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Switching Sides

by Rick Jankowski

part 1

Nathan glanced at the flat-screen TV above the packed bar, then at Jimmy’s fat, white outstretched hand.

Jimmy wriggled his fingers. “Pay up, Nathan, me boy,” he said. “Your lookin’ at the TV ain’t gonna change the score, and your coverin’ the team on the wrong side of town certainly ain’t gonna change the score. We won again.”

Nathan sighed, slid his hand into his pocket, and extracted two crisp bills. Elbow on beer-stained wooden table, he rolled his eyes and waved the Alexander Hamiltons toward Jimmy. With thumb and forefinger, Jimmy plucked them from his hand and smacked them against the brim of Nathan’s White Sox cap.

On screen, a bearded giant in a blue Cubs hat explained how he had struck out the side in the ninth to preserve the win.

Jimmy swiveled in his chair, held up an empty beer pitcher and caught the eye of a long-legged waitress in micro-shorts and a blue pinstriped baseball shirt with the top three buttons strategically unfastened. He beckoned her with an index finger. She squeezed through the crowd, avoiding pinches and gropes, and flashed teeth and cleavage as she bent to take Jimmy’s order.

“Alexis, me dear,” shouted Jimmy above the raucous crowd, “this round is on me good friend, Nathan.” He deposited the two bills on her tray. “He’s tied his fortune to the wrong team this year, but we’re gonna turn him into a true-blue Cubbie believer yet.”

Alexis retrieved their beer pitcher. “Quite a year,” she said, smiling at Nathan. “Great new manager, great team, great for business.”

“Buy yourself a shot with that extra bill,” said Jimmy.

The bill disappeared between her breasts. “If you don’t mind,” she said, “college is expensive.”

Jimmy ogled her bottom as she wiggled away, then he turned his attention back to Nathan.

“I don’t get it,” said Nathan. He took off his cap and ran fingers through his long dark hair. “If the Cubs were bringing in new talent, it would make sense. But it’s the same payroll with the same mopes from last year. And now they’re sixty games over .500? How does that happen?”

“Don’t know,” said Jimmy. “Don’t care. Stop being a reporter. This manager just knows what he’s doin’. He’s gettin’ the best out of ’em. No more lovable losers! Maybe it’s magic. Maybe it’s voodoo. Who the heck cares! They’re beating the pants off everyone. They’re the best team in baseball, the best team in years. World Series, here we come!”

He stood and his belly jiggled. “C’mon, Alexis,” he yelled. He held an empty beer stein aloft. “Winning makes me thirsty!” He leaned back, opened his mouth and wailed, “Go Cubs go, go Cubs go! Hey Chicago whadda ya say, the Cubs are gonna win today!” He waved an arm at the crowd. “C’mon, everyone, sing it so Harry, Jack and Stevie Goodman can hear, wherever they are!”

“Go Cubs go, go Cubs go! Hey Chicago whadda ya say, the Cubs are gonna win today!”

The glass in the windows reverberated. Nathan stuck his fingers into his ears and slowly shook his head. The Cubs the best team in baseball? This can’t be happening, he thought. This is just plain wrong.

* * *

“A sports hypnotist, Tom?” said Nathan. “Really? That’s how they’re doing it?”

“That’s what Bauer says.” Tom pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose and scratched the top of his bald head. “And Bauer should know. He’s covered the Cubs for years. Why do you care anyway?”

Nathan picked a stack of papers off Tom’s desk chair and plopped down. “You’re the editor and I’ll cover what you want, but something’s going on. This doesn’t make any sense. Plenty of sports teams have tried the hypnotist route. It might work for a guy or two like it did for that Bear’s quarterback, Tomczak, when I was a kid, but not for a whole team. No way.”

“It’s not the whole team,” said Tom. “There’s still a guy or two not hitting.”

“A couple of guys? There’s a dozen players hitting over .300. The team could win 120 games. When has that ever happened? Never. And these guys? C’mon? None of them have ever shown any potential. They’re bottom feeders. Let me dig around. I smell some kind of — I don’t know — steroid scam, maybe. We break this story, we’ll get a year’s worth of Internet traffic in a couple of days. Think what it’ll do to our advertising rates.”

Tom’s lips ticked upward.

“Same old Tom,” said Nathan, a dimple in his right cheek. “I knew that would get you.”

Tom scratched his head again, leaving red streaks across his dome. “Okay,” he said. “You’re right. This stinks. The whole town is so excited about winning that no one is thinking ‘scandal.’ You got one week. See what you can find. Talk to Bauer. He’s got that hypnotist’s name. Start there. Dig around. See if he’s ever been involved with steroids or illegal injections.”

* * *

While the slender, brown-haired man sitting behind the desk finished his phone call, Nathan swiveled in his seat and glanced around his office. On one wall were signed and framed pictures of football and basketball stars. Beneath the pictures was a glass case filled with autographed baseballs. Along the other wall were two blue stadium seats with metal frames and wooden slats. A plaque on each declared that they were from the original Yankee Stadium.

Wow, thought Nathan, authentic and expensive.

Behind the brown-haired man was a tall window with a view of a small suburban lake and a side wall of diplomas attesting to the credentials of one Dr. Scott Bennett, a psychologist and hypnotist. Two days of digging had turned over no dirt on the good doctor. Nothing. No drugs and no involvement with athletes on drugs. He seemed squeaky clean.

Dr. Bennett finished his phone call, placed his cell phone on the desk in front of him and raised his eyes to look at Nathan. He had a thin face, a narrow nose and warm, liquid brown eyes.

“Sorry,” said Dr. Bennett. “My clientele are rich, important and demanding. When they call, I answer.”

“I get it, Doc. I know what professional athletes are like. I appreciate your spending a few minutes with me talking about your work with the Cubs.”

As if in prayer, the doctor tented his fingers and touched them to his lips. He gazed at Nathan and his eyes seemed to grow larger, more moist. “I saw you admiring my Yankee Stadium chairs. I wanted something to really finish off my office. I found them in an antique shop on the near North side. Odd little place called Seifer’s. Couldn’t believe my luck. The place was empty. I think it’s gone now. It was obvious that business was bad.

“I had a devil of a time dickering with the owner, a weird, eccentric guy named Lou, but we eventually worked out a deal. Those chairs mesh perfectly with what I do, and my clients really appreciate their history, their tradition: the New York Yankees. The greatest sports franchise ever. Forty World Series appearances, twenty-seven World Series championships. When I work with the Cubs, I have the players sit in those seats.”

“Sort of like walking in their shoes?”

“Exactly, there’s a vibe, an aura of winning embedded in those seats.”

The doctor stood and glided to the seats. He touched one reverently. “I want the Cubs to feel they’re Yankees.”

Nathan turned toward the doctor. “But they’re not Yankees, are they? They’re still Cubs. Losers. And they haven’t won a championship for over a century.’

“I think,” said the doctor, his voice like warm oil, “we’re going to change that this year.”

Nathan stood and walked toward the doctor. He stopped and touched one of the seats.

“I don’t feel any vibe,” he said. “Don’t see any aura either.” His right cheek dimpled.

“They do smell kinda smoky though. Kinda sulfuric. Guess that’s from all the victory cigars the Yankee fans lit.”

Dr. Bennett smiled. “You’re being flippant,” he said. “But what I do works.”

“And what is it you do that works?”

“I change the Cubs into better versions of themselves.”

Nathan stared out of the window at the lake for a moment and then he narrowed his eyes and looked at the doctor. “Really, Doc, hypnotism does that? A little hocus-pocus and they’re winners. I don’t believe it. But I think steroids might do that. Maybe some new drug combination that the tests can’t check?”

Dr. Bennett continued to smile. “I’m clean,” he said, “and so are the Cubs. Check my background. Give them drug tests. You’re not going to find anything.”

“I’ve already checked into you and the league has checked into the Cubs. There’s nothing there.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Something’s going on. I’ve been a reporter long enough to know that. And I think you’re at the bottom of it. But I’m a fair guy. I’m here because I like to meet my quarry. Give ’em a fair chance before I expose them. This is your fair chance, Doc. You got anything to tell me?”

The doctor’s smile faded. He looked away from Nathan and glanced at the Yankee chairs, then he looked back. “Dig all you want,” he said.

Dr. Bennett’s cell phone vibrated and he placed it to his ear.

“Yeah, Mary,” he said. “We’re done in here. Send Leon in.”

Nathan tilted his head. “Leon? Leon Martinez? The Cubs catcher? Calls a good game, but can’t hit. He here to get hypnotized?”

“Yup,” said the doctor. “He’s the last hold-out, but the pennant drive is on. And now, if you’ll excuse me...”

The door to the doctor’s office banged open and its frame was completely filled by a crew-cut man with a scar on his left cheek.

“Hey, Doc,” the large man’s voice boomed, “let’s do this. I decided I wanna join the .300 club.”

The doctor introduced Nathan, who watched his hand disappear into the larger man’s grip. “Nice to meet you,” said Nathan, rubbing his knuckles. “Good luck with the rest of the season.”

“Don’t need no luck if Doc here does his job right,” said Leon, his voice deep and strong.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2015 by Rick Jankowski

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