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 PatrĂ³n 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.
 


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Introducing the Hunt to Read Book of the Week!

We're happy to announce a new feature: the Hunt to Read book of the week!

Every Thursday, we'll select one book completely at random from HTR's catalog of titles and display it on the blog, along with pertinent info.

The best part is, as a Hunt to Read author, you don't have to do anything else to be eligible! If you're not a Hunt to Read author yet, adding your book is always free and very easy.

We'll start the series next week to give you folks time to upload any new selections so that they have an equal chance in the lottery.

Thanks, and happy hunting!

-D.J.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Free Featured Fiction: "Hack: The First Inning" #4

I apologize for the recent blackouts/delays over here--it's been incredibly busy on my end and I take full responsibility for the blackout. I do have an idea for a new feature going forward that I'll post about in the near future. For now, accept this new installment of "Free Featured Fiction" as a peace offering of sorts. -D.J.

Warning: This story contains adult language and themes. Reader discretion is advised.


Hack: The First Inning
#4D.J. Gelner



The Magpies’ clubhouse wasn’t half as glamorous as any of its major league counterparts. Even by Double-A standards, it was a bit of a pit. To the left as one walked in, the Magpie logo was stenciled on the concrete floor in between a couple of drains, installed for easy cleaning. A Spartan assortment of mesh metal lockers, many of them dented, rusting, or warped, lined the fringes of the room, which smelled mostly of grass and body odor, with enough of a twinge of antiseptic to fool any visitors into thinking that there was some consideration given to hygiene.

To the right of the main hallway, the concrete gave way to tile and a bathroom/shower area that looked like it belonged more in an underfunded high school than a professional baseball locker room; two stalls, four urinals, and maybe a few more than a dozen shower heads, all arranged with little heed to modesty.

Past the bathroom area was the training room, which had four trainers’ tables, several cabinets for supplies, and an old brushed metal jacuzzi tub lined with calcium deposits.

Opposite the training room was the manager’s office, a dingy little room with musty, red shag carpeting, as well as several bookcases filled with binders containing scouting reports, pitch charts, and other ancient information that had long since been digitized. The half-wall windows that previously looked out on the hallway had been frosted years before and barely let any light enter the dank little chamber.

A door in the manager’s office led to the coaches’ locker room, which smelled marginally better because it was currently only used by one man other than Willie Williams, assistant/pitching coach Pete Moray, and the only grime he tended to accumulate was due to an errant stream of spittle from the dip that he constantly packed. Attached to the coaches’ locker room was a small toilet and shower area for the staff, which kept them away from whatever “grabass” was going on among the players in the general population.

Then there was the equipment room, which housed all of the helmets, shoes, balls, bats, and uniforms the team would need, along with the Magpies’ laundry facilities.

And at the end of the hallway was the small press room, nicknamed “the dungeon,” for the torture that both media and coaches endured alike inside its unfriendly confines, immediately before the right turn that led down the tunnel to the dugout.

It was a bare-bones complex, the kind of area that would drive lesser men to question whether it was worth it to spend most of their days in such a depressing environment, all in the hope of some day tasting the luxury that was the big leagues.

Hack couldn’t help but smirk.

He finally felt at home.

He set his suitcase on the concrete floor and took in a large noseful of the musty air and breathed it out slowly so as to savor it. The utter lack of anything resembling comfort only increased his own contentment: one of his favorite sayings was, “The Spartans won the war, didn’t they?” That the clubhouse had been unspoiled by the general trend toward mollycoddling and softening the nation’s youth gave Hack the faintest glimmer of hope.

“Maybe we aren’t gonna’ be taken over by the Chinese, after all…” Hack said. The Magpies had a night game , so the entire complex was empty even at eleven a.m. Hack appreciated the solitude.

He portered his suitcase over to the manager’s office and opened the door. Fortunately, Willie Williams was among those not yet at the stadium. Hack grinned at the realization that he finally had somewhere where he belonged once more, someplace to call his own, even if that place had a cheap, second-hand metal-and-wood paneling desk and matching green, foam-padded reclining rolling chair and sofa that all looked like they had been rescued from a particularly rowdy frat house.

Hack threw his suitcase on the horrid couch before he returned behind the desk and launched himself into the grungy green chair with gusto. The manager failed to gauge his size properly as the back gave and his momentum spun him around a couple of times before it petered out.

Hack grunted and pulled himself closer to the desk. On it was one of “those damned tablets” that Hack had seen bloggers use in the Indians’ press box, though the seasoned manager saw no need for them when perfectly good pencil and paper were still more than abundant.

Unfortunately, none was readily available, so Hack began opening drawers, not caring that Willie hadn’t had time to relocate his belongings.

“Where’s the goddamn paper around here?” Hack asked. “How the hell is a guy supposed to make a lineup…?”

“Goddamn it!”

Hack turned in his chair to face the door, but only found a fortiesh black gentleman with stylish spectacles and prematurely grey temples standing in the entranceway.

“Charles,” Hack said with a curt nod.

“I thought for sure Keith was just fuckin’ with me when I came in and he said that Hack O’Callahan was taking over my team—”

“Great to see you, too, Charles.”

Charles “Willie” Williams’s eyes grew wide, “Don’t start on me with that Charles shit. No one’s called me that since I was in the minors myself.”

“Where I come from, you have’ta earn your nickname. You sure as shit don’t do that by preenin’ after you hit a tater, and you certainly don’t do it by being a dogshit manager of some piss-ass team in East Bumfuck, Ohio.”

Willie clenched his fists, “I swear to God, I would hit you if I didn’t think I’d kill you. Then we’d have a real fuckin’ mess on our hands.”

Hack’s eyes narrowed as he pointed at the man whom he viewed as an interloper, “Let’s get one thing straight: if yer’ gonna’ be my bench coach, you better start showin’ me a little fuckin’ respect.

Willie raised his hands in mock surprise, “Oh, lawdy, lawdy, massah Hack! Wherevah did my manners go?” He balled up his fists again, “Racist old prick—if you think I’m gonna stay on as your bench coach, just so you can pull your minstrel routine with me, make me look the fool, then you’ve got—”

“Amazin’ that no matter how much we shuffle, that race card always seems to find its way to the top of the deck for you brothers.”

“You brothers?” Willie took a step forward. He puffed out his chest, cocked his head to the side and looked toward the ceiling in contemplation for a moment before he let out a deep breath and said through clenched teeth, “You’re no brother of mine, ass.”

Hack shook his head, “Forget it. Look, I don’t give a shit if you’re black or green, or purple…unless you’re purple because you’re dead, and despite what you think of me, that would be a fuckin’ tragedy.”

Willie grabbed the phone from the wall next to the door.

“What’re you doin’ now?” Hack asked.

“Callin’ Keith. There’s no way I’m stayin’ on with some—”

“Where the fuck else are you gonna’ go, Willie?” Hack adjusted his glasses. “Yer’ team’s loaded with good prospects, but yer’ in last place. What other team’s gonna’ be interested in a manager who can’t develop talented players or win with them? Huh!?

“Here’s my guess, Willie; you’ll probably head back to your hometown, catch on somewhere sellin’ insurance or doin’ something with money, since some old fool’ll think a ballplayer like you’ll be able to bring in some business, right? Shit, maybe you did that for a while after quittin’ the game before, I don’t know…”

Hack paused and looked at Willie for confirmation. Willie’s silence was telling.

“…So you got sick of doin’ that, and you figured, ‘shit, I can manage. Any old asshole can manage, right?’ And you got here, and you sat in this chair, and maybe it ain’t so easy any more.”

“So you’re going to make it easy for me, right? White man come to rescue the poor black idiot in over his head?” Willie asked.

“Will you quit with the racial bullshit?” Hack’s eyes narrowed. He let the silence hang over the room for a moment before he bobbed his head and continued.

“That’s lesson one: it never gets easy. Yer’ a pretty young guy, so you may think ya’ can ‘connect’ with these players, or some bullshit like that. But each day, yer’ gettin’ older, and crankier, and as ya’ lose ballgames, ya’ start to lose hair, too. Until one day, they’re callin’ ya’ ‘out of touch.’ Proud to say I never got that, not even now. And you know why?”

“Why?” Willie crossed his arms.

“‘Cause I don’t give half a shit what some little fuckhead ballplayer thinks about me!” Hack shouted. “I’m in this for one reason, and one reason only: I love the game. Deep down, I knew I could never love anything, anyone else the way that I love this game. And that propels me through all of the other bullshit and awfulness that comes with this job.

“Now, I need a bench coach. You were a helluva ballplayer. I think you could make a helluva manager. But you were always so damned smart, you were stupid for it.”

Willie raised a finger and opened his mouth, but stopped to frown and put his finger on his chin.

“I’ll show you how ya’ can get around that, how ya’ can be great at something else for this season, and this season only. But I have to know, right now, if yer’ passion for the game is ‘same as mine. ‘Cause if it’s not,” Hack shook his head, “I don’t have room for ya’ on my staff. Understand?”

Willie half-scowled at the old-timer. The recognition behind his eyes was visible. As the man’s lip trembled, Hack knew he had struck a chord.

“Maybe this is one’a those ‘so smart he’s stupid moments,” Willie ran his hand over his hair, “but I’m willing to stick around,” Hack nodded and opened his mouth to speak, but Willie pre-empted him, “If you promise it’s only this season, and that you won’t make any of those awful ‘black jokes’ around the team.”

“When have I ever made a ‘black joke?’” Hack asked, far too offended and earnest.

“Literally one minute ago,” Willie said.

“As I remember it, you were the one acting out the minstrel show. I just spoke my mind.”

“You know what I mean, Hack. You and I came up in a different time. These guys now are more sensitive to that shit.”

“I came up forty years before you did,” Hack said, “If you ask me, the game could use a little of that grit from back then.”

“Back then, you and I woulda’ been dressin’ in different locker rooms,” Willie said. “Playing for different teams.”

Hack nodded, “Did I ever tell you I played against Jackie Robinson?” Willie shook his head, “Helluva ballplayer. Fast as a jackrabbit, whip smart, could hit the shit outta the ball, just great. Our pitcher was a real country bumpkin, called Jackie every ugly name in the book, and even some that aren’t used any more. For example, no one uses ‘m—”

Willie raised an eyebrow and narrowed his lips.

Hack shook his head, “—Never mind. At any rate, tie game, bottom of the eighth, we’re home, this hick is still pitching, Jackie comes up, and first pitch, whoosh—” Hack balled his fist and passed it right by his face, “buzzes him. This is before helmets, you know?

“Jackie didn’t so much as flinch—he could see the ball about as well as anyone I’ve known. He just stood there and glared at the pitcher, his eyes dared the sum’bitch to do it again.”

“So what’d he do?” Willie leaned in.

“Next pitch—pow! Right on the shoulder. Jackie’s lucky he stepped up in the box; otherwise he woulda’ been down for the count. Now, I’m playin’ second base, and I look over to Jackie, expectin’ to see him charge the mound or yell at the pitcher or somethin’ like that, but you know what Jackie did?”

Willie shook his head.

“He was laughin’. The sonofabitch was laughin’ as he trotted to first. So I walk into the pitcher and read him the fuckin’ riot act about what a dumb S.O.B. he was, and he stands there and takes it all in, and you know what he says to me? He says, ‘he shouldn’t even be on the same field with us. He should be packin’ my bags in the clubhouse right now.’

“I wanted to hit’im right there. I would’ve too, but Bill Maloney was our manager, and he would’ve kicked me off the team for it, sure as shit. So I went back to second base, watched Jackie steal second, then steal third, and then he scored on a short sac fly, on three consecutive pitches. We lost the game. Funny thing is, old man Maloney cut that pitcher right after the game, and he packed his own bags on back to Shithole, Alabama.”

Willie’s jaw had dropped some time ago, and though he wanted to say something, he struggled to find the words.

“My point is, Jackie Robinson prob’ly had more grit and determination, more goddamned courage than anyone I’ve ever known, even in the service. He’d be pissed off at how these kids are coddled and ‘developed’ nowadays. So next time you’re thinkin’ or talkin’ about ‘black this’ and ‘racist that,’ you better think long and hard before accusin’ me of anything of the sort. Are we clear?”

Willie nodded.

“Are we clear?”

“Yes,” Willie said.

“Good,” Hack leaned back in the chair. “Besides, that’s somethin’ your people should be familiar with, isn’t it, Charles? Long and hard? What with the—” Hack whistled twice as he looked down toward his crotch, “—long peckers and what not?”

Willie took two steps toward Hack and leveled his gaze at the old man for a couple of moments. Hack continued to lounge in his chair, either unaware of or untroubled by any potential problem.

Willie shot a finger in Hack’s face, “You can joke about that shit all you want.”

This even caused Hack to smile as Willie laughed for a moment before his expression turned serious once more.

“But I was serious about all the other shit,” Willie said. Hack nodded in assent. “Well, then, I think we can co-exist for just a season.”

Willie offered a reluctant hand toward Hack, and Hack reticently took it as the men cemented an uneasy truce.

Willie turned to leave, but just before he closed the door, Hack interrupted him, “Feel free to move yer’ shit into the coaches’ locker room whenever.”

Willie thought about turning around and really letting Hack have it, but instead nodded.

“We have interns to do that kind of thing.”

“Well, tell ‘em that I wanna see ‘em when they get in.”

“Sure.” Willie closed the door.

As soon as it had shut, Hack covered his mouth and stumbled over to the ugly sofa along the wall. He pulled out the handkerchief, laid it flat on a cushion, placed his face atop it to muffle the noise, and started coughing violently, expulsions giving way to more expulsions like fighter planes taking off from a carrier deck.

How long can I do this? Hack thought as the fit subsided enough that he could pull his head away to survey the large red spot overlaying the other faded red spots on the white handkerchief.

How long until someone finds out?
* * *

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.