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by Rick Rose

part 1 of 3

Monday morning

Ever wish for an extra hour in the day? I get one every time I sneeze. I like backsliding because ‘do-overs’ are fun. But it’s not always enjoyable. This was one of those times.

A guy with a leaf blower outside my window overlooking the parking lot of Reliable Title Insurance broke my concentration. The sun reflecting off the bank building across the alley triggered a sneeze. I went back exactly one hour.

I sighed at the work I’d have to repeat. The only things I thought about changing concerned a dog and my boss, JD Springer. A proactive approach works best, so I went looking for JD.

His assistant, Susan Gimpelson, looked up from the edge of her seat behind the marble countertop separating her slender, twenty-something, body from the public. Her eye makeup hadn’t run yet; it was still five minutes till she’d witness the death of a dog.

“JD available?” I said.

“He’s on the phone with Ed about that indemnity you signed last week. They’re upset.”

“The title officer missed that lien, and I can prove it.” I said.

“Preaching to the choir, Ted,” Susan said, giving me a ‘talk-to-the-hand’ gesture.

“I should take a walk to cool down,” I said as her phone rang. Susan shot a puzzled look. It was a hundred and seven degrees outside.

The dog was hit crossing the street in front of our office. Looking across Camelback Road, I saw it sniffing around the hotdog cart outside the high rise on the southwest corner of Camelback and 24th, one of the busiest intersections in Phoenix. People get killed trying to cross outside the crosswalks. A dog doesn’t stand a chance.

She was a lovely silvery-gray Weimaraner with ears that looked softer than baby cheeks wearing a fire engine red collar with a blue tag letting the authorities know she had her shots. She also wore a custom chrome tag that probably had her name and owner’s address.

The hotdog stand guy shooed her off and she moseyed toward the street as I evaded the westbound traffic. I got stranded on the median separating the eastbound and westbound lanes. The dog loped toward the street, still short of the sidewalk. I could sense the impending catastrophe. She was picking up speed as a white Ford Bronco approached from the west in the curb lane.

Sometimes I wonder why I go through this. If I saved the dog, nobody would know; and if I didn’t, I couldn’t be blamed. But this beautiful animal was about to be crushed. So I traded an hour of my life for the rest of hers by pulling out a little packet of pepper I keep handy and sneezed back another hour.

‘That’s just great’, I thought as I faced even more work an hour earlier. I could tell this’d be one of those days. I had six hours of paperwork in front of me, two of which I’d already completed. After work I had to race to the ballpark for another six hours of merriment. I set the alarm on my cellphone forty minutes in the future and dug into the paperwork. I handled the situation with JD and had enough time to get across the street before the alarm chimed.

Up close she looked even prettier. She was skittish but took to me when I offered her a bite of hotdog. I looped my belt over her head. She let me pet her while I got the number from her collar. Her name was Betty. Her lunges at my hotdog made entering the number a challenge. She was a good dog and quite determined in her pursuit of the wily hotdog.

Betty’s owner, Donna, was skeptical hearing I’d found her dog. A slender measure of gratitude peeked around the shadow of her doubt when I described Betty. What I wouldn’t give for a call telling me someone had found Maui, my Basenji, now one year dead.

“Where are you?” Donna asked.

“The corner of 24th and Camelback.”

“The hotdog stand?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “You want to come pick her up?”

“I’m busy. Can you bring it here?” She said giving me an address a couple blocks away.

Betty got lucky crossing 24th without getting creamed. She was also lucky I liked dogs. Not everyone would walk three blocks in summer heat for an ungrateful owner. But then no one else could trade in an hour of their lives. I fed her another bite of hotdog.

“Yeah. I could do that.” Donna clicked off without saying boo.

The walk was vicious. We crossed 24th at the light behind the Ambassador Hotel. Betty was happy, knowing our destination. These homes had experienced huge increases in value due to high-rise buildings across their back fences. The neighborhood managed to maintain a quaint 1960’s feel, comprised of small homes with big yards.

Betty wagged her tail harder as we approached a mini-mansion shoehorned on two lots halfway down the block. The house fit into the neighborhood like a wino in a maternity ward. A bright yellow SUV squatted in the driveway, too tall and wide to fit into the attached three-car garage. Betty stopped by the door of the urban assault vehicle, ready for a ride. I peeked inside.

“That’s no leash,” Donna said behind me.

“I improvised,” I said turning around. “I’m Ted Matthews.”

Donna looked through me and didn’t take my offered hand. She was a ‘Trophy Wife’, about five-nine, a hundred and thirty pounds with three-color-blonde hair only the best salons produce. Her face said twenty-five but her hands yelled, “closer to forty.” She filled her kaki slacks and white silk blouse well. I’d need two paychecks to buy her shoes. She had a very flat affect. I wondered what kind of pills she was on.

“It’s always getting out.”

“She’s a good dog,” I said. “Just loves those hotdogs.”

“You didn’t feed it did you?”

“No,” I lied. “But she made a friend before I arrived.”

“Great, now it’ll mess up the backyard,” Donna said and turned.

I removed my belt from Betty’s neck and she followed Donna inside. Donna spun as she crossed the threshold, blocking my entry. The house was beautiful with marble floors and exposed beam ceilings. But something had gone horribly wrong. They’d hired five decorators whose styles meshed like a Mid-East peace conference. I couldn’t blame Betty for wanting out. Donna handed me an envelope from a black lacquered Oriental end table.

“This is for you,” Donna said closing the door.

I couldn’t excuse her rude behavior. I started to push the envelope through the mail slot.

“Look in it first,” she said through the window.

“Forget you lady,” I said. “I’m soaking wet from returning your dog because you couldn’t be bothered. And how do you thank me? You don’t invite me in to cool off or offer me a glass of water.”

“Just look in it,” she said.

Curiosity made me tear open the envelope. Benjamin Franklin stared at me. A moment later the door opened. Donna handed me a bottle of water. I watched condensation build up on the bottle as I drank. Betty bolted past Donna and put her paws on my stomach.

“Get back here,” Donna said.

The dog dropped her head and slunk back into the house like a prisoner crossing the Bridge of Sighs. I looked at the bill in the envelope then back up at Donna. I’d seen the look before. She had a ‘you-haven’t-the-means-to-afford-me’ attitude that made portly guys in their forties invisible. We were about the same age, but I looked older because of the borrowed hours. There’s no free lunch on this rewind thing.

“That’s all I’m givin’ you for bringing it back,” she said.

“That’s OK, lady,” I said as she closed the door. “She’s a dog not an ‘it’.”

I tucked the bill into my wallet and noticed two muddy paw prints on my shirt. I wasn’t worried, I had another shirt in the office I’d wear to the ballpark tonight. Now I had enough money to buy a new shirt.

But I knew where that hundred would go. My ex-wife had dug a debt crater I’d be filling in for years. I’d eked out what passed for a living working two jobs after getting ‘rightsized’ by an aerospace manufacturer. I wasn’t bitter, just broke.

I’ve always struggled with money. Being able to slip back an hour would make places like racetracks and the stock market sound like sure bets. But no two events unfold in exactly the same way. Going back for personal gain never works. Solid bets like booming housing markets take years to materialize. I can’t travel back that far.

The furthest I’ve pushed back was September 11th, 2001. Eight hundred and forty jumps took me back as far as two weeks. I sneezed too many times to remember just before planes crashed into buildings. If I could’ve saved one more life I’d have done so.

Friends say I’d aged a year that day. But the toughest part was the isolation because I can’t talk to anybody about sneezing. I spoke honestly once to a therapist and barely found the pepper before being committed. This is my secret, my blessing and all too often, my curse. I’ve found the world doesn’t need or appreciate saviors.

Monday night

I’ve always loved baseball. When my computer job evaporated, my new girlfriend, Tanya, asked me about my a dream job. Lute Gibson already had the job of playing second for the Arizona Firestorm secured, but working at the ballpark sounded like fun. What began as a lark while looking for meaningful work became my sole vocation when the severance ran out. I roamed the seats taking food orders then relayed the orders to the kitchen via a wireless gizmo while others ran the goodies out. This was a sweet gig. I watched most of the game, made some cash and even met the players on occasion.

I stood on the second step of the isle between Sections R and S, on the left field side of the Firestorm dugout, chatting with Bill the usher. We were up 2-0 in the top of the sixth. Everyone had ordered, so I watched the game without interruption.

“C’mon Fiji,” Bill said. “Let’s see some cheese. Ring him up.”

Our pitcher, Randy Fitzsimons, filled in for an AWOL Tommy Briar. Briar, our ace pitcher, hadn’t shown up for work. Fitzsimons, or Fiji, as his teammates called him, was a second-year player with a wicked sinker. Our catcher, Chris Tomas, said, “catching him is like getting hit with chair.” They called him Fiji because that’s where he was caught shacking up with a married stewardess in the off-season.

Atlanta’s Bo Mission walked leading off the inning and danced around first threatening to steal with their best hitter, Chris Crawford, at the plate. Our first baseman, Eric Nagel, played close to the bag in case Fiji tried a pickoff move. Fiji missed with two pitches low and away then chased Mission back to first. Fiji went behind the mound, pulled his hat off and mopped his forehead with the back of his arm then stepped back up.

“Let ‘em hit it Randy,” I yelled. “Turn two guys.”

Crawford hit a 2-0 soft popup over the shortstop’s head that looked like a hit. Lupe Perez charged in hard from left, trying for a diving catch. As he dove, his left foot slipped and he wasn’t able to jackknife to a prone position. His feet moved over his head and when he fell the bulk of his weight landed on his face. His feet continued over his back in a lethal flip. Football players are taught to duck their heads and roll, but baseball coaches tell players to keep their heads up.

The ball skipped past Perez and Mission came around to score from first. Tex Larue, our centerfielder, scooped up the ball and fired it in to Tomas, stopping Crawford from scoring. But all attention was on Perez. Juan Nestor, our shortstop, waved frantically for help.

The team doctor didn’t wait to be summoned from the first row of my section. He hopped up on the green plywood box under the gate by the photographers pit and ran to the fallen player. A cart silently entered the field from the right field bullpen. Perez hadn’t moved and the players around him had tears in their eyes. Word spread quickly that Perez wasn’t moving and our worst fears were realized when the trainer covered Perez’s head with a towel.

There’s a line of dialog from a movie about crying in baseball that didn’t apply here. There hadn’t been a fatality in baseball since Carl Mays beaned Ray Chapman in 1920. Some fans cried, but most were shocked. The game was called with the Firestorm ahead 2-1 as people began to move toward the exits. Those who stayed watched the paramedics remove what used to be our most popular player.

I keep a box of service extras by the doctor’s seat. No one noticed me open the container of pepper packets. I swore I’d never influence the outcome of a ballgame. I’d broken promises before and paid heavy prices. I decided that no one should die playing this perfect game. As the ambulance pulled away I tore open a packet of pepper, inhaling deeply.

“C’mon Fiji,” Bill said. “Let’s see some cheese. Ring him up.”

“I’ll be right back,” I said. “I got a pal in 133. Who’s working ‘Tee-Eye’ over there?”

“Not sure. Ask Duke,” Bill said. “C’mon kid. Burn one in there.”

I grabbed some napkins and more pepper then raced up the steps. Duke said Tim Healy worked ticket integrity in the isle separating sections 132 and 133. I ran over to Tim while Fiji threw his second pitch, this time a sinker for a strike. Like I said, things aren’t always the same.

“Hi, Tim,” I said. “I’m Ted from Section R & S. I got a friend on the aisle of 133. I promised I’d bring him a ball.”

Two months ago I’d started buying baseballs and signing them using a counterfeiting technique I’d picked up. I gave them to young fans, telling their single moms to keep my gift quiet. I showed Tim a Perez ‘autographed’ ball.

“Go ahead,” Tim said. “Can I get one?”

“Sure thing,” I said as I skipped down the stairs.

When I got to the tenth row I took out the napkins. Fiji mopped his brow behind the mound. As I approached the railing separating the seats from the field I feigned tripping and landed on my hands and knees throwing the handful of napkins in the air. As they flew out of my hand they separated and fluttered to the ground catching the attention of the umpire who called time just as Fiji went into his wind-up. I slipped the pepper pack into my shoe.

No one interrupting a baseball game remains in the stadium. Kyle ran down the stairs with three security goons. One of the groundskeepers gathered the napkins as I got escorted up the steps. Angry fans booed me. One drunk tried to get in a passive left hook that hit the Sheriff who’d taken over for the security guard.

The drunk joined me in the pokey they use to determine what charges to file. We listened to the game on the overhead speaker. The announcer said Perez had probably re-injured the shoulder he’d hurt last year. I needed this job for lots of reasons, and Perez had lived, so I pulled the pepper pack out of my sock and sneezed again.

“C’mon Fiji,” Bill said. “Let’s see some cheese. Ring him up.”

I figured I’d better try something subtle. I moved to the end of the first row of seats at dugout level. Bill lets friends, including Tanya, use these seats when they go unsold. These seats looked desirable due to their proximity to the field but the view was so poor that even grounders looked like homers. No one ever sat in the last five seats.

When the pitch left the Crawford’s bat I yelled as loud as I could, “Mine! My Ball.,” I can yell pretty loud.

The players were distracted enough to misplay the pop fly that dropped harmlessly between them. Crawford got credited with a hit and Mission ended up on second, having to check up to see if the ball would drop.

Fiji struck out the next player their right fielder grounded into a double play, ending the inning. As Perez returned to the dugout his cleats slipped on the last step and he landed on his tailbone. The doctors later said this wasn’t a season-ending injury, just one of the most painful.

I’d influenced the outcome of the game but didn’t lose sleep over it. I’d been up over twenty hours with all the sneezing. In fact, when the alarm went off the next morning I sneezed a couple extra hours of sleep. Going back isn’t all bad.

Tuesday evening

“Where is Tommy Briar?” was the lead story on the morning news shows and the lone Phoenix newspaper. Briar’s wife watched him drive off to a meeting in Scottsdale prior to last night’s game.

His agent had been negotiating with the Firestorm to extend Briar’s contract an additional three years at sixteen million dollars a year. I’d met Briar twice in baseball’s off-season at the basketball arena when I’d worked the owners suite. I found him amiable but cheap considering all the zeros on his paycheck.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2006 by Rick Rose

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