Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Free Featured Fiction: "Hack: The First Inning," #3, by D.J. Gelner

Apologize for the late start today, but things are busy over here at HTR HQ. Wednesday means more free fiction, which means the second installment in Hack: Innings 1-3.

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


Enjoy!
Hack: The First Inning
D.J. Gelner

3
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.”
“What?”
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), 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.
 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Free Featured Fiction: "Hack: The First Inning," #1-2, by D.J. Gelner

No new submissions, so we start the next odyssey: the first third of my novel, Hack: The Complete Game. Like with Twilight of the Gods, I'll start with the first two subchapters to get you into the story a bit, then go subchapter to subchapter after that.

I think folks will enjoy it, even if you aren't really a baseball fan, but there's one disclaimer:


There's quite a bit of adult language and themes in this one, so if that offends you, click away now.

If you're still around, great! I hope you'll enjoy it.

-D.J.






Your love for the game made these books possible.

Hack: Innings 1-3
First Inning
D.J. Gelner

1
 
“So, what’s the bad news, doc?” The old man sat in a “damned-fool” hospital gown at the foot of the exam table. Any sharpness to his voice had long since been eroded by a constant stream of whiskey and millions of puffs on cheap cigars.

The doctor cleared his throat, “You’re sick, Mr. O’Callahan.”

“Christ, that’s a relief. ‘Cause if I was shittin’ and coughin’ up blood and I was healthy as a horse, I guess I’d just be a fuckin’ weirdo, wouldn’t I? How much did you pay for your medical degree, son? What’re ya, fifteen, sixteen years old like that kid doctor on TV?” O’Callahan punctuated his outburst with a coughing fit.

The doctor casually pulled two or three tissues from the box on the counter and threw them at the old man, “Very sick, actually. You have an advanced hepatocellular carcinoma—”

“Hepta-deca-whatnow?” O’Callahan asked.

“—Liver cancer. It’s already starting to spread to other parts of your body, including a small tumor in your stomach, hence the rather disturbing symptoms you’re experiencing.”

O’Callahan’s coughing finally subsided. He pulled the tissues away from his mouth only to find a dark, red spot the size of a half-dollar. He didn’t even need to look; he’d been hit in the face hundreds of times by errant balls thrown or hit by his players, and probably a half dozen more by players who had aimed for his mug. He was familiar with the metallic taste of his own blood as it pooled in his mouth and coated his tongue.

But Roger “Hack” O’Callahan also knew that something was off. This time there was an underlying sweetness to the blood, kind of a mixture of oranges and acetone, that stuck with him in the back of his throat even as he struggled to choke the blood back down.

“Cancer? Well…shit.” Hack stared the young physician down for a moment, and not finding the sympathy he so craved, looked downward.

“Not just cancer, Mr. O’Callahan, but stage three liver cancer. It’s one of the deadliest strains we know of, actually. Very rare. I’d recommend starting chemo—”

“How long?” Hack didn’t bother looking up.

“Well, if you start chemotherapy tomorrow, as I was about to suggest, then maybe a year-and-a-half, maybe two years.”

Hack shook his head, “I ain’t gonna be some sad sack’a bones hooked up to a bag, waitin’ for all my hair to fall out.” The doctor raised an eyebrow, apparently not getting the joke even as Hack stroked his shiny head. “Without the chemo?”

The doctor’s eyes were framed by his thick glasses and level, “Six months. Maybe a year.”

Hack stroked his chin, “It’s temptin’ to make my detractors wait another few months ta’ piss on my grave…” he paused for a laugh that the doctor never gave, “…but I’ll pass on the chemo, Doc. Bet they wouldn’t even let me sneak in any Ol’ Reliable, would they?”

“Old Reliable?” The doctor’s face scrunched up into a grimace.

“You know? Ol’ Reli-ble?” He slurred the words enough that the doctor understood, “That cheap-ass paint thinner they try to pass off as whiskey. Kinda’ an acquired taste.”

Mister O’Callahan, if you’re suggesting that you can continue drinking with this cancer, as your physician I have to say that you simply—”

Hack extended a hand and patted the doctor on the head, “As my physician, son, all you have to do is shut yer’ fuckin’ trap—” he moved his hand to the doctor’s face and gave him a couple of quick, semi-lighthearted raps on the cheek, “—and stay the fuck outta’ my goddamned business. Okay?”

The color drained from the doctor’s face as he took two steps back, hovered for a moment, and recovered from the two (Hack thought) innocuous slaps, that may as well have been haymakers.

“You don’t want to listen to me? Fine!” The doctor thundered. His face reddened both with pain and anger. “Go ahead and die, you miserable old fart. Dr. Patel told me about you, and what a miserable, awful person you were.”

“Really? I didn’t think he could hear me through that turbin’a his.”

The doctor scribbled a couple of notes in his file, then drew several vertical loops like he was trying to bore his way through the sheet. He then handed Hack a piece of paper with a prescription.

“What the hell is this?” Hack asked.

“A prescription for vicodin, for pain as it may arise. Do not take it with alcohol.”

Yeah, right, Hack thought.

 “As much as I may find you personally distasteful, I still took an oath that I would do no harm to others,” Hack could tell the doctor was ready to explode, but the physician did well to contain his anger with a deep breath, “and so I shall try to respect your wishes and make you as comfortable as possible as you wait for your,” he exhaled, “inevitable death.”

“Thanks, Doc,” Hack held out his right hand for the doctor to shake, and looked up to see the doctor’s wide eyes. He looked down again and saw that his hand still clutched the bloody tissues from before.

“Shit, sorry,” Hack placed the tissues on the counter a moment before his throat spasmed, and another coughing fit sprayed the air with blood. He grabbed the tissues and brought them to his mouth until the hacking subsided.

“Aw, god damn it!” Hack said, legitimately angry. Specks of blood dotted the doctor’s white lab coat as the color of the physician’s face struggled to match the dark red fluid now on his person. “Let me get that fer’ ya…” Hack brought the bloody tissue to his tongue and moistened it before he rubbed the soiled kleenex on the blood spots on the doctor’s garment.

“Mister O’Callahan, please—”

“I know—I’ll get it out. Got any club soda? I think there’s a soda machine down the hall somewhere—”

Mister O’Callahan!” The doctor thundered. The elderly man in front of him didn’t recoil as expected, but instead met his angry eyes with his own steely gaze.

“Listen, son,” Hack’s tone was even and level as he placed the hand containing the bloody tissue on the doctor’s left shoulder, “I’ve been called every name in the book ‘cept Chi-nese, and a few more that I reckon are just plain made up. Most of the time, it’s some arrogant little shit, like yourself, come to think of it, who thinks he’s got it all figured out. They come in and they tell you to fuck off, that they don’t need to listen to some old timer bendin’ their ears about throwin’ a curveball, or where to position themselves with two on and nobody out in a close game.

“Every one of ‘em who challenges me, who thinks that I don’t know best—every one of ‘em to a man,” Hack exploded to within an inch of the doctor’s face, almost as if arguing with an umpire back in his heyday, “who doesn’t come around is sellin’ insurance or askin’ how some asshole wants his Jag waxed. And you know why?” He leaned in toward the doctor, who had finally lost his composure and was trembling uncontrollably.

“Because…I do know best!” he practically spat the words at the doctor, and added uppity little shit in his mind for good measure before he took a step back, stared the doctor down for a moment, and walked toward the door.

“Don’t worry, Mr. O’Callahan,” the doctor forced a smile.

Looks like someone suddenly developed a bedside manner, Hack thought.

“I’ll get a new coat in the morning.”

“Great seein’ ya, doc,” Hack didn’t so much as glance at the doctor as he put on his overcoat and hat and walked out of the room.

“But…Mr. O’Callahan! Your clothes?!” The doctor yelled after him.

“Fuck it,” Hack yelled back as he shuffled his bare feet down the hallway, with only the flimsy acrylic gown and tweed overcoat to cover him. 

2

  “Hey, ‘evenin’ Mr. O’C!” the large black man who guarded the press entrance to Jacobs Field beamed with recognition. They had changed the name of the stadium because some insurance company had cut a big check to the Indians a few years back, but to Hack, it’d always be the good old Jake. 

“‘Evenin’ Jerry,” Hack said gruffly, with a hint of a smile.

“How you think we’re gonna do tonight?”

“Whattaya mean? Stevenson is pitching,” Hack waddled into the waiting elevator and turned around just as the doors were about to close, “We’re fucked.”

“Have a goo—” Jerry’s warm voice was cut off as the doors thudded shut. Hack hit the button marked “3,” and the elevator stirred to life. He always relished these last few moments on the elevator before the doors opened to reveal the hoofing obnoxiousness of the “Press Animals,” as Hack often referred to them. The subtle hum of the elevator still always brought a smile to the old man’s face; given everything he’d been through, such grins were becoming increasingly rare.

The elevator jolted to a stop and the doors opened on the press box, already a hive of click-clacking drones who hammered away on their keyboards, even five minutes before game time. It wasn’t nearly as busy as ten years ago, or even five, but there was still a healthy buzz around the room, which was just now beginning to show its age. A hint of stale pretzels and nacho cheese mixed with the remnants of the bleach-based antiseptic the Indians used to make the press box smell like the unhealthiest hospital one might ever come across.

Hack turned left out of the elevator and nodded at the various media-types; he was never overly-friendly with any of them, even (or perhaps especially) the ones who were close to his age, and who had thus battled words with Hack in the press room underneath old Municipal Stadium.

He stopped at the buffet and grabbed four or five packs of roasted, in-the-shell peanuts. Much to the consternation of the custodial crew, Hack had a bad habit of chewing the peanuts whole, shell and all, and spitting out the shells onto the floor, like he was Joe Fan in the stands. Unfortunately, the cleaning crew couldn’t just hose the press box down like it was the bleachers, and thus were left to clean up Hack’s mess through plenty of vacuuming and gallons of carpet spray.

Not that Hack cared. To him, baseball wasn’t baseball without the salt-caked lips and intoxicating, slightly toasted aroma that the peanuts provided. It was especially true now that he couldn’t really fully eliminate that sickly sweet, nail-polish remover taste out of the back of his throat.

He finally reached his seat on the far left side of the press box, next to the broadcast booth, which was partitioned off only by a layer of plexiglass. He’d never admit as much, but even the short walk from the elevator to the uncomfortable, threadbare fabric-over-plastic chair had winded him, though he had downed a whole bottle of Robitussin to drown any more of the bloody coughing fits before he headed to the stadium.

It was an arrangement that was probably best for both Hack and the Indians; Hack lived in Cleveland and loved watching baseball. Though the team couldn’t very well deny access to the stadium of someone of Hack’s stature, corralling him in the press box kept him away from the clubhouse, where but five years ago he nearly came to blows with a member of the coaching staff over the “dogshit hitting fundamentals” the coach preached.

 Hack settled in, put on his reading glasses, and pulled out his scorecard and a chewed-up pencil as the Indians took the field. Soon enough, he had settled into his routine; he marked every pitch, every foul ball and ball put in play, through the first four innings.

By the fourth inning, though, it looked as if Hack was going to be proven correct once more. John Stevenson, the highly-touted Indians’ starter, had given up six runs on eight doubles, and was laboring his way to another disappointing loss.

Arm like a cannon, head like a can of pea soup, Hack thought.

As if to punctuate Hack’s thoughts, Stevenson fielded a ground ball down the first base line and launched the throw into the first base stands, well away from the first baseman, who threw his glove down in frustration.

Hack snorted and shook his head; it was almost too easy now. Even as the rest of him, his hearing, his vision, some would probably include his sanity (though many would question if he ever possessed the last) left, the thousands of baseball games he had managed through the years gave him a sense of the rhythm of the sport that beat surely as his heart inside of him.

That was the beauty of the game; even though the pace and tempo were more a part of him than the blood that coursed through his veins, and the result of whatever game he watched usually confirmed that expertise, there was always a chance for something out of the ordinary, an errant throw, a botched ground ball, a hung curve that could disrupt that even flow, throw the game into chaos, and make his brain pop with the delight of something new, something different.

He didn’t particularly care who won the game; though he lived in Cleveland, the Indians had fired him over twenty-five years ago, and he still held a grudge against their opponents, the Baltimore Orioles, because their previous owner, Alfred Yossain, was “a cheap-ass, God-damned, camel-fucking Persian” in Hack’s mind, in no small part because the two had a disagreement over a backup middle infielder that Hack had wanted to sign, and Yossain thought the Orioles could do without.

When Yossain held fast and the Orioles won the AL pennant that year, Hack attributed the team’s success to his own remarkable managerial skills and was pleased he was able to win “in spite of” the generally calm, level-headed Orioles owner.

“And here’s the pitch…SA-WIIIING and a miss…STRIKE THREE!” The Indians’ middle-aged radio play-by-play man, Johnny “Country” Engle, boomed through the plexiglass.

Hack rapped on the thin sheet of plastic several times with a disapproving grimace. When Engle turned to give him a mock thumbs up, Hack cupped his hands over his mouth against the plexiglass.

“Shut the fuck up!” he yelled through the plexiglass, “I’m tryin’ to enjoy a ballgame heeya’!”

“There’s our good friend, Hack O’Callahan,” Engle said, sweet as pecan pie, into the microphone, “Hack, of course, is a venerable Cleveland institution. He has the four World Series titles managing four different teams, though none of those came during his short stint with the Indians in the eighties. He managed for a grand total of nine different Major League squads during his career. Maybe most importantly, he served his country in Korea allllll those years ago. And now he’s enjoying his retirement at all of eighty-four years young, isn’t that right, Hack?” Engle made the “jerk off” hand motion, which caused Hack to slam an outstretched middle finger up against the glass. “He doesn’t act a day over eighteen, folks,” Engle shook his head before he turned his attention back to the game.

“Okay, okay, settle down, Mr. O’Callahan,” Josh Stein, the Indians’ Director of Media Relations, rushed over to calm both parties.

“Can’t you tell this prick to keep it down over here?” Hack’s left hand waved dismissively at the radio booth several times.

Stein shook his head, which caused his loose-fitting glasses shake from side-to-side on his pale, narrow face, “Now, Mr. O’Callahan, you know that Johnny has a job to do, same as you used to.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t a fuckin’ idiot about doin’ mine.” Hack shot back. Engle looked over again while calling the action, and Hack “pulled” on a non-existent noose over his head to pretend as if he was hanging himself, before he pointed to Engle to complete the insult.

Without even pausing, Engle made the “throat-slit” gesture, and pointed back at Hack.

“Are you two children through?” Stein asked.

“Can’t ya’ move me somewhere else, Josh?” Hack asked.

Stein shook his head, “Consider it a spot of honor; closest to home plate, right next to the legendary Country Engle,” This inspired a fresh disgust in Hack. “If I have to keep coming over here and breaking up these fights, we’re going to have to restrict you to somewhere else in the stadium.”

“Oh yeah?” Hack puffed out his chest and sat up in his chair, “Like where? You won’t let me in the clubhouse anymore.”

“How about with the grounds crew?”

Hack cocked his head and balled his fists. Though Stein’s lip trembled a bit, he offered a curt smile and stood his ground.

“You know what?” Hack asked. “Fuck it. I know when I’m not wanted somewhere.”

“Now, now, Mr. O’Callahan, nothing could be further from the—” Stein’s delivery was somewhat less than half-hearted.

“No, no, no—fuck you, Stein. I’m goin’. You’re not gonna have to worry about old Hack anymore.”

“Oh…no…Mr. O’Callahan…” Stein could barely hide his grin.

“Fuck you AND your little chickenshit team. AL Central my ass—it should be either the west or the east. How’re they gonna fuck this sport up next?” Hack shook his head for a moment before he turned to Stein, who raised his eyebrows at the man.

“Go fuck yourself, Stein.”

This time, Stein beamed, “See you later, Mr. O’Callahan.”

Hack stormed into the elevator and down to the parking lot, stopping only briefly to flip the bird at Jerry after the guard told him to “Have a good night” a little too cheerfully. He managed to carom his teal ’67 Chevy the couple of miles home, mostly on his side of the road.

He pulled in front of his aging row house. Thankfully there was plenty of parking space available, as Hack barged onto the curb and left the car there.

Hack took a swig off the whiskey bottle he kept stashed under his seat and teetered out of the car and up the five or six steps to his front door. He jiggled the lock several times until the door gave.

The retired manager stumbled through the hallway that served as a museum to his numerous on-field accomplishments (despite the lack of any family pictures among the framed keepsakes). He made an abrupt right turn into the living room, and launched himself into his worn, green paisley chair that smelled of soaked-in gin and cigar smoke. The odor hung over the entire room like a thin fog, baked over the layer of mothball-and-joint cream “old person smell” which, of course, served as the base aroma of the dwelling.

The living room itself was befitting an elderly shut-in. Several bookcases lined the walls, filled with volumes and binders of all manner, though there was a decided bias toward both Korean War and baseball history, and a thorough lack of fiction.

In the corner opposite the chair sat a television, constantly on and permanently tuned to ESPN. The remote had been long lost, and Hack’s sole interest in his off-hours was baseball, to the point that he suffered that “damn fool football” for half the year to get his scores and updates during the summer.

He grasped at any one of the three or four bottles that littered the floor on the right side of the chair, and eventually latched onto a mostly-empty container of Old Reliable. Hack greedily unscrewed the top, choked the harsh liquor down, and immediately began to cough again, this time a deep whooping with a force and vigor that nearly toppled him out of the chair.

Hack brought his flannel sleeve up to soak up whatever phlegmy mixture expectorated out of his mouth. During a lull in the fit, he slugged off the Old Reliable once more and drained it. This time, the belt had its intended effect, and calmed down the awful hacking tirade.

“Grandpa’s ol’ cough medicine, all right…” Hack muttered as he studied the empty bottle.

Unfortunately, at that moment, the talking heads on Baseball Tonight analyzed the Indians game.

“Another rough outing for John Stevenson tonight, guys,” the host said.

“Yeah, you’re right Karl, but you know what, this kid has all of the tools to get major league hitters out. You talk about a fastball—”

Unfortunately, the analyst didn’t have a chance to make his case, at least in Hack’s living room. Upon hearing Stevenson’s name, Hack wound up with the whiskey bottle and hurled it toward the TV. He had only meant to shatter the bottle against the wall next to the TV, but as soon as it left his hand, he knew that it was a mistake, and that it was going to be a perfect strike, right down the middle.

The ancient cathode ray tube shattered in a glorious explosion of grey glass and sparks. A tiny column of smoke billowed from the cavity that had just been carved in the middle of the screen as the box teetered on the edge of the stand for several moments before it fell with a heavy “thud.”

Hack didn’t even flinch. He steeled himself for a full minute before the full gravity of what he had done washed over him. His eyes widened before he began to grind his teeth, always a tell for when he was legitimately angry with himself.

A large piece of the screen had come to rest at Hack’s feet. He bent over, picked it up, and stared into it.

“Well that’s great. Just god damned wonderful!” he chided himself. “What’re ya’ gonna’ do now, ya’ old, dumb bastard?”

Hack looked deeply into his reflection. He didn’t mind the well-earned wrinkles, each one a reminder of the battles and blow ups of so many years ago when he still managed.

Nor did he particularly resent the slightly crooked nose or the scars that littered his face, which served as evidence of a life well-lived.

What he hated, though, were his eyes, sunken, complacent, and weak. They were the eyes of an old man, a creature at the end of the road, one struggling to survive another day, waiting for the inevitable.

And now, one without even a TV, or a welcome place in the Indians’ press box to sate his hunger for, or rather addiction to, baseball. The game was the only thing that had brought Hack any joy, that had given him purpose to continue being such a miserable S.O.B., day in, and day out.

“What the fuck are you gonna do?” He looked past his reflection in the glass to a plaque in the hallway shrine behind him. Two players from the sixties joked around with each other while their shorter, sterner manager looked on disapprovingly.

And just like that, Hack had an idea…###

  
What kind of a scheme is Hack cooking up? Tune in to "Free Featured Fiction" again next week to see what's in store for our somewhat off 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.
 

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.