As noted before, this book contains strong language and adult themes. But if you read the first installment, you already know that, right?
Speaking of which, you can find that first installment here:
First Inning: #1-2
Hack: The First Inning
Hoplite, Ohio served as a weigh station for both those embarking on the promising beginnings to their young careers and those winding down from mostly blue-collar lives to a quieter, less strenuous existence.
The former were served by Baucomb College, a small, liberal arts school that nonetheless dominated most of town with its spread out, modern campus, owed largely to a number of wealthy alumni who wished to raise the profile of both their alma mater and the relatively sleepy surrounding suburb.
Though many of the older residents of the town would claim if asked that they moved there to “be around young people,” and “feed off their energy,” the only sense in which this was even remotely correct is that they relished in enforcing every local ordinance, no matter how minor, against the town’s younger denizens.
As a result, the town’s population remained relatively steady, though there was always plenty of turnover as folks either moved on or died off.
There were six main streets in the city, which intersected one another in a four square block area known as “the hub,” right off the edge of the Baucomb quad. There were all of the small mom & pop stores that one might expect to find in such a town, even some more obscure shopfronts like a tailor (Fred Knauss) and a cobbler (Marvin Adams), who were the city’s longest-tenured residents by over a decade.
That’s not to say that the town wasn’t modern; there was a nightclub that had sprung up five years before (“Club Trojan,” playing off of both the town’s Greek influences and the obvious sexual innuendo), several bars scattered about, and even an Old Navy and a Forever 21, the latter of which had been opened only several years before over the vocal opposition by the town’s old guard.
It was the type of place where people and storefronts were in constant flux, yet nothing changed at all. By the time one cadre was ready to move on, another stepped in to take its place, and argued with their other-aged counterparts over the same problems as the town’s previous residents.
Hoplite wasn’t even a “Triple-A” town. The residents knew that, and that was fine; they were in the northwest corner of the state, well over a hundred miles from both Cincinnati and Cleveland, and only slightly closer to Columbus.
It was a “Double-A” town, through and through. Hoplite loved its Magpies, and that’s the reason that the teal, ’67 Chevy swerved and peeled down Exeter Street (one of the main drags) in halting starts and leaps toward the barely-visible silhouette of John Paul Murphy Field maybe a mile ahead.
“Goddamn wheel—turn, damn you!” Hack hit the wheel and unknowingly hit the horn, which startled the man in the crosswalk in front of him. The pedestrian’s scornful look vanished, however, when it was clear Hack had no intention of paying heed to the “State Law Requires Cars to Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalks” sign posted nearby; the passerby practically had to dive out of the way to prevent himself from being hit by the fiery old man behind the wheel.
“I’m bigger than you!” Hack yelled over his shoulder at the poor fellow on the ground as he unscrewed the top on a flask and took a pull off of it. The one comfort that absolutely helped both his cough and the awful taste in the back of his throat was Old Reliable; it was the only thing that could steady him, a familiar, grounded feeling in the storm of nausea that otherwise sent him reeling.
Damned pills, Hack thought. Fortunately, it was ten in the morning, and few people strayed away from the Hub, especially in the direction of the stadium which was known as the “shady” part of town. Hack was able to weave and stutter the sickly green monstrosity into first the parking lot, and then toward the spots reserved for the team’s offices.
Hack turned off the ignition and removed the key before he took a deep breath, which caused a flurry of coughs. He reached for the handkerchief on the seat next to him, already stained with blood, and caught whatever material was expelled in the fit.
Once he had calmed down, he took another swig of whiskey, and, like any alcoholic worth his salt, grabbed a handful of peanuts from the open bag next to him, chewed them up to soak up any errant booze, opened the door, and spit out the shells on the asphalt. He then reached for a store brand bottle of mouthwash and took a swig. He nearly swallowed it out of habit before his eyes bulged and he expelled that, too on top of the pile of peanut debris on the ground next to the door.
He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his plaid shirt and took one more deep breath. He looked in the mirror and found several hairs in his crown of male pattern baldness out of place. He grabbed a comb from his shirt pocket and dumped some mouthwash over it before he ran it through the remnants of his hair several times.
Finally satisfied, he grabbed the wrinkled sport coat on the seat beside him and heaved himself out of the driver’s seat with difficulty. His knees screamed as he hit the pavement, but he smirked; at least that was one ailment that couldn’t be attributed to the cancer that was slowly eating him away from the inside out.
As minor league facilities go, John Paul Murphy was fairly typical. Renovated maybe fifteen years ago, it still could’ve used a couple of fresh coats of paint and a good spray-down. Minor league affiliates were way down on big league parent teams’ lists of priorities, though, and even if he would have never admitted as much, Hack was impressed by the job the Magpies had done on a shoestring budget.
Hack’s breathing became heavier as he approached the glass doors stenciled with the team’s logo, a rather severe-looking, bulked up, anthropomorphized magpie with an angry scowl and a bat thrown over its right shoulder.
He threw his weight on the door and expected it to yield, but it stood, resilient. Hack muttered a couple of curses and tugged the horizontal bar. The door swung open with a satisfying sucking noise, which made it seem like Hack was about to enter an airlock.
A pretty, corn-fed girl with a round face and long, brown hair sat at a plain, light-grey, enamel-coated desk. She clicked her mouse furiously, her eyes intently focused on the screen.
“Yes…YES…NO! Stupid zombies!” she said as she pushed the mouse away from her and off its pad. She sighed, resignedly, and cast skeptical eyes upward toward Hack.
“May I help you?” She asked without a smile.
Hack returned the favor, “Tell Keith Myrick that Hack O’Callahan is here to see him.”
“I’m sorry, but Mr. Myrick only sees people with appointments, and he doesn’t have any this morning. I’d be happy to make one for you for this afternoon if you’d like.”
Hack’s eyes shot to the ceiling before they leveled on the receptionist, “Look here, young lady, I managed Keith’s father for twelve goddamned years in the majors. The sonofabitch followed me around like he was a puppy dog and my ass was made out of bacon. I got him his first job as a goddamned bat boy, and now he’s too busy to see me?”
“No need to yell, sir.” The receptionist mustered as much politeness as she could, “Mr. Myrick is un—”
Just then, the door swung inward. A lanky, fresh-faced, tanned man wearing expensive-looking sunglasses and slicked-back, brown hair walked in the lobby. He carried a set of golf clubs over his shoulder.
“I’ll tell ya’, Marcy, I don’t even know why I play anymore,” the man shook his head. “Had to quit after nine today ‘cause I ran outta balls. Guess it’s ‘back to—” He started pulling his sunglasses off his head, but held them at the end of his nose when he saw the short, ornery old person standing at the desk.
“Hack? Hack O’Callahan? Wow, it’s been forever. How the hell are ya?”
Hack reached out and grabbed the man’s hand with a surprisingly firm grip.
“Little Keith Myrick. Grew a bit, have ya’, son?”
“Gosh, I’d like to think so!” Myrick punctuated the thought with what Hack thought was a phony laugh. Hack couldn’t even muster a grin. “To, uh, what do I owe the pleasure, Hack?”
“Why don’t we go into your office?” Hack threw a wise-ass, “told-you-so” smile at the receptionist, who half stuck out her tongue and raised her eyebrows as her head bobbed side-to-side.
“Sure, sure. Just give me a minute to set these down.”
Hack shook his head, “Always told your daddy that golf was a damned fool game for a baseball man. Goes against everything he’s taught; score less, individual over the team. Also royally fucks up a good swing, gets a .300 hitter droppin’ his fuckin’ shoulder like he’s Dave Kingman, makes him think he can hit the damn thing an Arkansas mile!”
Myrick laughed again, but one look at Hack’s eyes let the man know that the old-timer was deadly serious. He set his golf clubs down next to the desk.
“Marcy, can you watch these while I catch up with Mr. O’Callahan here?”
“Sure, Mr. Myrick. Should I hold your calls?”
“Yeah. Yes, that would be fine. Hack?” Myrick extended an outstretched hand toward the short hallway that qualified as the Magpies’ offices. Hack walked straight as an arrow; any hint of labor or pain covered through sheer force of determination.
At the end of the hallway, a cheap-looking, brass-colored plaque next to a white door read, “Keith Myrick, General Manager.” Hack grabbed the knob and didn’t even flinch when he was shocked by static electricity, built up as he had shuffled his feet along the shoddy, blue, indoor-outdoor carpet that lined the hallway.
Myrick’s “office” was little more than a ten-by-ten room adorned with all manners of baseball memorabilia. Most prominently, in a case in the corner sat a trophy with the inscription, “High-A Carolina League Champions, Chesterfield Birddogs, 2007.”
Perhaps a dozen or so pictures dotted the wall, nearly all of which contained both Keith and his father, John “Pug” Myrick. Of those, a couple featured a shorter figure in between the two men. Though his face was younger, and was framed by darker, thicker hair, Hack’s stony, unsmiling visage was unmistakable.
Hack shook his head as he threw himself into one of the uncomfortable chairs opposite Myrick’s comparatively plush, faux-leather chair, “Why do you keep those damned fool pictures around? I look like an asshole in ‘em.”
Myrick’s eyes widened and his voice softened, “Hack…I don’t know how to tell you this, but Dad’s dead.”
Myrick nodded, “He died going on three years ago now. No offense, but I keep the pictures around more to remind myself of him, not really you.”
“That’s a damn shame about your daddy, Keith. Damn shame…” Hack tailed off.
“Thank you, Hack. He adored you; really would’ve done anything for you. Learned a lot from you.”
“Well, I can’t take all the credit. He was a fuckin’ moron when I first met him, so I had a lot of work to do.”
Both men took a few moments to process the statement.
Myrick looked up, took a deep breath, and forced a smile, “What can I do for you, Hack?”
“I ain’t much one for beatin’ around the bush or nothin’, so I’m just gonna say it: I wanna’ manage your ballclub.”
Myrick laughed, “Glad to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor, Hack! Dad always said you were a real card. What can I really do for you today?”
“I’m serious. I want to manage your ballclub.”
Myrick started to laugh again, but Hack’s unblinking stare tunneled through him from the other side of the table. He held out a hand to his side, “You’re serious? Hack, we already have a very bright young manager, Willie Williams, really an up-and-comer—”
“He’s a goddamned moron too,” Hack interrupted. “And a fucking hot dog, to boot. Used to prance and preen after hitting a home run like goddamned King Fancypants. Once I told my pitchers to start nailin’ him a few times a season, his trot sped up a bit.”
“See, this is what I’m talking about—that old school, ‘eye for an eye’ bullshit may’ve worked in the old days, but the game has changed. The players have changed. You have players from a dozen different countries—”
“Now wait just a goddamned minute; one thing I’ve never been is a goddamned bigot.” Myrick leaned a skeptical eye in at Hack. “I mean, takin’ the piss outta guys and bustin’ their balls is one thing. Shit, I’m as much of a Mick headcase as anyone else, and all’a my players lemme’ know about it. But when it comes down to it, I don’t have a problem with any of ‘em. The nine best guys always play.”
“Even the Japanese players?” Myrick asked.
Hack flinched before he caught his tongue and thought for a minute. “I think so. They aren’t—”
“How about Koreans?”
Hack erupted into a flurry of coughs; it was the first time he was happy for one of the fits, since he didn’t know what he would’ve said otherwise. He brought out a fresh handkerchief from his back pocket and covered his mouth. Fortunately, there wasn’t too much blood, or at least too much for him to conceal with his hand as he placed the kerchief back in his pocket.
Hack forced a hint of a grin, “I’m over the war. If they can play, they can play.”
He only mostly-lied.
“So you’re asking me, a month into the season, to just throw Willie out on his ass, and hand you the keys to the team? Why in the hell should I do that?”
“Don’t be an asshole!” Hack shot back. “I ain’t a fool. Don’t sit back and tell me that you aren’t seein’ dollar signs comin’ outta’ my mouth right now. A Hall of Fame manager? Taking on this, pardon my French, shithole team of yours? That’d put asses in the seats. For Chrissake, Keith, you’re in last place right now!”
“With some of the Indians’ most promising prospects in years coming up!” Myrick yelled.
“Could’ve fuckin’ fooled me,” Hack crossed his arms over his chest. “Seems like Willie Williams either isn’t the manager you thought he was, or your players could use a dose of a different kind of managin’, ‘least for a while.
“Now, I’m not sayin’ throw Willie out; that wouldn’t be fair to him. Make him my assistant for a year, let him learn from a real manager what it’s like to get the most out of these nitwits.”
“Oh, is that all?” Myrick raised his hands out above his head and stood up, “So, we undermine everything Willie’s built over the past month with these guys and bring you in, and you teach Willie how to be a ‘real manager?’”
Hack stared Myrick down for a moment, “Yep. That about covers it.”
Myrick shook his head, but Hack cut him off, “Look, you said it yourself, your pop said that playin’ for me was the best thing that ever happened to him! All I wanna do is pass somma’ that on before I croak. One last year, and hopefully some of that grit’ll rub off on these panzie-ass players of yours.”
“Are you dying?” Myrick asked, point blank.
Hack didn’t flinch, “We all are. But if yer’ askin’ if I’m sick, well, hell, no more than any other damned fool my age,” he lied.
Myrick turned to face the window, which was maybe a foot by a foot. Next to the tiny pane of glass was one of the pictures with his father and Hack. His dad’s bright, beaming smile lit up the frame, the warm embrace of his old manager more than compensated for Hack’s dour, focused puss.
Myrick shook his head, “You know, before dad died, he told me, he said, ‘Son, I’m so damned proud of what you’ve done.’ I’m paraphrasing a bit, of course, he said, ‘what you’ve done in such a short period of time is nothin’ short of amazing. You’re on track to become a general manager in the big leagues by forty.’
“But you know what stood out to me most? He motioned for me to come closer, and so I did, and he said to me, ‘Son, I just wish I could’ve talked to Hack O’Callahan one more time. The guy taught me more about baseball, life, whatever, than anyone else I’ve ever been around.”
Hack smirked and nodded, “See? Told ya’ your pop was a sharp one.”
Myrick turned back to face Hack, “I can make you Willie’s bench coach. That way he can—”
“Manager or I walk.” Hack’s lips went taut and humorless.
Myrick shrugged and shook his head, “I don’t know how the hell I’m gonna explain this to the team. Let alone Willie…”
“Tell ‘em you were sick of the losing and the Indians told you to do it.”
“Shit, I have to run this by them, too…”
Hack pushed himself out of the chair and patted Myrick on his shoulder.
“You’ll figure it out, Keith; you’re a bright guy, ain’tchya?”
Myrick leveled his frown.
“The first inkling I have that the team is going in the tank, the first time I think Willie can do a better job, you’ll be—”
“I’ll be in the manager’s office if you need me,” Hack turned and walked to the door. “You may wanna’ tell Willie to get his shit outta’ my office whenever he rolls in.” He reached for the knob and twisted.
“Oh yeah,” Hack turned over his shoulder as he left, “Thanks fer’ invitin’ me to the funeral.”
The door slammed shut, and beads of sweat pooled across Keith Myrick’s usually easy-going, permanently-smiling face.
# # #
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), Kobo, iBooks, 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/Paperback, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords editions.
And if you want to check out the entire series, Hack: The Complete Game is available for $3.99 in Kindle/Paperback, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords editions.