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.
 

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