ya’ go. Ya’ have yer’ blueprint.”
Moray bobbed his head in with a smile that faded quickly.
“You’re serious?”
“Shit yes, Pete! I’m too old and curmudgeonly to learn how to speak Spanish—”
“To be fair, I don’t think you ever would’ve taken it up on your own,” Moray offered a disarming smile.
Hack ignored it, “But the Latin guys seem to respect you. You need to get ‘em over all of this culture clash, ‘our way or the highway’ bullshit and get ‘em so I can understand what they’re saying.”
Moray shook his head, “It’s not that.”
“What?”
“It’s not that they refuse to speak English. Most’ve ‘em, at least—there’s always gonna’ be an asshole or two in any clubhouse, ‘gardless of his nationality. Shit, look at Fynch and Henry; one’a ‘em was born with a silver shovel in his mouth, the other poor-as-hell. Lotta’ roads lead to ‘asshole’ in this profession.
“Most’a these Latin guys want to feel comfortable, and don’t wanna come across as idiots. If you were thousands’a miles from home, you’d hang around with American guys and speak English, too.”
Hack’s eyes grew narrow and dark, “I was thousands of miles from home, in the god-damned jungles near the 38th  parallel, bein’ shot at by hundreds’a Ko-reans each day. So don’t you lecture me about bein’ thousands of miles from home.”
Instead of inspiring the fear that Hack had hoped, Moray simply nodded and grinned.
“Sure, sure—I know, Hack. Didn’t mean nothin’ by it with regard to you. I’ll work with ‘em, but don’t expect any overnight miracles, either.”
Hack turned toward the door to the manager’s office, “You have two months,” Hack said.
“Or what?” Moray asked with a chuckle.
“Or God help us…” Hack muttered.
* * * 


OK, I know, I've been kind of shitty (hey, if you read through that, you can't be THAT offended...) at updating the blog as of late, but I will keep pumping these out until we run out of segments, which could be a while...

     Can't wait? You can get 
Hack: Innings 1-3 for free on Scribd (as a PDF), KoboiBooks, and Smashwords. It's $0.99 on Amazon and Nook due to their Byzantine price match policies.

     And if you want to check out the entire series, 
Hack: The Complete Game is available for $3.99 in Kindle/PaperbackNookKoboiBooks, and Smashwords editions.
 
Thanks for reading, and Happy Hunting!

D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com.
 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Free Featured Fiction: "Hack: The First Inning," #5

More free fiction! Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

I'm going to keep on serializing the first installment of
Hack as long as I have segments to give. Why? Because I'm a hell of a guy, that's why!

Previous Installments

#s 1-2: HERE
#3: HERE

#4: HEREDisclaimer: This story contains adult language and themes. Reader discretion is advisedEnjoy!
-D.J.

Hack: The First Inning
#5
D.J. Gelner


5

“KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.”

“Come in,” Hack growled from the couch. He had been trying to nap for maybe an hour or more, but was only able to nod off for a few abbreviated stretches.

The door cracked open with sufficient temerity that Hack immediately knew it wasn’t Willie coming back for “round two,” nor was it Keith, who apparently fancied himself King Shit of Hoplite.

Instead, an attractive redhead peeked her head in the office. An awkward-looking, freckled boy with a mop of brown hair and long nose peered over her shoulder.

“Yeah?” Hack asked, already annoyed.

“Uh…Mr. O’Callahan? I’m Samantha Rappaport, one of the interns for the Magpies. This is Barry Wojciechowski,” she turned to face the beanpole behind him, and he offered a timid wave.

“Are you the ones who’re supposed’ta move Willie’s stuff?” Hack asked.

“Yes…yes, we are,” the look on Samantha’s face indicated that they had already heard more than they ever wanted to know about Hack from the man who had recently been demoted to bench coach.

“I’m guessin’ then that you can get some shit fer’ me too?”

Samantha looked back at Barry, who shrugged.

“Sure. Sure, we can do that.”

“Good. I’m gonna’ need a pen and paper—how you people can run an organization without it is beyond me.”

“Actually, our computer system has won several awards for user-interface and—” it was the first time Barry piped up. After the look Hack gave him in reply, he was sorry he had done so.

“I need a dozen black handkerchiefs. Or red, or blue—dark colors. I need all the Robitussin ya’ can find. I need a hotplate and a supply of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle; not that cheap imitation shit—it gives me the fuckin’ runs. I need a case of Ol’ Reliable, I need—”

“The fiber supplement?” Samantha asked.

“What? No—Christ! Actually, I need that too, but—” he waved a hand at them, “—the whiskey, the whiskey. Not the little bottles, either—the big sonsabitches.”

“We’re not twenty-one,” Samantha shook her head.

Just…get it.” The two interns jumped as Hack raised his voice. “And I need a program.”

“What OS do you use?” Barry jumped in.

“What? What kind of a dumb Pollack question is that? A program? You know, with all’a the players and their statistics and everything?”

“Oh…” Barry thought for a minute, “…I think we still have those.”

“You better, ’cause if not, I need stat reports on all’a our hitters against the pitcher we’re goin’ against tonight, and pitch-by-pitch breakdowns on how our starter and our relievers do against all’a their guys.”

“That’s all in the database.”

“The what-the-fuck now?”

Barry shook his head, “Forget it. I’ll get you the relevant printouts.”

Hack snorted, “How’s that for a change? An enterprising Pollack…”

“What’s that?” Barry asked.

“What?”

“A Po-lock?”

“Fer’get it,” Hack waved the question away.

“Is that everything you need?” Samantha asked.

“For now, yeah.”

“How’re we supposed to pay for this stuff?” She asked.

“Tell Keith to take it outta my paycheck.”

The interns stood and stared at Hack. He glared right back.

“Well? I’m waitin’. Get ta’ gettin’!”

They quickly loaded Willie’s modest belongings onto a pushcart and wheeled them away.

Not but an hour later, Hack heard another knock on the door.

“Yeah?” He had nodded off again.

Samantha and Barry appeared in the doorway.

“Well if it isn’t Tweedledee,” he looked at Samantha before he turned his scowl toward Barry, “and Tweedledumb. Need more instruction, do yas’? Old man didn’t explain what—?”

“No, we have everything. Even the whiskey, just like you asked.” Samantha said. Barry pushed the cart with the requested items piled atop it.

“No shit…” Hack said. He wobbled to his feet and grabbed a colorful, neon orange binder from the top of the pile. “What the fuck is this?”

“Those are the reports you requested,” Barry said, confident for the first time in Hack’s presence. “A team overview of stats, plus splits for all of Springfield’s pitchers, and splits for our hitters against their hitters, indexed alphabetically.”

“Christ, whattaya have, friends at NASA?” Hack thumbed through the printed out pages, “This’ll be just fine…yeah…just fine…” he looked up at Barry without even a hint of a smile, “You keep this up and they’ll be sure to give you a raise.”

“Oh, we don’t get paid,” Barry said nonchalantly. “We’re college students doing this for course credit.”

“I knew it! I knew a Pollack couldn’t possibly be this smart,” Hack harumphed. “Why in the sam hell would ya’ wanna work for a minor league team for free?”

Samantha shrugged, “Get in the industry. Work our way up.”

Hack shook his head, “Look sweetie, I understand you’re tryin’ to bag yerself a husband,” Samantha recoiled in horror, “but you, Pollack—this is dead end, son. There’s no future in it. Stop wastin’ your time.”

Samantha scowled at Hack before she composed herself again.

“Will there be anything else, Mr. O’Callahan?”

“Naw, this should keep me busy for a while. Go on…” this time, he didn’t have to say it twice; the interns couldn’t hide their faces of displeasure as they left the office.

Hack sat at the desk and threw himself into the research for the next several hours. Two of the scouting reports in particular caught his eye: the catcher, Robert (“nickname: Truck,” the scouting report read) Traynor, who, judging by the numbers, hit anything thrown at him like it had just insulted his mother: .344 average last season with 38 home runs and 138 RBIs.

The other one was the shortstop, Manny Poblado, who still started despite the following “glowing” review in his scouting report: “Can’t hit, middling range, mediocre speed, decent arm.”

“How the hell is this kid startin’?” Hack asked himself.

Within an hour, Hack had assembled his lineup for the evening. Players trickled in, but Hack kept himself busy by reading all of the binders the “Pollack kid, Woja-somethin’,” had assembled. He wasn’t the type to glad hand a bunch of minor leaguers, especially when they hadn’t yet been fortunate enough to make his acquaintance, and especially when they were as sheltered and soft as this group looked to be from their pictures.

Game time was 7:05 that evening, and the Magpies were scheduled to take batting practice at 6:05. At 5:55, all of the players sat in the dingy folding chairs in front of their lockers. Some of them played video games on their phones, or, for the more serious gamers among them, their Sony or Nintendo portables.

Others congregated in the various cliques that had naturally formed, generally along racial lines, though there was a marked tension between the self-described “rednecks” and more suburban, affluent white players.

It didn’t help that the clubhouse only featured one older, cathode ray TV, similar to the one Hack had smashed to bits in his home the previous evening. All of the various cliques fought over what channel it should be on.

“God damn it,” a hulking man with sandy hair said in a Southern accent, “Who the fuck put it on How I Met Your Mother? No one likes that intellectual bullshit.”

“Shut up, Mitch,” a thinner brown-haired player with glasses shot back.

“Fuck you, Sid. I’m pitchin’ tonight. If I do a shitty job, I blame it on this bullshit.”

As if to make Mitch’s point, Josh Radnor’s character on the show launched into one of his insufferably self-important monologues.

“I don’t think Larry the Cable Guy’s on right now,” Truck Traynor said with a grin.

“Nope. But Duck Dynasty sure as shit is, and that shit is funny as fuck,” Mitch replied.

“Homesick, are we?” Sid asked.

Truck shook his head and laughed as he put on his shin guards.

“You little bitch—” Mitch took two giant-sized steps toward Sid, who’s only defense consisted of a wise-ass grin.

All the while, the Latin players escalated an argument over an esoteric card game and the din of salsa music in their own corner of the locker area.

Hack had struggled into his uniform hours before, but was just now folding one of the crisp, dark handkerchiefs into his back pocket. He swigged down another gulp of Robitussin, and several deeper swallows off of the already half-full bottle of Old Reliable.

He heard a “crash” from the locker room and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of the turtleneck he wore under his uniform before he grunted and waddled to the door.

Hack shook his head at the scene that unfolded outside: Mitch Henry, that evening’s starting pitcher, had Linus “Sid” Fynch in a headlock, as Truck Traynor tried to pull the hulking southerner off of the center fielder. Meanwhile, Manny Poblado and first baseman Juan Patrón slapped each other as Spanish curse words resonated throughout the locker room.

“God damn it,” Hack sighed as his eyes narrowed, the emotionless, sad orbs finally ignited in their sockets and began to dance.

“Hey! Stop it. Stop it!” Hack yelled as he stumbled toward the locker room. Even though he screamed over the din, the players were too engrossed in their various altercations to pay any heed.

Frustrated, Hack picked up a bat along the wall and swung it against the mesh metal siding of the locker next to him.

The ash connected with the mesh with a loud “BOOM,” and dented the web of metal. The players looked up to see who or what had caused the commotion, and were surprised to see that it was a short, bald senior citizen.

And he was pissed.

“I don’t know what the fuck kind’a country club operation Coach Williams was runnin’ here, but the first rule of my locker room is that when I tell you all to shut the fuck up—” Hack screamed the words at the players and raised the bat toward them, all of whom took a half-step back, “—you god damn well do it! Are we clear?”

“Who the hell’re you?” Mitch asked.

Hack galloped over toward Henry and shoved the bat in the towering pitcher’s face, “I’m yer’ worst fuckin’ nightmare, son. No wonder our country’s gonna be taken over by the goddamned Chi-nese. Yer’ a bunch of dumbass baseball players, and you don’t even recognize greatness when it’s swingin’ a god damned bat around yer’ locker room! My name is Hack O’Callahan. I’m yer’ new manager.”

Willie belatedly raced into the room to check in on the commotion.

A bespectacled black player in the far corner of the room gasped.

Everyone else looked blank.

“Hack O’Callahan?” The black player asked. “The Hack O’Callahan? Four World Series rings, greatest manager of all-time Hack O’Callahan?”

“I like this one already,” Hack offered a half-grin. “This old ass of mine could use a good kissin’.” The players half-laughed at the comment. “But on this team, make no mistake, you are to refer to me as Coach, or ‘Coach O’Callahan.’ If you earn my respect, maybe someday I’ll let you call me ‘Coach Hack.’”

“Is this true, Willie?” Truck Traynor asked.

Willie nodded, “In light of Coach O’Callahan’s remarkable record, I’ve agreed to step aside for the season and become his bench coach. You all are to offer him the same respect that you would me.”

“Bullshit, Charles,” Hack shot back, “If you offer me the same respect that you offered him,” Hack stuck a gnarled thumb at Willie, “You’ll get the same shitty result. You will offer me more respect than any coach you’ve ever had. More than your shitty little high school coaches or…” he looked over at the stunned Latin players in the corner, “…whatever…y’all have down wherever you’re from. For the Einsteins amongst’yas’, more than yer’ ivory tower, egghead college coaches.

“I command that respect, gentlemen, because I am better than those coaches. I have four of these,” he balled his left hand into a fist and thrust it in front of him to showcase a glittering, ruby-and-diamond -studded monstrosity of a ring, “to prove it. So forgive me if I’ll be damned if some little pissant comes in here and acts like he’s King Shit. I’ve got news for you, buddy; yer’ King shit, minus the ‘king.’ Are we clear?”

Maybe half of the players nodded. Others looked toward Mitch Henry or Truck Traynor for guidance.

“I’m not here to be yer’ momma, and I sure as hell ain’t here to be yer’ buddy. In fact, I couldn’t give a damn if you hate each others’ guts, and can’t wait to strangle each other. But men, those murders are gonna’ have to wait until after the season.”

A few chuckles went up from around the room.

“I know it can be tough for a lot of you, especially the Latin guys and the brothers—” Hack nodded in turn toward the Latin players in the far right corner of the room, and the bookish black player in the left corner of the room. “Where’re the rest of you?” Hack asked the black player, unthinking.

“What do you mean? College men?” As if to underscore the point, he pushed the glasses up on the bridge of his nose.

“No, no—the brothers? You know…black guys?”

“Yeah, Eldrake—where the hell are they?” Henry asked.

Eldrake?” Hack emphasized the first syllable.

“Eldrake Gamble,” he stuck out his hand, “I’m honored to meet you, sir.”

“Christ—what the hell is this, a box social? We’re ballplayers, not bankers,” Hack paused for laughs but received only quizzical glances. “You need a nickname. What’d the other kids in the hood call ya’?”

Willie smacked himself in the face, while Henry let out a low, ignorant laugh.

“Actually, I grew up in Buckhead, Georgia. Suburbs of Atlanta. Went to Georgia Tech, so I’m—”

“How about ‘Flash?’”

“Excuse me?”

“Flash? Ya’ know—like the comic book hero?”

Gamble snorted out a nerdy laugh, “Uh, I’m not exactly known for my speed, but—”

“Flash Gamble makes you sound dangerous, like you’d put a guy’s head through a car window before he knows what’s what.”

“Uh…okay then…” Gamble tailed off, hand still outstretched

“No need to shake my hand, either. Like I said, I ain’t here to be yer’ buddy. I ain’t here to discriminate on none’a’ya, either; I don’t care if yer’ white, black, brown, yella’, or purple, ‘cept if yer’ purple ‘cause yer’ chokin’ on somethin’, and even then I only give a shit if you can hit or pitch a little.”

This one elicited the desired chuckles, except from Willie, who rolled his eyes that the old codger was already repeating material.

“Everyone will get a shot, and we will win ballgames. The good ones of yous’ might even make it to the show. But gentlemen, the next time I walk in and yer’ fightin’ each other like a bunch of goddamned dogs tearin’ each other apart for a bone, I will take this bat, and shove it up somebody’s ass!”

More chuckles followed, along with a couple of guffaws from Henry’s corner. Even Manny Poblado smiled at the reference. Traynor winced and shook his head.

“The lineup for tonight is up on the manager’s door. You got a problem with it? Tough shit. Show me somethin’ in practice. Now get on out there and take some BP, will ya’?!”

Silence swallowed the room for a couple of seconds as everyone looked toward their various clique leaders as to how to respond.

Finally, Truck Taylor clapped and let out a sharp, “Yeah!”

Perhaps spurred on by Hack’s casual racism, Mitch Henry soon followed suit, as did the Latin players, only some of whom had any idea what exactly had just happened, other than that a crotchety, elderly man barged into their locker room and hit a locker with a bat. Pete Moray, who still hadn’t said a word to Hack, rushed over to try to interpret for those with clueless looks on their faces.

As the team took the field, Hack finally broke into a wide grin.

It’s good to be home, he thought.
* * *
Tune in to "Free Featured Fiction" again next week to see what's in store for our scheming hero.

Can't wait? You can get Hack: Innings 1-3 for free on Scribd (as a PDF), KoboiBooks, and Smashwords. It's $0.99 on Amazon and Nook due to their Byzantine price match policies.

     And if you want to check out the entire series, 
Hack: The Complete Game is available for $3.99 in Kindle/PaperbackNookKoboiBooks, and Smashwords editions.
 
Thanks for reading, and Happy Hunting!

D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com.