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by Rick Rose

Part 1 appears
in this issue.
part 2 of 3

Work went well and I returned to the ballpark around 4:40 pm for the 7:10 pm start. Once I had my side work done, I took food orders for the guys that guard the clubhouse door.

“Top of the mornin’ lads,” I said to Kelly and Craig.

“We could use a bite,” said Kelly.

“A couple of burgers and fries?” I said.

This was their standard order. I’d delivered it once without asking. Complete satisfaction only comes if the idea is yours.

“You got it Ted,” Craig said. “I’ll take a diet and Kelly wants iced tea.”

The seven bucks this cost paid off handsomely. Craig and Kelly let me hang around to greet the players when they passed through the intersection of dugout and public access tunnel to my section. After delivering their dinners we had a chance to talk about Briar’s disappearance.

“No one, and I mean nobody, is talking,” Kelly said.

“These guys never shut up. But today, mum’s the word,” Craig said.

“What’s your guess?” I said.

“Broads, booze and bingo,” Kelly said. “These guys get whatever they want. Smart money’s on rehab but I never seen TB loaded.”

“Sweet Feet said he’s never missed so much as an autograph session,” Craig said.

“Did I hear my name taken in vain?” Louie Segal said from around the corner.

“Mr. Segal, how’s it going?” I said. “Care for a bite to eat?”

“I’m fine for now,” Louie said. “Talk to me a little later and see if you can’t get me somadose chicken fingers, though I ain’t never seen no chicken with no fingers.”

“And it’s a new world record, fans,” I said in my radio announcer voice, “a quintuple negative in a single sentence.”

Louie shot me a glance and said, “Now you boys aren’t gossipin’ like old hens about TB are you? The Big Man hears anyone talking and it’s a quick trip out the back door. Got it?”

“Yes sir,” said Kelly

“You bet,” said Craig.

“Not a word from me sir,” I said.

“Bring me one-a-dem chicken sandmiches with extra mayo if it ain’t too much trouble, Sunshine,” Louie said to me.

“Right away, Mr. Segal,” I said.

“Mr. Segal was the jerk that hit me every night,” Louie said. “Call me Louie. Bring that sammich to the conference room yonder. And stop correctin’ people’s language, it’s rude.”

“Sure, Louie,” I said. “Sorry.”

Louie’s custom order required a trip to the kitchen. The shortest route was through the side entrances of the restaurant behind home plate, The Back Stop. But we weren’t supposed to walk through. Instead we had to walk up the ramp to the breezeway below the owners section, walk past four sections of seats, walk down the steps to front entrance of The Back Stop, up the stairs on the other side, past four more sections of seats then down the ramp into our kitchen deep within the area behind first base.

I got Louie’s order squared away and decided to deliver it, since all the food runners, except a new one named Erin, were taking a smoke break. An order clattered out of the printer. The order was from the owners’ section. These take top priority so Erin and I prepped it along with Louie’s sandwich and I left to deliver both orders.

Most of the owners are respectful of the people who serve them. There are only a couple of jerks. The worst of the bunch was Larry Wells, and this order was his. He found fault with everything and usually sent the food back. Then I remembered where I’d seen Donna before. This explained her sour attitude. She’d married a jerk named Larry.

“This popcorn isn’t fresh,” Larry said. “Run up to the concourse and get us some fresh. Strike that. Run outside and get us some kettlecorn they sell on the corner. LeAnn gets it for us.”

“I’ll tell her, sir,” I said.

“No, moron,” he said. “You run get it for me now.”

“Take it easy, Larry,” said Gary Clark at my shoulder. Clark was one of the good guys.

“I’ll make sure you get your popcorn, sir,” I said as I left.

I tried to tell LeAnn about the custom popcorn order as I walked past her.

“What are you doing in my section?” LeAnn said.

“Take it easy,” I said. “I was delivering an order. Larry Wells wants fresh kettlecorn.”

“I’ll get it for him,” LeAnn said. “Keep out of here or I swear, I’ll kill you.”

“What’d you say?” Lester, our manager, said. Sometimes he materialized out of thin air.

“He’s always poaching from my section,” LeAnn said. “I swear I’m gonna kill him.”

“Both of you follow me,” Lester said.

“Can I deliver this hot food first?” I said.

“Meet us in the kitchen ASAP,” Lester said.

I delivered Louie’s sandwich after a gentle knock at the conference room door. “Here you go, Louie.”

“You’re alright kid. You get tired of slingin’ hash, gimme a call.”

“Thank you sir,” I said as I slid his card in my wallet. I gave him one of mine.

“Computer consultant?” he said. “If I get one-a-dem I’ll let you consult with it.”

I had to pause at the intersection as a pitcher went into the clubhouse. I went straight through The Back Stop to our kitchen. I almost made it before Ms. Hitler stopped me.

“You can’t waltz through here and you know it,” Lynette said.

“Take it up with Lester,” I said, “he said he needed to see me ASAP.”

“Don’t come through here again,” Lynette said. “I’m watchin’ you.”

I was amazed how dinky the food managers were. They got paid squat and took their misery out on everyone.

“Finally,” said Lester as I entered the kitchen. “Were you selling in LeAnn’s section?”

“An order of hot food was up and there weren’t any runners,” I said.

“That’s true,” Erin said.

“You stay out of this,” Lester said to Erin. “You didn’t take an order?” he said to me.

“No,” I said. “Just a complaint from Mr. Wells that the popcorn wasn’t fresh. He wanted me to get kettlecorn from across the street.”

“You aren’t permitted to leave the property,” Lester said.

“I know,” I said. “We have a vendor over by right field who sells kettlecorn. I was headed there when LeAnn stopped me. You heard what she said.”

“He’s right, LeAnn,” Lester said. “You threatened him in front of customers.”

“You keep him out of my section,” LeAnn said on her way out the door.

“Get back to your stations. everyone,” Lester said. “I’m trying to run a business here.” Lester was as dinky as they come.

On my way back Gary Clark stopped me. After LeAnn’s ranting I hoped he’d order something because I get a kick out of chafing her.

“I apologize for Mr. Wells,” Clark said. “He’s under a lot of stress.”

“Not a problem, sir,” I said.

“I’m always looking for sharp people, Ted,” he said looking down at my nametag. “You handle pressure well. Call my HR director, Stacy, tomorrow.”

As he handed me his card I felt someone grab my shoulder trying to spin me around. I’m deceptively hard to move and hate being grabbed from behind. In another situation I’d have used their force against them. Since I needed this job I turned at the speed I chose.

“Where’s my popcorn?” Larry Wells said.

“Take it easy. Larry,” Clark said. “I was speaking to Ted.”

“I don’t care if you were kissing him,” Wells said. “I want my popcorn.”

Wells changed from trying to pull me around to pushing my shoulder, goading me to take a swing. The next time he tried to push me I pivoted out of the way, let him slip past me and gently shoved him. I could’ve grabbed his arm and run his face into the wall but I let Clark’s bodyguard catch him. Since we were all moving toward the tunnel Clark ushered us down the ramp toward the clubhouse.

“That’s it,” Wells said to me. “Not only are you fired, I’m having you arrested.”

“For what?” Clark said. “You caused the problem. He doesn’t even work for us.”

“You’re taking his side?” Wells said. “I want him out of the ballpark, now.”

“Larry, I’ve decided Ted should work for me. That’s if he doesn’t press charges.”

“I’ve invested thirty million dollars which entitles me to dispose of liabilities,” Wells said. “I won’t discuss this peon. He’s done.”

“Personnel is my department, Larry,” Clark said, “don’t forget who runs this ball club.”

“We’ll see about that,” Wells said.

Kelly and Craig moved between me and the rest of the group. Kelly nudged me through the clubhouse door as the argument petered out. Once across the threshold I listened along with two players and the equipment manager.

“Hope Clark decks him,” Tomas whispered. Turning to me he said, “What set him off?”

“His popcorn wasn’t fresh.”

“He think everyone his burro,” said Nestor. “Yesterday he ask me to park his car. I leave it on the street with keys inside. Maybe somebody steal it.”

When Clark moved through the door everyone clammed up. “Sorry about that,” he said to me. “Can we talk?”

He looked out the door, making sure Wells was gone, then walked me into the conference room where Louie had just finished his sandwich.

“Louie, can we have a moment?” Clark said.

“Of course, sir,” Louie said. “I see you met Ted. He’s a good kid.”

“Thanks Louie,” Clark said. After Louie left, Clark continued. “I want to thank you for your restraint out there.”

“I’m surprised he doesn’t have more scars,” I said. “He always so pleasant?”

“He was the nicest guy until he signed the investment documents,” Clark said. “This is different. That wasn’t about you, and it sure wasn’t about popcorn. What’d he ask you to do?”

“He wanted me to leave the stadium to bring back kettlecorn,” I said.

“That’s crazy,” Clark said. “Your company’s liability wouldn’t allow you to leave. How were you supposed to get back in? Did he give you money for a ticket?”

“I didn’t know you to be such a kidder,” I said. “In the two years I’ve waited on him, both here and at the arena, he’s never tipped me.”

That’s where I remember seeing you,” he said. “You work in the owners’ lounge at the basketball arena. I thought tips were included.”

“Like here, most of that ‘service charge’ goes to the managers, not the servers,” I said.

“This time you’re joking, right?” Clark said. “They pocket that nineteen percent?”

“Working here’s not about the money. After the World Series I couldn’t get this close to the game even if I could pay for seats. This way I get to meet the players. What could be better?”

“That’s a good attitude, but I think you’re being abused,” Clark said. “I’ll look into it. I’m serious about working for us.”

“I’ll call Stacy,” I said.

We lost the game but I made sixty-five dollars and managed to avoid LeAnn and Wells. I got home, walked our dog Kita like I do every night, and fell into bed around 11:30 pm. I woke up Tanya but that was OK. We caught up on our day apart and made up for lost time. We’d met during my 911 travels and I couldn’t believe my good fortune at finding someone like her. If I wasn’t so far in debt I’d ask her to marry me.

Wednesday Morning

“Reliable Title, Ted speaking.”

“Is everything OK?” Tanya said.

“Sure. What’s up?”

“The police are searching our house,” she said.

Bob Reynolds, our HR director, entered with two large policemen.

“They’re here,” I said. “I’ll call you when I know something.”

“Put down the phone and put your hands on your head,” one of the cops said.

“Better do what he says,” said Bob.

“Theodore Mathews, you are under arrest for the murder of Thomas Briar,” the other cop said. He read me my rights as I was handcuffed and prodded out of my office. I heard his words but couldn’t comprehend how they related to me.

I began to speak but Bob said, “Don’t say a word. We’ll get you an attorney.”

The coppers walked me past my stunned co-workers, pushing me harder than necessary. When I quickened my pace the cop pulled lifted my handcuffed arms stopping me. When I slowed, he pushed me again keeping me off balance. I anticipated ‘accidentally’ bumping my head on the police car door. Outside two crews from local news stations descended upon us. The newest reporters get assigned this duty and they always end up asking stupid questions.

“How does it feel to kill a Hall of Famer?” jackass number one asked.

“Why didn’t you kill Nestor? He makes all the errors,” said jackass number two.

I’d seen enough television trials to know I should keep quiet, look calm and not smile for the camera. For the second time in as many days I sat in a cell, but this time I didn’t have any pepper. Sometimes I can muster a sneeze by looking into bright lights, but I had the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to sneeze my way out of this.

A mailbox of a homicide detective named Panatoni and his skinny partner, Stanley, questioned me. They made the mistake of telling me why I’d been arrested, hoping I’d comment on how the edges of my little fingerprints were found on Briar’s vehicle. I replayed my memories: Betty, Donna Wells, a hundred-dollar bill and a muddy paw print all confirmed my belief that no good deed goes unpunished.

Tanya’s friend, Karen, entered the attorney conference room an hour later. I’d met Karen but never thought I’d need her services.

“Hi Ted,” Karen said. “I can’t represent you but as a favor to Tanya I said I’d come down. You haven’t spoken to the detectives?”

“Not a word,” I said. “Why am I here?”

Proceed to part 3...

Copyright © 2006 by Rick Rose

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