Taken Out at the Ballgame
--by Anne (11.10.07)
The details of the great mystery of why they
play Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning of
every home game at
Tipper’s dream is an amalgam of elements from two of the greatest baseball movies of all time: “The Natural,” and “Field of Dreams.” If you have not had an opportunity to see either of these fine films, I encourage you to do so.
Jessica and Seth’s chess game moves are from the Scotch Gambit, as outlined on the website http://www.eudesign.com/chessops/ch-clear.htm
Thanks to Stephanie and Sarah for their proofreading, their comments, and most importantly, their steady encouragement. And as always, the author humbly acknowledges that the characters of Jessica and Seth are the creations of MCA/Universal.
The fist-sized piece of granite, worn to egg-like smoothness by centuries of tumbling in the ocean waves at the margin of the world, sailed through the air and hit the crest of the wave that rose to meet it with a satisfying kerplunk. The froth of the wavecrest was momentarily disturbed as it swallowed the rock, but quickly recovered itself as it continued to slide towards shore, where it finally expended itself upon the beach with a sigh.
An answering sigh came from the auburn-haired young woman who had thrown the rock into the sea. She gazed out at the choppy waves, and tried to let her thoughts drift like a bit of seaweed floating upon them, but it was no use: the more she attempted to force herself to relax, the more she found herself dwelling upon what a miserable week it had been so far.
First there was Champ, the eight-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback who came in with what his owner assumed was a simple limp from playing too hard at fetch, but who left with a diagnosis of bone cancer and a prognosis of six months to live, or less.
Then there was Maizy, the thirteen-year-old Persian cat. For three years her diabetes had been manageable with careful attention to her diet, blood sugar, and insulin levels. But over the weekend something had upset that delicate balance; two days later, despite their best efforts, she was gone.
Worst of all had been Gus. The gentle giant of a Labrador had survived being hit by a car, an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting and even Addison’s Disease before chronic arthritis from hip dysplasia left him hobbled and unable to walk even short distances. There was no question that it was his time, but even so there hadn’t been a dry eye in the room when she had given Gus the lethal injection of euthanasia solution that ended his suffering. And then, just before he died, Gus had lifted his enormous head and licked her face, as if thanking her for opening the door for him so that he could pass from this world to the next …
And so on this mild spring late afternoon Tipper had come here, to a rocky beach on the outskirts of Cabot Cove, to seek solace in the peaceful rhythm of the ocean waves. She often came to this place when she was feeling troubled or sad because it was quiet, relatively secluded, and provided an endless supply of rocks for her to take her frustrations out upon.
She picked up another rock and hurled it into the water and then another, trying to see how far she could throw it. She was so intent upon this that she didn’t hear the footsteps as someone approached her.
Tipper paused in mid-windup, just about to let another rock fly, and turned to see Jessica standing next to her, regarding her with an expression of concern.
“Oh,” she said, surprised that she had company. “Uh, hi, Jessica.”
Jessica watched as Tipper threw the rock, following its path until it hit the water with a splash. “Good throw,” she said.
“Yeah, well, I’ve been practicing.” Another rock flew through the air and vanished beneath the waves.
“So I see,” said Jessica. “Tipper, is everything all right?”
“All right? I s’pose so,” Tipper replied without enthusiasm. When Jessica’s eyes continued to bore into her, she relented and added, “It’s just been a rough week, that’s all.”
“At the clinic?”
“Yeah.” She chose another rock – this one a delicate shade of pink flecked with quartz – and threw it into the sea. “Everything’s sick, nothing’s getting better …” She shook her head sadly and forced a smile. “So. What brings you to this part of the cove at this hour?”
“I was out for a walk,” Jessica replied, “and saw you relocating the beach to the ocean floor with more than just casual force.”
This time Tipper’s grin was genuine. “It’s stress relief,” she confessed.
Jessica smiled back. “That’s what I assumed. Do you want to go someplace – maybe get a cup of coffee or something – and talk about it?”
Tipper looked over her shoulder at the sun sinking lower in the west. “No, I really should be getting home,” she said. “Thanks anyway, Jessica.”
“If you change your mind …”
The veterinarian nodded tightly as she stuck her hands into the pockets of her jacket. “I know where to find you.”
Jessica watched Tipper trudge back up the beach towards town before continuing on her own way, arriving back at her house just in time to meet Seth, who was coming over for dinner and a game of chess. Throughout the preparation and the meal she seemed distant and distracted, and Seth could clearly tell that her thoughts were elsewhere.
“All right, Jessica, give,” he finally said as she set up the chessboard for their traditional after-dinner match. “What’s bothering you?”
“I came upon Tipper hurling rocks into the ocean this afternoon, during my walk,” Jessica told him. “She was clearly upset – I guess it’s been a difficult week at the vet clinic – but she also seemed worn down, which is not like her at all.”
“Burn out?” Seth suggested. “It can
happen to vets just as easily as it happens to physicians.”
“I know,” she said. “I suppose that’s what I’m afraid of.”
“I’m sure it’s just a phase,” Seth said as he advanced his king’s pawn for the first move of the game. “She’s young; she can handle it. She’ll be just fine.”
Having seen Tipper for herself Jessica was not so sure, but didn’t say so. Instead she matched Seth’s move with her own king’s pawn, and the battle began in earnest.
“Say, I had an interesting thing happen to me today,” Seth said as he moved his king’s knight toward the center of the board to attack Jessica’s pawn. “And old acquaintance of mine, Matt Huston, called me up out of the blue.”
“Is he a doctor?” Jessica asked, defending her pawn by moving one of her own knights into play.
went to medical school together. Haven’t heard from him in
years.” Seth went on the attack, moving his queen’s pawn forward to join
the first and putting Jessica’s own king’s pawn into double jeopardy. “He’s got a thriving practice down in
“I know,” said Jessica. Forced into a pawn exchange by Seth’s ambitious move, she captured his queen pawn and waited to see what he was going to do next.
“Anyway, apparently he’s got some ties with the Red Sox medical staff, consulting or some such thing.” Seth’s answering move was to bring his king’s bishop into the fray, moving it diagonally to occupy the space next to Jessica’s pawn.
“How exciting,” Jessica said as she copied Seth’s move and advanced her own king’s bishop three spaces diagonally. “Is he a baseball fan?”
“Never known him to be,” said Seth. He brought his queen’s bishop’s pawn forward a single space, hoping to lure Jessica into ceding what little control she had of the center of the board. “Anyway, one of the perks of working with the team is that they give him free tickets from time to time. He’s got four for the game this coming Saturday afternoon – good seats, too – and he offered me three of them.”
“Three?” said Jessica, eying Seth’s pawn with deep suspicion and trying to guess what he planned to do in advance. “That’s quite a generous offer. Did you accept?”
Seth guffawed – not at Jessica’s
expected acceptance of his gambit, a capturing of the offending bishop’s pawn
with her own queen’s pawn, but at her question. “Turn down the chance to see a
Red Sox game at
“What team will they be playing against?”
“Who cares? It’s the Sox. It’s Fenway. That’s all that matters.”
“Who are you going to offer the other two tickets to?” Jessica asked casually as she moved her queen’s pawn forward one rank, thus freeing her queen’s bishop from the rearguard.
“Well,” Seth said slowly as he studied the board, “I thought I’d invite you.”
Jessica laughed. “Oh, Seth,” she said, “you know I’m not much of a baseball fan.”
“I know, I know,” said Seth as he attacked Jessica’s king’s bishop’s pawn with his queen. “But I think you’d enjoy the experience anyway. You don’t have to just watch the game, you could watch the fans. Lots of good character material there. Maybe you could even set your next book in a baseball stadium.”
“Maybe,” Jessica answered vaguely as she moved her own queen forward one space to defend her beleaguered pawn. “So who do you plan to invite along to use the third ticket?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” said Seth. He moved his queen’s knight a second time.
Jessica answered his move by advancing her own king’s knight into position to threaten both Seth’s knight and his king’s pawn. “You know, Tipper’s an ardent Red Sox fan,” she said. “Maybe you could offer the third ticket to her.”
“Tipper? Well, I …”
“I think it would be just the thing to lift her spirits,” Jessica continued, working quickly to overwhelm Seth’s innate reluctance. “She really needs a weekend away, Seth – something to take her mind completely off of her work for awhile.”
“I don’t know …” Forced to choose between loosing his knight and losing his pawn, Seth picked the less painful option, moving his knight to safety while abandoning the pawn to the wolves.
“I know she’d appreciate the gesture,” said Jessica. “And really, it will be much more fun for you if you have someone along who can talk about the game on the same level as you … something I have no hope of doing.”
In his distraction and haste to get his knight to higher ground, Seth had carelessly placed it in the direct line of fire of Jessica’s king’s bishop. She now pounced, capturing the knight with one swift motion and setting it to the side of the board with an infuriatingly self-satisfied grin.
“Fine,” he growled through gritted teeth. “I’ll call the vet clinic first thing tomorrow and ask her if she wants to come along.”
Two days later Jessica came home from running some errands just as Seth was removing a steaming casserole from her oven.
“That smells delicious,” she said as she dropped her purse on the kitchen counter and hung her coat on its peg. “What is it?”
“Tuna casserole, Hazlitt style,” Seth announced proudly as he set the casserole dish down on a trivet to cool. “This is unlike any tuna casserole you have ever experienced, Jessica, thanks to my secret ingredient …”
“White wine,” Jessica finished for him.
“White wine,” Seth sighed. “And how, pray tell, did you know that?”
ingredient is always white wine,” Jessica replied with a shrug. “So, is Tipper
There was a long, uncomfortable pause as Seth tried to come up with some sort of face-saving answer. “Um, ahh, about that …”
Jessica, her hand on her hip, fixed Seth with a stern glare. “You forgot to call her, didn’t you.”
“Well, I didn’t exactly forget, I, erm …”
“Seth, it’s Friday night already! What if she’s already made plans for the weekend? What if she’s been asked to work?” Without waiting for an answer, Jessica took a picnic basket from the closet and a box of aluminum foil from a drawer.
“What are you doing?” Seth asked her.
“We’re wrapping this up and taking it over to Tipper’s house,” Jessica said firmly as she tore off a sheet of foil and deftly covered the top of Seth’s tuna casserole, Hazlitt style, with it.
“Now, Jess, I don’t think we need to …”
Jessica leveled Seth with another glare, cutting short the doctor’s protest. Thinking better of what he had been about to say, he took a step back, straightened himself up, and said, “I suppose I should be putting the tossed salad into a tupperware container or something.”
“I think that would be an excellent idea,” Jessica agreed.
After stopping by the bakery at Jessica’s insistence to get some fresh rolls to go with their dinner, Jessica and Seth pulled up in front of Tipper’s little grey house and went up the walk to the front porch. Seth knocked on the door, and after a few moments Tipper padded downstairs in her stockingfeet and answered it.
“Jessica!” she exclaimed in surprise. “Seth! Please – come in.”
“Sorry to drop in like this without calling first, Tipper,” Jessica said as she herded Seth across the threshold. “We thought that as hard as you’ve been working this week, you’d appreciate a home-cooked meal that you didn’t have to prepare yourself.”
“Would I ever!” Tipper’s eyes were drawn to the picnic basket that Jessica carried. “What are we having?”
“Tuna casserole – Hazlitt style – tossed green salad, and fresh rolls,” Jessica said.
“What makes it ‘Hazlitt style’?” Tipper asked. “White wine?”
Seth pursed his lips and followed Jessica into the kitchen.
Jessica’s observant eyes didn’t miss the fact that Tipper’s house looked a little more disheveled than she knew the veterinarian preferred to keep it. For that matter, Tipper looked more disheveled than usual as well, as if she hadn’t been sleeping well or sleeping long enough. Seth noticed this as well – the dark circles under her eyes and the pallor to her face were testimony enough.
“Where shall I set this?” Jessica asked, gesturing to the basket.
Tipper looked around, feeling sudden embarrassment at the stack of unwashed dishes in her sink and the empty cans of soup lined up on her countertop. “Um, let me clear off the kitchen table,” she said, hastily gathering the medical journals, bills, and junk mail that littered it into a single pile that she could hide on the seat of one of the chairs.
Jessica found a pair of mismatched candles in a drawer and lit them, setting them on a placemat in the center of the table. This done, they sat down to dinner in the cozy kitchen, Seth serving the ladies first before scooping a generous portion of his casserole on to a plate for himself. Tipper took a bite and nodded in approval.
“This is terrific,” she told Seth. “Best tuna casserole I’ve ever had. How do you get the top so crispy without burning it?”
“I leave it covered until about ten minutes before it’s ready,” Seth replied with a touch of pride. “Then, right before it’s time to take it out, I set it under the broiler for two minutes - no more, no less.”
“I’ll have to remember that.”
“Any plans for the weekend, Tipper?” asked Jessica as casually as she could while keeping a close eye on Seth’s reaction.
Tipper said, reaching for a roll. “I haven’t had much time to think about the
weekend, to tell the truth. Maybe I’ll take a drive up the coast – go to
Seth under the table, which made him jump – fortunately, Tipper was intent upon
enjoying her home-cooked meal, and didn’t notice. “Um, ah, Jessica and I are
“Really? That sounds like fun,” Tipper said.
“It will be, I’m sure,” said Jessica. “Seth has tickets to the Red Sox game tomorrow afternoon.”
“The Red Sox? Really?” A spark of real enthusiasm – the first Jessica had seen all evening – kindled in Tipper’s eyes. “How did you manage to score tickets to the game?”
“A friend of mine is part of the medical staff for the team,” said Seth, “and they gave him some tickets, which he then offered to me.”
“Lucky,” Tipper sighed as she popped the last bit of her buttered roll into her mouth. “I’d kill for a chance to see a Sox game.” Realizing what she had just said, she glanced uneasily at Jessica: “Sorry, Jessica.”
“Well, as it so happens,” Jessica said, “Seth was considering asking if you would like to go with us – weren’t you, Seth?”
“Ah, yes,” Seth said quickly, hoping to avoid a second kick from Jessica’s direction. “I was given a trio of tickets – I don’t suppose you’d like to take the third?”
“Would I!” Tipper almost shouted. “That would be great! Thank you, Seth!”
Seth and Jessica exchanged a smile: the color was already returning to Tipper’s cheeks.
“Well then,” Seth said as he passed around the salad, “all that remains is to decide what time we leave.”
They settled on
a departure time of eight-thirty the next morning, allowing them three hours to
“Not the standard-issue colors for a Red Sox cap,” Seth remarked when he saw it.
“Get over it,” Tipper retorted good-naturedly as she climbed into the back seat. “I’m a girl.”
“If you say so,” said Seth, and he pulled away from the curb.
The drive to
“I sure hope he recognizes me,” Seth said. “It’s been so many years, I’m not sure I’ll recognize him.”
As it turned out, Matt spotted them the instant they walked in the door of the pub. He was a somewhat heavy-set man of Seth’s age, bald but sporting a neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper moustache and beard. His khaki slacks and oxford shirt with open collar and rolled-up sleeves indicated that although he was not working medically at the park this day, he still wanted to look at least somewhat professional in the stands.
“Seth!” he exclaimed, approaching them with open arms and catching Seth in a great bear hug. “How are you doing, you old salt?” He turned to look at Jessica and Tipper. “Don’t tell me – these must be your lovely wife and daughter.”
Jessica and Tipper exchanged a look of barely suppressed amusement; in particular, Tipper looked like she might burst from holding back her laughter.
“Erm,” Seth began lamely.
“Not your wife and daughter?” Matt said uncertainly.
“Ah, no. Let me introduce you to my friends – Mrs. Jessica Fletcher and Angela Henderson, DVM.”
“Tipper,” she corrected as she stuck out her hand for Matt to shake. “Pleased to meet you, Dr. Huston. And thank you for the opportunity to see the game today. We’ve been looking forward to it.”
“Oh, the pleasure is mine … Tipper. DVM? You’re a vet?”
“That’s right,” Tipper said with a grin.
Matt turned to Jessica next. “Mrs. Fletcher. Any friend of Seth’s is a friend of mine.”
“Likewise,” she replied with a warm smile. “And please, call me Jessica.”
“Well, now that we have all that out of the way, what’s next?” Seth asked.
“The park,” Matt
replied, checking his watch. “If you head in now, you’ll have plenty of time to
grab lunch on
“We’ll be fine,” Seth assured him. “You aren’t working today, are you?”
Matt laughed. “Not officially,” he said. “But where baseball players are involved, I’m never completely off-duty unless I’m miles away from this place. Go on, then – I’ll catch up with you all later.”
Jessica, Seth, and Tipper left the Cask and Flagon and headed for the turnstyles at the entrance of Yawkey Way, the street – now closed to all but pedestrian traffic – that was the official “front porch” of historic Fenway Park. Ushers performed a perfunctory search of Jessica’s shoulderbag and Tipper’s backpack then waved them in, scanning the barcodes on their tickets and handing them back.
back her ticket and checked it to see where they were seated. When she read the
section and seat numbers, she stopped short in amazement, right in the middle
It took Jessica and Seth only a few steps before they realized Tipper had fallen behind.
“You’ll catch fly balls with your mouth hanging open like that, Dr. Henderson,” Seth said, looking back at her.
“Seth,” Tipper said, finally finding her voice, “did Dr. Huston tell you where we’re sitting?”
“No, I don’t believe he did,” Seth replied. “All he told me was that they were good seats.”
“That’s an understatement,” Tipper told him. She held up her ticket and pointed at it: “We’re in Section 19, row 1 … the front row!”
Jessica’s eyes grew wide. “The front row? Really?”
“Yeah!” Tipper said, catching up with them. “Next to the press box, if memory serves.”
Jessica looked at Seth. “Just how good a friend is this Dr. Huston?” she asked him.
“Apparently, a better friend than I thought he was,” he answered dryly.
An usher pointed out their section to them as they entered the stands from the concourse below. “Good seats,” he commented appreciatively.
Tipper fairly bounced down the concrete steps to the first row and settled herself into her seat with a sigh of contentment.
“Ahhhhh,” she said as Seth eased himself into the seat next to hers. “This is Heaven.”
to take in her surroundings before sitting down. “Good seats” didn’t adequately
describe the front row experience, she decided.
From their vantage point right beside the first base line they could see
everything on the field at eye-level with absolutely nothing blocking their
view. And at
Even more remarkable than these famous icons was the field itself – it was emerald green and perfectly manicured, the mowers having cut the grass in such a fashion as to make a perfect checkerboard in the outfield and concentric circles around the pitcher’s mound in the infield. The infield dirt looked as smooth and uniform as beach sand and just as soft; at the moment the grounds crew was hosing it down in preparation for the start of the game.
“What do you think, Jessica?” Tipper asked.
“It’s far preferable to watching baseball on television, that’s for certain,” she replied as she finally took her seat.
“I should say so,” Seth declared. “It’s been years since I saw a baseball game in person at Fenway Park, and I find myself wondering why I didn’t come back here sooner.”
The national anthem was sung by a winsome little girl from a local girl scout troop whose voice was surprisingly strong and mature for her age. When she had finished the crowd burst into appreciative applause that followed the blushing singer all the way back to the dugout.
“She’s sung the national anthem at a major league ballpark at the tender age of twelve,” Seth said, nudging Tipper’s arm. “What had you accomplished by the time you were twelve?”
“By the time I was twelve, I’d won the school-wide spelling bee,” Tipper replied haughtily, “baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies all by myself, and kissed a boy when he wasn’t looking.”
The first pitch, delivered by one of the Red Sox’s ace starters, was a searing fastball over the outside corner of the plate. It whizzed past the Yankees’ lead-off batter and hit the catcher’s mitt with an audible smack and a called first strike. The game was off to a good start for the home team, and the crowd quickly warmed to the game.
Tipper was also warming to the game, as Jessica noticed with a mixture of pleasure and relief. Although her spirits had seemed higher even from the moment they had picked her up at her house that morning there had still been a pallor to her features that had not yet been dispelled. Now that drawn, weary look finally lifted and was replaced by a healthy rosy glow to her cheeks as she whooped and shouted her encouragement to the Sox infielders.
By the bottom of
the first inning Jessica deemed that Tipper was completely cured of her
malaise, and she settled back to watch the game – or perhaps more precisely, to
watch the people around her watch the game. Baseball had never been an interest
of hers, but people-watching was definitely one of her favorite pastimes, and
“Vasquez is up next,” Tipper said, referring to the Sox batter in the number three slot of the batting rotation. “He’ll get something going for sure.”
“Not a chance,” Seth grumbled, always the pessimistic counterpoint to Tipper’s cheery optimism.
“What are you talking about? He’s batting .302 this season.”
“Ay-yuh, but lately he’s been in a gawd-awful slump.”
“A slump? He went 2 for 4 in the game against
“And then he went hitless for the next three games,” Seth reminded her. “Like I said, a slump. Besides, he’s an R.B.I. hitter – he’s no good to us without men on base.”
“One of those
“Says you,” said Seth, who couldn’t come up with a snappier comeback at the moment.
Another pitch landed in the catcher’s glove without any attempt to hit it by Vasquez; this time the call was a strike.
“AW, C’MON!” Tipper shouted at the home plate umpire. “THAT PITCH WAS HIGH AND INSIDE!”
“Umpire needs an eye exam,” Seth said.
“He needs a seeing-eye dog, is what he needs,” agreed Tipper.
Jessica tried to stifle her laughter behind her hand and only partially succeeded, drawing looks from both of the doctors beside her.
“What’s so funny?” Seth asked her.
“Nothing,” said Jessica.
Matt Huston finally joined them in the box in the middle of the third inning, when the score was Red Sox 2, Yankees 1.
“Enjoying the game so far?” he asked them
“Immensely,” said Tipper. She offered him some of the caramel corn she had purchased from one of the vendors that coursed up and down the aisles of the stands. “Crackerjacks?”
Matt waved the offer away. “No, thanks,” he said.
Tipper switched seats with Seth so that he and Matt could sit next to each other and catch up. As they did so she tried to educate Jessica on some of the finer details of the game.
“See that guy in right field?” she said. “That’s Dave Robinson. He won the Gold Glove two years ago but missed all of last year with a back injury. Now he’s back playing for the Sox again, and they say he’s better than ever.”
“He looks very good for a man getting over a bad back,” Jessica commented.
“These guys have tremendous training regimens,” said Tipper. “They can come back from just about anything.”
“Then there’s the steroids,” Seth said sourly.
Tipper made a face. “Yeah,” she said. “Well, the full story on that has yet to be told.”
The subject was interrupted by a loud crack as the Yankee batter at the plate hit a hanging curve ball into the stratosphere. The crowd watched breathlessly as it arced up and up and up … and came down over the fence into the bullpen.
“AWWWW!” Tipper cried as the fans around them booed and jeered the batter as he made his way around the bases. “YANKEES SUCK!” Suddenly remembering who she was with, she looked apologetically at Seth and Jessica. “Sorry,” she said wryly.
“You said it, but I was thinking it,” Seth said with a smile.
The Red Sox managed to even the score in the home half of the fourth inning when Matthew Roderick crushed a two-run homer over the Green Monster in left field.
“That one landed on the Mass Pike,” Seth said happily as he and Tipper exchanged a high-five amid the general celebration as Roderick trotted around the bases.
“That’s one busted windshield I wouldn’t mind replacing,” Tipper agreed.
The next batter up engaged in a long duel with the pitcher, managing to foul off pitch after pitch. One of these was a hard grounder that skipped its way down the first base line just outside of fair territory. One of the ballboys smoothly fielded the foul ball as it bounced his way, and tossed it to a little boy a few rows back of where Jessica and her friends were sitting. As he turned back to the action on the field he put a hand to his temple and rubbed it, a gesture that caught Matt’s attention.
“Derek,” he said. The ballboy turned towards them, and Matt beckoned him over. “What’s the matter, son? Headache?”
Derek’s eyes darted about nervously as he mumbled his reply, barely audible over the crowd noise: “Yes, sir.”
“I might have something that will help you out with that.” Matt dug around in his pockets and produced an envelope of pills. “There you go,” he said, “some ibuprofen for that headache.”
“Gee, thanks, Dr. Huston.” Derek shook out one of the pills and popped it in his mouth, washing it down with a swallow of the water Matt offered him. Then he shoved the envelope into the pocket of his pants and jogged back to his station to await the next foul ball.
Tipper watched him go, staring after him with intensity. She leaned over to Jessica and said quietly, “Jessica – is it just me, or did Derek actually palm that pill instead of swallowing it?”
Jessica raised an eyebrow but did not reply.
Tipper continued to watch Derek the ballboy intermittently for the next few innings, whenever the action on the field was lagging. According to custom, the ballboys stationed on the first base and third base lines switched positions every three innings, presumably to give them roughly equal chances at fielding foul balls. Accordingly, Derek, who had been at first base for the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, was back over by third base and the Yankees’ dugout for the top of the seventh.
“Look, look!” Tipper said suddenly, grabbing Jessica’s arm. “Did you see that?”
Jessica turned to see what Tipper was pointing at. “What, Tipper?”
“That ballboy, Derek – I swear he just handed the envelope Matt gave him to the Yankees’ third baseman as he was going back to the dugout.”
Jessica had to admit that she didn’t see anything untoward going on across the infield – the third baseman in question was shoving his batting helmet and bat back into their slots, while Derek was meandering back toward his folding chair, his hands shoved deep into his pockets.
“I’m sorry, Tipper, I completely missed whatever just happened,” she said. “Maybe he was just sharing his aspirin with the third baseman?”
“Maybe,” Tipper said, her eyes narrowed.
custom for the middle of the eighth inning involved the fans singing along as
Neil Diamond’s hit tune “Sweet Caroline” was played over the public address
system. Jessica watched in fascination as Tipper lent her voice to that of the
other fans as they participated in this revered
“Sweet Caroline …” the loudspeakers blared, to which the crowd replied en masse,
“Good times never seemed so good …”
“SO GOOD! SO GOOD! SO GOOD!”
The song ended when the Yankees took the field for the bottom of the eighth.
“Sweet Caroline” have to do with the Red Sox?” Jessica asked Tipper as the
crowd noise subsided to more of a murmuring roar. “I mean, the lyrics have
absolutely nothing to do with baseball … or with
“I don’t think it has anything to do with the Sox,” Tipper said. “It’s kind of a mystery, I guess, why they play it.”
Naturally a mystery, even a relatively small one such as this, had Jessica intrigued. “Matt, do you know?” she asked.
Matt shook his head. “No idea.”
“Well, someone has to know the answer,” said Jessica.
“I’ve heard that
the Caroline in the song is supposed to represent
“Nah, they always play it because Caroline is the name of the wife of one of the team owners,” a man sitting across the aisle chimed in.
“Neil Diamond was a huge Sox fan,” said someone else.
“No, he wasn’t,” another fan retorted.
“I don’t think anyone knows the answer for sure,” said Tipper, summing all the other comments up.
Hmmm, thought Jessica.
The bottom half of the eighth turned out to be a one-two-three inning, with the Yankees’ young relief pitcher managing to strike out the first batter, get the second batter to hit into a ground-out, and the third batter to loft a deep fly ball to the right fielder, who caught it neatly on the warning track. Tipper sighed with disappointment and slumped in her seat as the outfielders ran in toward the visitor’s dugout despite the fact that the Sox were still enjoying a 5 to 2 lead.
“A few more feet and that ball would have been outta here,” she said to Seth.
“Not a chance,” he replied. “Wind’s blowing in from right field. He’s lucky he hit it as far as he did.”
As the Sox emerged from their dugout to take the field for the top of the ninth, the first base coach, Nate Mahaney, caught Matt’s eye as he approached the coach’s box and took a detour to come over to his seat.
“Did your headache remedy help Derek?” he asked in a tone of voice that seemed to carry more weight than the question warranted.
“Seems to have worked,” Matt replied, returning the Mahaney’s level stare with one of his own.
“Y’know, you aren’t supposed to be passing things to the ballboys when they’re working on the field.”
“No harm, no foul,” said Matt. “And how’s your knee doing these days?”
The question seemed to take the coach aback. “Fine,” he muttered, looking away and starting to head back to his station behind first base. “Just fine.”
“What was that all about?” Seth asked.
Matt waved his hand in a gesture of no consequence. “Coach Mahaney is always a stickler for the rules,” he said lightly.
“And what about that comment about his knee?”
“It’s nothing; I treated him for an old ACL tear a few years ago, that’s all. Sometimes it still gives him a twinge or two when it’s going to rain.”
Seth exchanged a look with Jessica; the silent communication between them confirmed that there was probably more to the conversation than appeared on the surface. Jessica gave a slight shrug, an indication that he could pursue the matter with their host if he wanted to, or not. With a silent sigh, Seth decided to let the matter drop.
The Yankees made it exciting before all was said and done. The Red Sox brought in Hernando Sanchez, their ace closer, to pitch the top of the ninth, but despite his efforts to bring the game to a swift conclusion the opposition was persistent and not about to concede quietly.
“Awww, come on!” Tipper wailed in dismay as a blooper base hit scored the man on third. This latest indignity, following on the heels of two walks, a wild pitch, and a line drive with eyes that managed to elude both the second baseman and the shortstop, whittled the lead down to one.
“This needs to end now,” Seth growled. He was frowning with a look of concern that Jessica usually saw him reserve for more puzzling medical conundrums.
“At least there’s two outs,” Tipper said hopefully, but her voice still reflected Seth’s worry.
Another walk loaded the bases. With the tying run on third and the winning run on second, the Fenway faithful were fit to be tied. The tension in the stadium air was palpable as the Yankees’ first baseman, currently enjoying a torrid hitting streak, approached the batter’s box. He took a few menacing practice swings while Sanchez paced slowly around the pitcher’s mound, turned the baseball over and over in his fingers. At last both batter and pitcher were ready. Sanchez shook off the first few signs the catcher sent him before giving a terse nod to the one he wanted. After checking on the runners on base behind him he delivered his pitch from the stretch.
“Ball one,” the umpire shouted, and the crowd emitted a huge moan.
The hitter stepped out of the batter’s box long enough to knock the dirt from his spikes with the barrel of his bat before preparing for his second pitch. This time Sanchez delivered a pitch that was fouled off back over the press box.
The battle of wills continued: another ball, low and outside, another pitched fouled off, and yet another ball, this time thrown high and inside and causing the batter to take an involuntary step back to avoid being hit. This brought the game to a critical juncture: at three balls, two strikes, and two outs, everything hinged on the next pitch. If Sanchez threw a ball he’d walk home the tying run, and the game would continue. A hit would put the Yankees in the lead with only the bottom of the ninth left for the Sox to redeem themselves. But a strike would end the game in victory for the home team. Jessica looked down and smiled: Tipper and Seth’s hands were clasped tight as they anxiously awaited the outcome of the duel.
The stadium held its collective breath as Sanchez delivered the pitch. The Yankee hitter drew a bead on it, planted his right foot firmly in the scuffed dirt of the batter’s box, and swung …
The force of the swing sent him spinning around as the ball smacked into the catcher’s mitt. The umpire’s call of “Strike three!” was completely drowned out by the eruption of spontaneous celebration from the fans. For ten solid minutes it was impossible to hear anything beyond the general roar of triumph over the hated rival Yankees. Tipper was jumping up and down, laughing and clapping in delight as Seth and Matt clapped each other on the back. Despite the last minute challenge from the resurgent opponents the Red Sox had managed to carry the day.
As the team shook hands and began to leave the field the fans seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief and began to follow suit.
“See here, Seth, I hate to run off on you like this, but I have some things to attend to in the team clinic,” Matt said as he stood from his seat.
“So soon?” Seth said, disappointed. “I was hoping we could catch up some more someplace quieter than this – why don’t you let us take you to dinner somewhere?”
Matt hesitated. “Well, that does sound good,” he admitted. “Tell you what – give me half an hour, and when I’m finished up at the clinic I’ll meet you next to Ted Williams’ statue, outside Gate B.” He reached into his trousers pocket and produced a laminated card on a lanyard, which he handed to Seth. “If you need to get back into the park for anything while you’re waiting, this should get you wherever you need to go.”
Jessica, Seth and Tipper remained in their seats watching the grounds crew clean up the field after Matt hurried off, seeing little reason to try and move until the crowds had dissipated a little. At length Seth checked his watch and said, “We’d better get a move on if we don’t want to be late meeting Matt.”
They soon discovered that even though the stands were mostly empty the concourse was still buzzing with activity. It took some time to weave their way through the crowds but eventually they emerged into the open air outside the park.
“This is Gate B, isn’t it?” Tipper asked as she peered back at the doorway they had just exited.
“Yes,” Seth said, “and there’s Ted Williams.”
“But no Matt,” said Jessica.
Seth checked his watch again. “Hmm. You’re right, Jess. He should have been here by now.”
“Well, maybe he had more to do in the team clinic than he anticipated,” Jessica said. “We can just wait for him here, like he suggested.”
The statue of
Ted Williams that stood watch outside of Fenway’s
Gate B was a beautiful piece of artistry cast in bronze. It depicted the
legendary Red Sox hitter greeting a young fan, one hand carrying his bat while
the other placed his own baseball cap on the little boy’s head. It was a popular backdrop for people wanting a
photograph to capture the essence of their
At length even these stragglers melted away into the surrounding city. Tipper took one last photo of a couple from Japan beneath the statue in the fading light, handed them back their camera with a smile, and rejoined Seth and Jessica.
“What time is it now?” she asked.
Seth consulted his watch yet again and frowned. “Nearly five,” he said. “We’ve been here for nearly half an hour.”
“That means it’s been a whole hour since we last saw Matt,” Jessica said. “I wonder what happened to him?”
Tipper looked around at the emptying streets and up at the sky, which was beginning to darken to a lovely shade of blue-violet. “Maybe we should go in and look for him,” she suggested.
“We do have that all-access pass Matt gave you,” Jessica told Seth.
Seth sighed. “I suppose we might as well.”
The security guard at the gate waved them in when he saw the pass Seth held out to him. “Don’t be too long, folks,” he said as he stepped aside to let them through. “We’re closing up the stadium pretty soon.”
The concourse seemed to be a much larger, almost cavernous space when there wasn’t a ballgame being played, an image that was in sharp contrast to earlier that day when the narrow passageways between the steel beam supports were thronged with noisy baseball fans. Following the security guard’s directions they headed down the right field side of the concourse to where the medical clinic was located, tucked in a corner out of the way where it wouldn’t attract too much notice from casual passers-by.
“This must be it,” Tipper said. She approached the door and was just about to turn the handle when it flew open without warning, pushed open by a man leaving the clinic in haste. Tipper jumped back out of the way to avoid being knocked down but the man barely spared her a glance.
“’Scuse me,” he growled as he hurried off, disappearing into the dimness of the empty concourse.
“’Scuse yourself,” Tipper muttered as she watched him go. “Yeesh! Some people are so rude!”
“You’re lucky you weren’t a step closer, Tipper, or you might have gotten your nose broken just like his,” Jessica said.
“You saw that too? It was all out of joint!”
“Are we going to stand here discussing that unfortunate man’s physical deformities or are we going to go in and find out what’s keeping Matt?” Seth asked impatiently.
“Right,” Tipper said sheepishly, recalled to their errand. “Let’s go.”
The medical clinic seemed as deserted as the rest of the stadium – no people milling about, no sounds of activity, no indication that anyone at all was within. The silence was forbidding enough that it kept the trio from venturing farther in than the entrance.
“Matt?” Seth called out hesitantly. “You in here?”
There was no answer.
“Do you think he forgot we were waiting for him and left without us?” Jessica asked.
Seth shook his head. “That’s not like him,” he replied. Speaking louder, he called out again, “Matt! It’s Seth! What’s keeping ya?”
Still there was no answer.
Tipper looked at Seth and Jessica. “This is getting spooky.”
It was Jessica who made the first move and proceeded further into the clinic, looking around partitions and into examination rooms for some sign of their host. All the while she was following the only sound she could pick up, the sound of water dripping from somewhere in the back. As the sound became louder, the shadow of dread hanging over her grew heavier and more ominous.
She turned one final corner that led to the rehabilitation area in the rear of the clinic and discovered the source of the dripping water – a metal whirlpool tub, filled to overflowing with the body of a large man floating face down in the water, his lifeless arms hanging limply over the sides. Her stifled shriek brought Seth and Tipper running.
“Jess! Are you all right?” Seth asked when he reached her.
“I’m fine,” she managed to say as she caught her breath, “but your friend Matt is not.”
Thanks to the
security guard who had let them in the stadium the police were quickly summoned, and before long
When he had completed his circuit he said to the officers standing nearby, “I don’t think he drowned.”
Jessica was impressed; she didn’t think Huston had drowned either, but she was curious to see if Morgan’s reasons for thinking so were the same as hers, so she ventured a question: “Why is that, Lieutenant?”
Morgan gave her a sharp but not entirely hostile look; what Jessica read from this was that the lieutenant was open to outside comments up to a point, so long as she didn’t push too hard. She felt relatively confident about this assumption; Jessica had a lot of practice in reading the expressions of law enforcement officers.
“He’s floating,” Morgan answered her. “If his lungs had filled with water, he’d be under the surface.”
“Yes, I noticed the same thing.”
This earned her a second, sharper look from Morgan as he appraised her in turn. As for Tipper and Seth, they looked at each other and grinned knowingly.
“Are you in law enforcement?” the lieutenant asked Jessica. His tone of voice betrayed that he clearly didn’t think she looked the part.
“No,” she said with a smile as she dropped her eyes modestly. “I’m a writer.”
She knew what Morgan’s next question would be even before he asked it: “What kind of writer?”
“She writes mystery novels,” Seth answered for her.
“Good ones,” Tipper chimed in.
“She’s JB Fletcher,” said Seth.
Morgan’s response matched his expression: “Whatever.”
He started on a second circuit of the room, farther out from the tub and the body this time. He seemed to be concentrating on the floor, which was sopping wet almost to the farthest corners of the space.
“The guy made a big splash when he fell in,” he commented to no one in particular.
Jessica had also noted the almost universally wet floor but had come to a very different conclusion about it. But she sensed that saying anything about it to the lieutenant now would be pushing her luck, so for the moment at least she held her peace.
Morgan completed his initial inspection of the crime scene and approached the trio of Mainers. “Okay,” he said. “Let me get this straight: you three were guests of the victim today at the game. How long had you known him?”
Seth answered for them, “Matt and I go back all the way to medical school. But today was the first time that Mrs. Fletcher and Dr. Henderson had met him.”
“You knew him pretty well, then.”
Seth shuffled his feet. “Well, no,” he admitted. “We’d lost touch. I hadn’t heard from him in years until he called me up with the invitation.”
Morgan decided to move on: “So you attend the game with him, and then what happened?”
“Well,” said Jessica, “once the game was over Dr. Hazlitt extended an invitation to Dr. Huston to have dinner with us, and he accepted. But first he had some things to do in the team clinic. We arranged to meet outside of the stadium in about half an hour.”
“And he never showed up,” said Tipper. “So we went looking for him.”
“I see,” Morgan said, scribbling a note on his pad of paper. “Who gave you that all-access pass?”
“Matt did,” Seth answered, “in case we needed to get back inside the park for anything while we were waiting.”
“The security guard says you approached him with the pass at about six-fifteen,” said Morgan, consulting his notes. “And the 911 call was placed ten minutes after that. Did any of you see anyone else hanging around in the intervening time?”
“Just this guy with a crooked nose,” said Tipper. “He came banging out of the team clinic just as we were about to go in.”
“A guy with a crooked nose,” Morgan repeated slowly as he wrote this down. “Can you describe him?”
Tipper shrugged. “I didn’t get a good look at him – he nearly knocked me off my feet as he was leaving. The nose was the only thing that grabbed my attention.”
“He was of average height and build,” Jessica supplied. “Dark hair … I don’t think I can be any more specific than that. He took us all by surprise because we weren’t expecting anyone to be here except Dr. Huston.”
“And the lighting in the concourse was very dim,” Seth added. “Hard to see anything.”
his notebook shut with a slightly weary sigh. “Okay,” he said. “Look, I’d
appreciate it if you folks didn’t leave
“Er, Lieutenant, that presents something of a problem,” Seth said. “You see, we only came down here for a day trip. We don’t have anyplace to stay.”
“The department will arrange something for you,” Morgan said as he started walking away. “Sergeant Johnsbury here will take care of it. I’m going to have a lot more questions for you, so your daytrip has just turned into a weekend getaway … at least.”
accommodations were at the Langham Hotel, a venerable
establishment located in the heart of
“Sure beats the Lighthouse Motel,” Tipper commented as she walked into the suite’s sitting room wide-eyed. “Or most chain hotels I’ve been in, for that matter.”
“Just about anything with four walls and a roof would beat the Lighthouse Motel,” Seth said, pointing out the obvious, for Cabot Cove’s infamous Lighthouse Motel was widely-known to represent the lowest common denominator in area lodging establishments. “That being said, this is very nice, I must admit.”
Tipper dropped her backpack on the floor and flopped into an armchair, clearly exhausted.
“Are you all right, Tipper?” Jessica asked her.
“Yeah, I guess so,” the veterinarian replied through a yawn. “I guess that the events of the day are catching up with me.” She picked up the television remote and absently clicked through the channels while Jessica and Seth deposited their own scant luggage in each of the adjoining bedrooms. Stumbling across a local news broadcast, she stopped, sat upright in her chair, and turned up the volume. “Hey, come look at this!”
Seth and Jessica
re-entered the sitting room in time to see what had caught Tipper’s attention,
the image of a reporter standing in front of the main entrance to
“Huston’s body was found after the game was over by a fan who was apparently one of his guests for today’s match-up between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees,” the reporter was saying. “Police have not released the fan’s identity but say she is not considered a suspect in Huston’s death at this time.”
“That’s a relief,” Tipper snorted.
The rest of the news story merely rehashed the details that Jessica, Seth, and Tipper were already painfully well acquainted with. When it was over, Tipper turned off the television with a sigh.
“Well,” she said, “I’m starved. Anyone else interested in going out to get something to eat?”
“What about room service?” Seth asked.
Tipper made a face. “Boring and overpriced,” she said. Her growing hunger, combined with the natural excitement of being in the big city, were motivating her to push through her exhaustion. “C’mon, we’re just steps away from the North End – we can’t pass up an opportunity like that.”
“Hrmph,” Seth growled. “What do you think, Jess?”
considered their options. There was no reason, really, why they needed to stay
inside the Langham – they weren’t under any sort of
restriction from the police except that they remain in
“I think going out is a fine idea,” she said, and Seth’s face fell even as Tipper’s brightened. “Why not? It’ll be fun, and a good change of scenery. As nice as this hotel room is, depending on how the case goes we may be seeing entirely too much of it before everything is said and done.”
“Look at these crowds!” Seth exclaimed as he surveyed the scene. “I had no idea so many people ate out this late in cities! What time is it, anyway?”
Jessica consulted her watch. “It’s just past nine,” she said. “And in cities, Seth, people hardly consider this ‘late.’”
“Well, it’s all
right for you to say so, you live in
“Anything past six is late according to you,” Tipper said to Seth.
Seth ignored her. “It looks like every restaurant on the block is all full up,” he said. “What do we do now?”
“Let’s not give up just yet,” Jessica said. “There’s bound to be at least one place along here that doesn’t have a line out the door. Come on,” and she strode across the street with Seth and Tipper following behind her.
They walked for several blocks without any luck; every restaurant they came across had no hope of seating them for at least an hour or more. Then, as they were approaching the border between the commercial part of the North End and its quieter residential area, Tipper looked down a side street and saw a little hole-in-the-wall pizzeria called Hot Tomatoes on the corner. There were no people clustered out in front of it, and when they looked inside the plate glass windows, they saw very few people inside of it as well.
“Bingo,” Tipper said. “This should do nicely.”
“I don’t know,” said Seth doubtfully. “If this place is any good, why don’t they have a throng of patrons like the other places do?”
“Probably because of that,” Jessica said, nodding to the handwritten sign on the door that read “Cash and Checks Only – No Credit Cards.”
Seth looked at it, perplexed. “Why should that make a difference?”
Tipper rolled her eyes. “Because,” she said with exaggerated patience, knowing this would needle the doctor – needling Seth being a favorite pastime of hers – “most people don’t carry cash anymore. They use plastic.”
Seth straightened his back at this and glowered at her. “Are you saying that just because I prefer to carry cash that makes me some kind of … of dinosaur?”
“You said it, not me.”
“There’s nothing wrong with plain, honest-to-goodness cash!”
“I never said there was.”
“But you’re implying …”
“Let’s go inside,” Jessica suggested sweetly, bring the verbal sparring match to an end.
They sat down at a corner table with a red and white checkered tablecloth and looked at the menu.
“What do you usually like on your pizza, Tipper?” Jessica asked.
Tipper shrugged. “Almost anything,” she said.
“Hmm. What about you, Seth?”
“Well,” Seth said slowly, “if it were up to me, I’d have anchovies.”
Jessica and Tipper stared at him. “You’re kidding,” Tipper said flatly.
“Not at all. Loved ‘em ever since I was a boy.”
“Really,” Jessica said, the look of wonder on her face making it clear that this was an unexpected revelation about her friend.
“Sorry, Seth, but I’m going to have to veto the anchovies,” said Tipper. “I said I’d eat almost anything on my pizza.”
“I’m siding with Tipper on this,” Jessica added. “I may be adventuresome, but even I have my limits.”
Seth looked disappointed. “Suit yourselves,” he said, closing his menu and setting it down. “But you ladies have no idea what you’re missing.”
They settled on a three cheese hand-tossed pizza, which Tipper pronounced to be one of the best she’d ever tasted.
“And that’s really saying something,” she said, “because when I was in vet school, I ate a lot of pizza.”
There may not have been many sit down diners, but Hot Tomatoes did a brisk business in take-out orders. Throughout their meal there was a steady stream of customers coming and going, mostly younger people in ones and twos. Then, as they were just finishing, another person came in that caught Jessica’s eye.
“Does that man look familiar?” she asked her companions quietly.
Tipper twisted around in her seat for a quick look. “Yes!” she said in an excited whisper. “The man with the crooked nose!”
“What, you mean the fella we saw coming out of the stadium medical clinic?” Seth asked.
“Keep your voice down,” Jessica said, putting her hand on his arm. “Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s him.” She continued to watch the man closely as he went up to the counter, collected his take-out pizza and paid for it. Part of her desperately wanted to jump up and follow him out of the restaurant to find out who he was and where he lived – after all, what were the chances that they would happen to see him again? But at the same time the more sensible part of her was very much aware that the man could well be Matt Huston’s murderer.
Seth, who knew her well, recognized her internal struggle and was ready when, once the crooked-nosed man exited the restaurant, Jessica pushed back her chair to get up and follow.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” he said, catching her by the sleeve. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“Well, I was just going to …”
“… run head-long into something dangerous,” Seth finished for her. “I don’t need to remind you that right after we saw that man leaving the clinic, we found Matt floating dead in the whirlpool!”
“I wasn’t going to do anything dangerous,” Jessica said defensively. “I just wanted to follow him – at a safe distance – to see where he lives.”
“How do you know he lives around her?” Tipper asked. “For all we know, he drove here.”
Jessica shook her head. “No,” she said. “He came here on foot. He didn’t take any keys out of his pocket on his way out the door like most people would when leaving with take-out.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Tipper said. “Let’s go.” She jumped up and headed out the door. Released from Seth’s grip, Jessica was close behind her.
“Hey, now …” Seth was about to chase after them until he realized that they had left him stuck with the check. He hurriedly pulled a couple of twenty dollar bills out of his wallet and left them on the table – it was a ridiculously generous tip, but there was no time to get change for a more reasonable one. This done, he ran out of the restaurant in belated pursuit of his companions.
Meantime Jessica and Tipper had managed to get within visual range of their quarry, who was setting only a very leisurely pace as he headed deeper into the darker, quieter streets of the residential North End. They slowed their own pace to match his, leaving half a block between them.
“What do we do if he spots us?” Tipper asked.
“Act naturally,” Jessica replied.
“And what do we do when he gets to his apartment?”
“I haven’t thought that far ahead,” Jessica confessed.
Cross-traffic delayed them at a street corner; by the time they were able to cross to the next block, the man with the crooked nose was nowhere to be seen.
“Uh-oh,” Tipper said. “We lost him. We have no idea whether he went right, left, or straight ahead.”
Jessica looked up and down the street they had just crossed. “I don’t think he went left,” she said. “That goes back toward the commercial area of the North End. He probably went straight or to the right.”
“We could split up,” Tipper suggested.
Jessica gave her an admonishing look. “What would Seth say?”
“That it’s too dangerous,” Tipper admitted. “Let’s do it anyway.”
It didn’t take much arm-twisting to get Jessica to agree; she was just as anxious to find the man with the crooked nose as Tipper was. “All right. How about this: we’ll each take a direction and head that way for five blocks – that would be about as far as someone would want to walk with a hot pizza, any farther and he’d probably drive or take a cab. If you see him, follow him just to see where he lives, but no farther. If you don’t see him, turn around after your five blocks. We’ll meet back here at this street corner.”
“Deal,” said Tipper.
She headed up the street, taking the right hand direction, while Jessica continued straight in the direction in which they had originally been heading. The streets were very dark and quiet now … or maybe it just seemed that way because she no longer had Tipper next to her for company. She quickened her steps, hoping to make up some of the lost ground between her and the mysterious man.
Without warning someone grabbed her from behind and forced her back up against the wall of one of the buildings. It was difficult to make out his features in the dim light of the streetlamps, but there was no mistaking the odd angle of the man’s nose.
“Lady,” the man hissed, “I don’t know why you’re following me, but you’re not going anywhere until you tell me. And the explanation had better be good.”
Jessica didn’t answer him; she was distracted by something or someone she had spotted behind him. The man noticed her attention shift just as a pebble hit him in the back of the head with a stinging smack. “Ow!” he complained, and without letting go of her he turned to see where the pebble had come from.
Standing behind him was Tipper, holding a much larger stone in her hand. “As Jessica can tell you, I’m really, really good at throwing rocks,” she told him. “So unless you want this one right between the eyes, I suggest you let her go.”
At that moment Seth came jogging up, quite out of breath. “What the hell is going on here?” he asked.
Now outnumbered three to one, the man with the crooked nose released his grip on Jessica. “I give up,” he said, throwing his hands in the air. “Who are you people anyway?”
“My name’s Jessica Fletcher, and these are Dr. Seth Hazlitt and Dr. Tipper
Henderson. We’re the people you nearly ran over in your hurry to leave the
“I didn’t kill Huston,” the man said.
“We never said you did,” Jessica replied. “But you were there and you must have seen something.”
“And what were you doing there in the first place?” Seth asked. “Who gave you an all-access pass?”
“My employer, the
“Say, I know who you are,” Seth said suddenly. “I read your column every Sunday.”
“That’s nice to know,” Torantino grumbled. “Well, you’ve got questions for me, I’ve got questions for you. You might as well come on upstairs where we can talk.”
They followed Torantino inside the building and up three flights of stairs to his apartment. He balanced the pizza with one hand while he unlocked his door with the other and pushed it open with his knee.
“The pizza’s probably cold as concrete by now, but you’re welcome to have a slice if you want,” he said as he tossed the box on to his kitchen table.
“No thank you, we’ve already had dinner,” Jessica said politely.
“Suit yourselves.” He gestured for them to make themselves comfortable in the apartment’s living room.
“Tipper,” Jessica said as they seated themselves on the mismatched furniture, “how did you manage to catch up with me so quickly?”
“After just a block the neighborhood started to turn into a warehouse district,” Tipper replied. “I figured it was a dead end, so I retraced my steps to catch up with you … which I managed to do just as Mr. Wonderful here stepped out of the shadows to manhandle you.”
“Sorry about that,” Torantino said. “I just get really, really paranoid about people following me. Sometimes they aren’t the sort of people you want to meet in a dark alley.”
“Is that how you broke your nose?” Seth asked him.
“Yeah,” he said, rubbing the misshapen bridge of his nose.
“I didn’t think there was much violence in the world of sports writing,” said Jessica.
“You’d be surprised,” Torantino told her. “And I’m not just some random sports writer running down the highlights of last night’s Celtics game; I’m an investigative sports reporter. If you don’t get at least a few people angry enough to punch you in the nose, you aren’t doing your job.”
“Is that what you were doing in the medical clinic – investigating a story?” Jessica asked.
“Yeah, a big one.
What were you three doing there?”
“Matt Huston was a friend of mine,” said Seth. “He was supposed to meet us after the game, but when he didn’t show up we went looking for him.”
Torantino gave Seth a sharp look. “You were friends with Huston?” he said with interest. “How well did you know him?”
“Well … not very well. At least, not as well as I used to,” Seth admitted. “We hadn’t spoken in years, frankly.”
Torantino looked disappointed. “Too bad,” he said. “I guess that means you don’t know anything about his racket, then.”
“What racket?” Jessica asked.
“Steroid smuggling,” Torantino said. “That’s the sort of sports story that people get violent over, Mrs. Fletcher. And Huston was involved in it, right up to his fat neck.”
“Now see here,” Seth said hotly, coming to the defense of his deceased friend. “Matt would never get mixed up in something illegal like that.”
“How would you know? You said you hadn’t spoken to him in years,” Huston said, throwing Seth’s words back at him. “People change, Dr. Hazlitt – and not always for the better. Your ‘friend,’ if you insist on calling him that, was a good example.”
“You don’t seem to have much use for the man,” Jessica said.
“Is it that obvious?” Torantino asked. Before Jessica could answer he went on: “Never mind, I know that it is. I used to be a pitcher in the minor leagues – got as far as triple A ball, playing for the Cleveland Indian’s farm team, the Buffalo Bisons. Huston was the Bisons’ team doctor back then. Anyway, I injured the elbow on my throwing arm late in the season, and Huston talked me into letting him operate on it.”
“Tommy John surgery?” Tipper asked, referring to the nickname of the popular elbow surgery pitchers often underwent following injury.
“Yeah. It’s a great procedure when it’s done right, or so I’ve heard. I wouldn’t know: Huston botched the operation, and my career as a pitcher was over. I went into journalism after that. I’d always sort of had an interest in it, but it also provided me with a way to keep tabs on Matt. I figured if I followed him long enough I’d get enough dirt on his so-called surgical skills to get him busted.”
“Why not simply sue him for malpractice?” Jessica asked. “Why wait for him to make another mistake for you to expose in your column?”
Torantino laughed. “Suing wasn’t an option, not for me,” he said. “There’s a big difference between what you get paid in the majors and what you get paid in the minors, even in triple A. By the time my medical bills were paid off I was just about flat broke – there was no way I could afford a lawyer. Anyway, as time went by I never did get any leads on malpractice, but I did start to hear rumors about Huston being connected with anabolic steroids. I did some digging, followed Huston to Boston when he was hired by the Sox, did some more digging … I was getting close, close enough that I figured it was time to confront him for some answers. That’s why I went to the medical clinic this afternoon.”
Seth got to his feet in alarm. “Jessica, Tipper, I think we’d better get out of here,” he said anxiously. “From what I’m hearing, Mr. Torantino has an awfully good motive for murder. He may have killed Matt himself, just before we came in!”
“He has a good motive, true,” Jessica said, not making any move to get up, “but he didn’t kill Dr. Huston.”
“How can you be so sure?” Seth asked her.
“Because when he came out of the medical clinic his clothes were completely dry,” Jessica said. “The light in the concourse wasn’t very good, but I could tell that much at least. Whoever struggled with and killed Matt would have been soaking wet from the whirlpool. I suspect that when Mr. Torantino came to the clinic, he found Matt already dead – is that right?”
Torantino nodded. “Yeah. I went in looking for him and I found him all right – face down in that tub. But like you said, Doctor, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that I had a pretty good reason to want him dead, so instead of sticking around to become suspect number one, I beat it out of there.”
“I don’t suppose you saw anyone else while you were in the clinic,” Tipper said.
The reporter shook his head. “Sorry. Whoever did in Huston must’ve been long gone by the time I got there.”
“In the course of your investigations you must have uncovered other people besides Dr. Huston who were involved in this steroids ring,” Jessica said. “Do you know any of them who might have had a motive to kill him?”
“Actually, I don’t have a lot of names besides Huston’s,” Torantino admitted, getting up to get a slice of cold take-out pizza. “This ring was particularly good at flying under the radar. Part of the problem is that according to my sources he only deals steroids with players on other teams, never the Red Sox – obviously that makes distribution more complicated, but it makes it easier for him to stay in the shadows, and harder for anyone to trace the dope back to him.”
“If he’s selling steroids to players on other teams, then he must have a go-between,” Tipper said, “someone to transport the drugs, a courier or something, right?”
“Right. But as to who that person is, your guess is as good as mine.”
Seth nudged Jessica and nodded
towards Tipper, who was stifling a yawn. His unspoken communication was clear
enough: it was time to get the young vet to bed. Although she would have liked
to talk more with Torantino, Jessica had to
reluctantly admit that Seth was right – the hour was late, Tipper was
exhausted, and they were likely to have a busy day tomorrow.
“Well, it’s getting late,” Jessica said, rising from the sofa. “This has been very enlightening, Mr. Torantino – thanks for your time.”
“Hey, my pleasure,” he said. “Look, if you find out anything about Huston and his steroids ring, I’d appreciate it if you’d give me the heads’-up – I’ve been working on this story a long time, I’d hate to reach a dead end now.”
Tipper was having the most wonderful dream – she was approaching home plate at Fenway Park, bat in hand, about to take her place in the batter’s box for the game of a lifetime.
“Pinch-hitting for Ted Williams, number 33, Tipper Henderson …”
The crowd, which seemed to be made up of corn plants packed densely into the stands, roared with a sound like the ocean.
Tipper adjusted her batting helmet, knocked the dirt out of her cleats with the end of her bat, and checked on the runners standing on base – Johnny Peske was on third, Dominic Dimaggio was on second, and Wade Boggs had a good lead at first. Satisfied that they were ready she took her stance and readied her bat, fixing the pitcher, Cy Young, with an intimidating stare.
“Go the distance …”
“Go the distance? What the heck does that mean?” Tipper said aloud, just as Cy blew a fastball past her to land in Carlton Fisk’s catcher’s mitt.
“Strike one,” the umpire shouted. The corn rustled with disapproval.
“Okay, okay, concentrate,” Tipper told herself as she stepped out of the batter’s box to take a couple of practice swings. She approached the plate again and raised her bat.
“Ease his pain …”
Once again Tipper was distracted by the mysterious voice-from-nowhere as a second pitch landed in Fisk’s mitt with a smack.
“Strike two,” shouted the umpire, once again to the dismay of Tipper’s loyal cornfield of fans.
“Oh, now come on!” Tipper yelled in frustration. Once more she assumed her batting stance as Young prepared to deliver his third pitch from the stretch.
“If you build it, they will come …”
“Shut up,” Tipper muttered as she swung at the incoming ball. Her bat connected with the ball with an ear-splitting crack. Time seemed to dilate as she started her run down the first base line, watching the ball as she went. It kept going up and up, impossibly high, until it crashed into the bank of lights over left field, causing it to erupt into a shower of sparks – a grand slam home run!
“She’s a natural!” she heard the third base coach exclaim as she rounded the bases. “A natural!”
Even the corn was beginning to shout as she approached home at her preternaturally slow place: “Tip-per! Tip-per! Tip-per!”
Dimaggio, Peske and Boggs were all waiting for her around home plate, but before she could reach them the stadium, the corn, and the shower of sparks faded away. Someone was shaking her as she opened her eyes to the sitting room of their suite at the Langham Hotel, drenched in early morning sunlight.
“Tipper.” It was Jessica who was shaking her awake. “Tipper. Wake up, it’s time for breakfast.”
Tipper groaned and pulled the blanket up over her head. “Oh, Jessica,” she sighed. “If only you could have waited another five minutes …”
Jessica straightened up and smiled down at her. “You did look like you were having a good dream,” she said.
“Yeah,” Tipper said as she sat up on the couch and pushed her hair back from her face with her hand. “Yeah, it was a pretty good dream.”
“I would have let you sleep in, except that Lieutenant Morgan wants to speak with us again this morning,” Jessica told her apologetically. “Seth’s in the shower now; you can have it next if you’d like.”
In the interest of time they ordered up breakfast from room service; according to the message Jessica had received from Lieutenant Morgan that morning their presence at Boston Police headquarters was requested at nine o’clock, so they only had about an hour to get ready.
Tipper finished her slice of cantaloupe and stretched, wincing as she did so.
“That sofa looked more comfortable than it was,” she said. “I hope the police let us go home today; I need a night in my own bed!”
“I’ve got some ibuprofen with me,” Seth offered.
“You do? I’d love a couple.”
Seth disappeared into his bedroom and returned with a bottle of pain medication, which he handed to the veterinarian. As she watched this exchange Jessica’s memory flew back to a similar exchange they had witnessed during the ball game the day before, the significance of which she was only now beginning to recognize.
“Jess?” Seth said as he noticed her staring at him with wide eyes. “What’s the matter?”
“I think I know who Matt’s courier was,” Jessica replied.
“Let me get this straight,” Lieutenant Morgan said later that morning when Jessica presented her theory to him in his office. “You’re saying that Huston used the ballboy to pass the dope to his customer on the other team?”
Jessica nodded, confident that her hypothesis was correct. “That’s right.”
Morgan remained far from convinced. “Why would he hand off hundreds of dollars worth of steroids in front of thirty-three thousand witnesses?”
“Maybe because that’s the only time he could count of seeing his, ah, client without arousing suspicion,” Tipper suggested. “Wouldn’t it be weird for a member of the Red Sox medical staff to be seen meeting with a player on the opposing team otherwise?”
“And as a doctor, Matt would have had the where-with-all to package the steroids into something innocuous – like pills in an aspirin bottle,” Seth added.
“But how did the ballboy get the steroids over to the client?” Morgan asked.
“The ballboys switch places every three innings,” Jessica said. “The courier picked up the steroids from Matt while working the first base line and passed it to the client when he had his turn on the third base line.”
Morgan thought the scenario through, and decided that it wasn’t quite as far-fetched as he had originally thought. “All right,” he said as one of the sergeants opened the door to the office, “we’ll bring the ballboy in.”
“No need, Lieutenant,” the sergeant said. “He’s here.”
“The ballboy. Derek Gagne.”
“How’d the ballboy know I wanted to talk to him?” Morgan asked, perplexed.
“Uh, I don’t think he did, Lieutenant,” the sergeant said. “He says he’s here to confess to murdering Dr. Huston.”
Derek Gagne, the
“How long had you been helping Huston smuggle steroids?” Morgan asked.
“A four or five months, I guess. He approached me and offered to pay me a couple hundred bucks if I’d just do this one little favor for him once in awhile. I thought he’d ask to make the pass once or twice and that would be it, but it wasn’t.”
“So you confronted him in the team clinic after the game was over,” Jessica said, hoping to draw Derek’s story back to the day of the murder. “What happened then?”
“He told me I couldn’t stop,” said Derek. “He said that I was too deep in, and if I tried to quit now, he’d just tell management at the park that I’d done something improper and get me fired.”
“Blackmail,” Seth said quietly.
“I guess so,” Derek said with a shrug. “Anyway, by then I wasn’t just fed up with him, I was rip-roaring furious. I had a baseball that I’d been playing with in my hands to keep from showing how nervous I was. When Dr. Huston turned his back on me, I threw the ball at him, hard. It hit him square in the back of his head – I’ve always had pretty good aim with a baseball – and hard enough to knock him off his feet. He fell into the whirlpool … and I made a run for it.” He sighed miserably. “I know I should have helped him out of the whirlpool, or at least checked to make sure he was okay, but I was so scared of what he’d do if he was okay, I just booked it out of there and didn’t look back.”
The lieutenant tapped his pen on his desk, considering what Derek had just told them. “So you’re saying you killed him … with the baseball?”
Derek once again studied his hands. “I guess so.”
“You never touched Dr. Huston?”
Morgan sighed gustily and tossed the pen aside. “Terrific.”
Jessica, sensing that Morgan knew something that the rest of them did not, spoke up: “Is something wrong, Lieutenant?”
“You might say so,” Morgan said. “The medical examiner’s report – I got it two hours ago.” He sifted through a pile of papers on the side of his desk, selected a folder, and handed it to Jessica. “You remember how Huston had both the bump on his head and the strangulation marks on his neck, and it was a toss-up as to which killed him?” he said as she opened the file with Seth and Tipper leaning in to have a look for themselves. “Well, it was the strangulation that did him in.”
Jessica paused in her rapid scanning of the report. “Well, that squares with all the water on the floor,” she said.
Morgan looked at her, confused. “What do you mean, all the water on the floor?”
“The fact that the floor was sopping wet from one end of the room to the other,” she explained. “I believe you commented at the time that Dr. Huston had ‘made a big splash’ when he went into the tub. But to me it looked like he had gotten out of the tub, dripping with water, and had the opportunity to walk around the room before he ended up back in the whirlpool. And that would indicate that someone else came into the team clinic and killed him after Derek left.”
“Yeah,” Morgan said heavily. A new thought occurred to him and he looked at Derek again through narrowed eyes. “Unless Mr. Ballboy here isn’t telling us the truth.”
“What?” Derek yelped.
“Maybe you didn’t just run out of the clinic when Huston fell into that whirlpool,” the lieutenant said. “Maybe instead you stuck around, and when you saw him climb out of the tub you pushed him back in and finished him off with your own two hands!”
“I did not!” Derek protested, his voice rising in panic.
“Excuse me, Lieutenant,” Jessica said mildly, interrupting the confrontation, “but that isn’t possible.”
Both Morgan and Derek turned to look at her. “What do you mean, it isn’t possible?” Morgan asked.
Jessica removed a photograph of the victim from the folder – a close-up of the strangulation marks - and placed it on the desk in front of her. “The marks on Dr. Huston’s neck – I’m sure you noticed them.”
“Yeah, what about them?”
“Well,” she said, choosing her words with care so as not to upset Morgan further, “based on the spacing, they were made by a relatively small pair of hands, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I guess so,” Morgan growled. “So?”
“So,” she continued, “if you look at Derek’s hands, I think you’ll see the problem.”
At her encouraging nod, the ballboy lifted his hands and placed them on the desk for Morgan to see. They were huge, with a remarkable span from thumb to little finger. The Lieutenant looked at them, then at Jessica, then again at the photograph between them.
“The kid’s hands are too big to have made these marks,” he admitted.
Jessica smiled. “Precisely.”
“So there’s no way Derek could have been the one to strangle Dr. Huston?” Tipper asked.
“That’s right,” Jessica told her.
“The only crime this young man is guilty of is failing to check to see if Dr. Huston was all right,” Seth said. “A lapse in judgment certainly, but certainly not the same as murder.”
Derek slumped down in his chair with a sigh of relief. “Thanks, Mrs. Fletcher,” he said.
“Hold on, kid, you’re not out of the woods yet,” Lieutenant Morgan told him. “There’s still the matter of your role in this whole steroid-passing scheme.”
“I’m more than willing to co-operate with you on that, Lieutenant,” Derek said, “just so long as I’m not going to jail for a murder I didn’t commit.”
For the first time since the interview began Morgan actually managed to crack a slight smile. “I don’t think you’re in any danger of that,” he said.
“What else does that medical examiner have to say, Jess?” Seth asked.
“Well,” said Jessica, “Lieutenant Morgan was right – it was the strangulation that killed Huston, not the water in the whirlpool. There was no sign of water in Dr. Huston’s lungs.”
“Does that mean Huston wasn’t in the whirlpool when he was strangled?” Tipper asked.
“Possibly,” said Jessica. “Otherwise, I would think it would have been difficult for someone to kill him in this manner without getting at least some water in his lungs.”
“So if someone strangled Huston outside of the whirlpool, that means they took the trouble to put him back in it after he was dead,” Morgan concluded.
“Yes – perhaps to confuse the manner of how he was killed,” said Jessica.
“Or to obscure the time of death,” Seth added. “If the water in the whirlpool was warm enough, it could delay the rate at which the body cooled, and make it seem as though he died much later than he really did.”
“Which would have been perfect,” Tipper said, “if people like us didn’t keep waltzing in and out of that clinic after the game.”
As they left Boston Police Headquarters they met Nate Mahaney, the Sox’s first base coach, headed in. Jessica noticed that he was walking with a noticeable limp – the result, no doubt, of the ACL knee injury Matt had spoken of during the game.
“Are you here to check on Derek’s welfare?” she asked him pleasantly.
Mahaney, who would have passed by without noticing them, stopped short and looked at her. “Yeah,” he said. “How did you know that? Do I know you?”
Jessica smiled. “You may not remember us, but we remember you,” she said. “We were sitting in the stands with Dr. Huston at yesterday’s baseball game, and saw you come to speak with him regarding the medicine he gave Derek for his ‘headache.’”
The coach looked at them with a frown of concentration that lightened as his recollection kicked in. “Oh, yeah, I remember you people.” He nodded to Tipper. “The young lady is quite a fan of the Sox, as I recall.”
“Sure am,” Tipper said, grinning.
“I hear they’re holding Derek for Huston’s murder,” Mahaney said, turning to more serious matters. “Do you know how he’s holding up?”
“You don’t need to be too concerned about young Derek,” Seth told him. “He did turn himself in to the police thinking he was responsible for Matt’s murder, but he’s been cleared of that crime at least.”
“That crime at least?” Mahaney
repeated, quickly picking up Seth’s qualification. “What other crime is he
“Well,” said Jessica carefully, “he seems to have some information pertaining to Dr. Huston’s trafficking of illegal steroids to baseball players on other teams.”
Mahaney shook his head. “I knew it,” he muttered. “Well, if you folks’ll excuse me, I’d better get in there and make sure Derek’s contacted a good lawyer.”
“Of course,” said Jessica. “Good luck.”
As they walked
back to the
narrow down the list of suspects, they’re unlikely to let us leave the city,”
said Jessica. “So – we have an unexpected free day in
“Go to the Boston Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Seth suggested.
Tipper made a
face. “Go to the
“Too many schoolkids,” Seth grumbled. “What about walking the Freedom Trail?”
“Only if we can go shopping in Quincy Market,” said Tipper.
the suggestion from consideration as far as Seth was concerned. “Well, how
“I thought you wanted to avoid kids,” said Tipper. “I know - let’s go to Cheers!”
“A bar?” Seth scoffed. “If you want to go to a tavern, you can go to the Seagull’s Perch in downtown Cabot Cove.”
taking a tour of
Seth and Tipper
turned to look at her. “
“I know, I know,” Jessica said. “But I’d like to go back. I think it would be, erm, educational.”
“Educational, ayuh,” Seth said incredulously. “You might as well level with us, Jessica – what do you hope to investigate at the stadium?”
“Well,” said Jessica, “I’d like to try and find someone with access to a tape of yesterday’s game. There was something incongruous there yesterday that didn’t seem significant at the time, but now I wonder … anyway, I need to review the broadcast to be sure that I’m right.” And that was all she would say about the subject.
Seth relented – though not without a certain amount of reluctance – and they retraced their steps to the ballpark.
“The last tour just left a couple of minutes ago,” the clerk at the shop’s counter told them as Seth reluctantly paid the admission fee for three. “If you hurry you can probably catch up with them over by Gate D.”
“Thanks,” Jessica said, and they hurried out of the store in the direction that he had indicated.
They caught up with the tour in the concourse. About twelve people ranging in age from seven to what Tipper was sure had to be ninety-five were following the tour guide, a young college-aged woman with an official Red Sox polo shirt and hat who reeled off facts about the ballpark with such practiced ease she could probably recite them in her sleep.
There was a general chuckle from the members of the tour. Jessica, Seth, and Tipper joined them, staying at the rear of the group, as the guide continued, leading them towards the elevators that provided access to the upper floors of the stadium.
A murmur of disapproval rippled through the small tour group, proof that this was definitely a partisan crowd of loyal Sox fans.
The elevator was large enough for the entire group to fit inside. The tour guide pushed the button for one of the upper levels, which Tipper noted with interested was labeled “Right Field Roof Deck – State Street Pavilion – Press Box.”
their destination and the doors slid open. “If you’ll follow me,” the tour
guide said, “We’ll be heading down this corridor to see the State Street
Pavilion level and the Red Sox Hall of Fame, where you’ll be able to see
pictures of famous players throughout the team’s history and memorabilia from
historic moments in the history of
They started down a long hallway lined with framed covers of the magazine Sports Illustrated featuring Red Sox players. Although it was an interesting display, Jessica was more interested in looking for access to the press box that they knew was somewhere on that floor.
“Jessica – look!” Tipper said suddenly, tugging on her sleeve.
She turned to see what Tipper was pointing at: a non-descript metal door, easily missed, with a small sign on it that read: “Press Box Access – Authorized Personnel Only.” A keycard lock on the door handle ensured that the sign was obeyed. Eager to seize this opportunity that had presented itself, Jessica’s mind raced as she tried to come up with some way to get past the barrier of the locked door. Then she remembered.
“Seth,” she whispered urgently, “do you still have that all-access pass Matt gave you?”
“Ayuh, I think so,” Seth replied. He pulled out his wallet and thumbed through it. “Yes, it’s right here.”
“I need to borrow it.”
Seth looked askance at her – he didn’t need to say what he was thinking, that Jessica was likely up to something he wasn’t going to approve of.
“Hurry, Jessica!” Tipper hissed. “The tour’s moving on!”
Jessica realized, as Tipper had, that if they were spotted straggling behind the others the tour guide would make them catch up, thus denying them this golden opportunity to reach the press box, and the videos of the previous day’s game that she so desperately needed to see.
“Seth, now!” she said. “Tipper and I will catch up with you later.”
There were times when Seth knew that it was better to yield to Jessica’s iron will than resist, and from the look in her eyes this was definitely one of them. He handed over the pass, which Jessica quickly slipped into the card slot on the lock. There was a click, and when she tried the handle the door swung open.
“Hey – what am I supposed to say if someone notices that the two of you are missing?” Seth asked.
Tipper paused at the door as she followed Jessica inside. “Tell them … tell them that we went to the ladies’ room,” she suggested. “See ya!”
The door closed behind her, and with a sigh Seth hurried on to catch up with the rest of the group.
The press box
was a narrow room fronted with glass overlooking the field, divided into an upper
and lower section by a riser that ran the length of the space. Long tables
equipped with chairs, telephones, and internet computer hook-ups sat on the
upper and lower tiers; come game time every last space would be filled with a
sports writer representing various media outlets from
At the moment, however, there was only one reporter in the press box when Jessica and Tipper looked inside, and to their surprise, it was a familiar face that turned to see who was there.
“Mr. Torantino!” Jessica exclaimed. “What a pleasant surprise to find you here.”
“Just getting ready to cover the game this afternoon,” Torantino said with a shrug. “I like to get here early and claim the best seat. What are you doing here?”
“Well, I was hoping to find some answers about Dr. Huston’s murder,” Jessica told him. “What I really need is to see a tape of yesterday’s game.”
“Tape of yesterday’s game, huh? There may be one in the NESN broadcast booth next door. Wait here and I’ll go take a look.”
After a few minutes he returned with a VHS video tape in his hand. “I got lucky,” he said as he gestured to Jessica to have a seat in front of a television monitor equipped with a VCR, one of several set around the room so that the reporters could watch the live game and the televised broadcast simultaneously. “One of the producers was in there setting up for the pre-game show. She put her hands right on it for me. What are you looking for, anyway?”
“An inconsistency,” Jessica answered vaguely.
“Are you going to watch the entire game all over again?” Tipper asked.
“No – or at least, not exactly. I think what I need is near the end, so I can fast-forward through the rest up to that point.” She slid the tape into the VCR’s slot and picked up the remote control. “Now, where is the fast-forward button on this? … Oh, there it is.”
Figuring that Jessica was going to be awhile, Tipper turned to Torantino and asked, “Maybe you know the answer to another mystery – why do they always play “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the eighth inning?”
Torantino looked at her shrewdly. “What have you heard?”
“All sorts of explanations,” Tipper replied. “Some of them are pretty far-fetched, but no one seems to have a definitive answer.”
real story is way more mundane than any of the theories you commonly hear among
the fans,” Torantino told her. “Here’s how that song
actually took root: when the organization hired a new entertainment manager,
they picked a woman who had just finished an internship over at
“And thus an addiction was born,” Tipper commented dryly. “The new owners had no choice, really – if they ever dared to not play the song, there’d be a riot in the stands for sure!”
Torantino laughed. “Yeah, I guess they would.”
“I can’t help but feel a little disappointed,” Tipper sighed. “The stories the fans are circulating are a lot more interesting than the truth!”
“Sometimes the truth is more interesting that it first appears,” Jessica said somewhat absently. She was fast-forwarding her way through the tape, looking for something she vaguely remembered from near the end of the game, the top of the ninth to be exact.
“There!” she exclaimed, hitting the pause button and rewinding the tape a little before hitting play. “Do you see it?”
Tipper and Torantino looked at the small monitor screen, where the game was now playing at real time. “That’s Coach Mahaney,” Tipper said. “Isn’t this when he walked over to exchange a few words with Dr. Huston?”
“That’s right,” Jessica said. “Watch him and tell me what you see.”
Tipper watched, but shrugged. “He walks over, has his little conversation, and then goes back to the coach’s box near first base,” she said. “What about it?”
Jessica rewound the tape again. “Look again,” she said, “and tell me what seems odd to you about the way he walks.”
“Hey,” Tipper said when she watched the scene again. “Where’s the limp? I thought the guy had a bad knee.”
“He does have a bad knee,” Jessica said with satisfaction. “A very bad knee indeed.”
“Wow,” said Tipper as they hurried along the councourse in hopes of rejoining Seth and their tour. “Compared to the way Coach Mahaney was walking when we bumped into him this morning, he looked really good during the game.”
“Yes,” Jessica agreed. Suddenly she stopped and said, “Tipper, do you have any idea where we are?”
“Somewhere under the left field grandstands, I’d say.” Tipper looked around and whistled through her teeth. “Yeesh!” she said. “It’s like a rabbit’s warren down here! Which way do you think the tour went?”
“You’re not going to catch up with the tour,” a voice said from behind them. Not expecting company, they both jumped and turned to see Nate Mahaney standing there with a loaded gun in his hand pointed at them.
“I never actually went inside the police station to see Derek,” he said as he motioned them toward a non-descript door set between a pair of the concrete buttresses that made up the skeleton of the stadium. “After chatting with you folks I decided to change my plans and follow you instead.”
Jessica looked at Mahaney’s leg, which he was favoring even more noticeably than before. “It looks like your knee is bothering you even more than it was earlier today,” she remarked.
“Yeah, you people set a fast pace,” the coach said, grimacing. “Now open that door, and step through it – slowly.”
The only light in the place they found themselves in came from horizontal slits in one wall. The daylight they allowed in illuminated stacks of numbers on metal placards stacked against the far wall, a folding stepladder, a couple of folding chairs, and some other assorted bits and pieces of makeshift furniture. Jessica couldn’t imagine what this place was, but Tipper recognized it immediately; in spite of the obvious peril they were in, she couldn’t help but be awed.
“Whoa!” she exclaimed. “We’re actually inside the Green Monster!”
Jessica was less impressed with the room Mahaney had chosen for their final confrontation. The air was dry, dusty, and somewhat stifling – not a comfortable place to be cornered in.
Mahaney shut the door to the concourse behind him. “How did you know it was me?”
“It was the sum total of lots of little things,” Jessica said. “I suspected that you knew about Dr. Huston’s steroid trafficking fairly early on. When we met you at police headquarters and told you that Derek had information about the scheme, you didn’t seem surprised – instead, it seemed to confirm a fear you already held. And then there’s your knee – you were walking fine on it during the game, but this morning it appeared to be causing you considerable discomfort. Clearly you need to be on some sort of pain medication for it. Matt told us that he’d treated you for an ACL tear some years ago; it would make sense that he was the one providing you with your pain medication – but most likely he was giving them to you under-the-table out of his own personal stock, since as soon as he was dead your supply dried up and your pain returned.”
“Lady, do you have any idea how expensive those pills are at a typical pharmacy?” Mahaney asked. “If Huston was providing me with my meds – and I’m not saying that he was – maybe he was doing so to save a colleague a few bucks.”
“But there was more to it than just saving money on a prescription, wasn’t there?” Jessica said softly. “You’re addicted to pain killers, aren’t you.” Her eyes never left the gun Mahaney held in his hand. “And Dr. Huston, as your supplier, was using them to maintain a hold over you, giving them to you in exchange for your silence.”
Mahaney’s jaw worked as he debated what to say, if he decided to say anything at all. Finally, without lowering his weapon, he said, “He started giving them to me after I busted up my knee ten years ago. But after he found out I knew about his steroid scam he’d deliberately upped the dosage without my knowledge so he could get me hooked.”
Jessica’s eyes left the weapon in Mahaney’s hands long enough to catch Tipper’s eye. A silent message passed between the two of them: Keep him talking.
“Um, and how did you find out about the steroids?” Tipper asked.
“That part was easy. I saw him slip his famous ‘headache remedy’ to Derek during a game once. Then I saw him do it again, and again. And it was always Derek that he called over to the stands, nobody else. I started keeping an eye on Derek, and when I saw that ‘headache remedy’ get passed to a player on the other side of the field – he dropped it once, you see, that’s why it caught my attention – I knew what had to be going on.”
“So when did Dr. Huston realize that you knew what he was up to?” asked Jessica.
“I don’t know for sure, since I didn’t really notice when he upped my pain meds,” Mahaney admitted. “I can only assume that he noticed me keeping a close eye on Derek, and figured I must know about what he was doing.”
“Did he ever confront you about whether you knew or not?” Tipper asked.
“He did, eventually … but that was long after I was hopelessly hooked on his dope.” He took another step towards Tipper and Jessica, who each took a corresponding step backwards in retreat.
“You know, one question I have, which Matt Huston is in no position to answer, is how we fit into the whole scheme,” Tipper said, trying to keep the conversation going. “Why did he invite Seth and us to the game if he had this big clandestine steroid distribution thing going on at the same time?”
“That’s easy – you were cover,” Mahaney answered. “If Matt didn’t have guests with him, he’d be expected to sit in the dugout with the rest of the team and the staff. The only excuse he could use to sit in those box seats down the first base line was if he had friends with him to see the game. So he invited anyone and everyone he knew, frequently. But he never invited the same people twice.”
“To avoid their seeing a repetition of Derek’s so-called headache, and the handing off of the ‘medicine,’ no doubt,” said Jessica.
“Right,” Mahaney said. “This may come as something of a disappointment to your doctor friend, but he was pretty far down on Huston’s list. I know for a fact that he was running out of people he could invite to the game.”
“So what happened in the team clinic?” Jessica asked.
Mahaney frowned. “What makes you think I’m going to tell you about that?”
“Well,” Tipper reasoned, “if you’re going to kill us anyway, why not?”
“Yeah,” Mahaney said with a thin smile, “why not.” He paused, and then began, “I’d taken my last pain pill yesterday morning, and by the time the game was over my knee was really acting up on me. So I went to the clinic looking for Matt, hoping to get a refill. I had to do this a couple of times a week: Matt was clever, he never gave me more than three or four days’ worth of pills at a time. Anyway, I arrived just a short time after Derek had gone. Matt had just come to, and was dragging himself out of the whirlpool, cussing over what Derek had done to him. ‘Damn punk kid,’ he told me. ‘Plugged me with a baseball and knocked me arse-over-teakettle into the tub, then didn’t even stick around to help me out!’”
“’What’d he do that for?’ I asked him.
“’He wanted out,’ he said – and as you’ve already figured out, I didn’t need him to explain to me what he wanted ‘out’ of. ’He’ll be sorry – when he finds himself on the hot seat for passing steroids around the ballpark, he’ll wish he’d kept his damn mouth shut!’”
“Was he threatening to expose Derek?” Tipper asked, aghast. “That seems awfully risky!”
“I don’t think he was going to serve Derek up to the authorities, no,” Mahaney said. “But for certain, if Derek ever got caught he wasn’t going to lift a finger to help him. In fact, Matt had it all worked out how he could pin most of the blame on the kid and keep himself in the clear! Well, that didn’t sit well with me. Derek’s a good kid – foolish to let Matt use him like he was, but a good kid nonetheless. I thought it was damn cold-hearted of Matt to set Derek up to take the fall for him, and I told him so. But Matt … Matt didn’t give a damn about anyone else except himself.”
“Then what happened?” Jessica asked.
Mahaney’s grip tightened around the handle of the gun. “I lost it,” he said. “I pushed him back into the whirlpool and held him there with my hands around his neck. He struggled – he was such a big guy, I was afraid that if I let go, he’d jump out of there and kill me. So I didn’t let go … and after awhile, the struggling stopped.”
The coach’s slumped shoulders were testimony to the very real regret he felt over what had happened, and Jessica felt an upwelling of pity in her heart for him.
“You could still go to the police,” she said gently. “I’m not a lawyer, but from what you’ve told us it seems you could have a good case for temporary insanity.”
But Mahaney shook his head. “Won’t work,” he said heavily. “I knew too much about what Matt was doing. They’d never believe that I just snapped, not with all the bad history there was between us. No, from the moment I realized Matt was dead I knew my only chance was to cover my tracks … which is why you ladies have got to go.” There was a click as he released the safety on the gun, causing both Tipper and Jessica to stiffen with renewed anxiety.
“Aren’t you taking a terrible chance, shooting us here in the stadium?” Tipper asked in a quavering voice, grasping for anything that might make the first base coach reconsider what he was planning to do. “In a little while this place will be filled with thirty-three thousand people!”
To her disappointment, Mahaney shrugged off her concern. “You’d be surprised how many forgotten nooks and crannies there are down here, away from the public areas of the park,” he said. “I figure I can stash your bodies down here til the tours stop running – maybe even til after the game is over – and move them out of here later.”
He raised the gun and aimed at Tipper first, but before he could shoot he was interrupted when the door to the Green Monster’s interior opened, spilling a shaft of light and at least a dozen people into the dim, cramped space. Instead of catching up with the tour, the tour had caught up with them.
“And this is the inside of Fenway’s infamous Green Monster,” the tour guide was blithely saying, unaware of the drama that was in the process of unfolding. “The scorekeepers sit in here on folding metal chairs and watch the game through slits in the scoreboard, which you can see here and here …”
By now everyone’s vision had adjusted to the relative darkness of the space, and naturally all eyes were turned not to the venerable manual scoreboard, but to the sight of the first base coach preparing to shoot to death two women not even ten paces away from them. An awkward silence fell for one long, breathless moment.
The pause was broken when one of the more sensitive ladies in the tour group let out a shrill scream. Pandemonium – or what passed for it in such a confined space – broke out next as Mahaney turned and pushed his way through his shocked audience, heading for the door in the wall that exited on to the field. In the confusion nobody thought to waylay him, and an instant later he had burst out on to the field, running with all speed toward the visiting team’s dugout on the third base line.
Tipper and Jessica reached the open door a moment later, Tipper screaming at the top of her lungs, “Somebody stop that jerk! He’s a murderer!”
She had no idea
if anyone would hear her – anyone, that is, that was in a position to actually
do something to stop the fleeing man. But as luck would have it, ballboy Derek, having been released by the Boston Police,
was on the field near the bullpens, taking one last look around hallowed
The ball beaned Mahaney neatly in the back of the head, sending him sprawling unconscious on the emerald green grass of left field. When the first base coach came to it was with an awful headache from the bump the baseball had left, a bump he was unable to rub on account of his hands being securely cuffed behind his back.
excitement had died down and Nate Mahaney had been
taken away to get his bruised head treated courtesy of the Boston Police
Department, Jessica, Seth, Tipper and Derek reconvened on
“So the only reason Mahaney was able to function as well as he did on that knee was because Huston kept him supplied with cheap pain medication?” Morgan asked.
“Yes,” said Jessica. “It was, in a way, blackmail - Mahaney knew enough about Huston’s steroid pipeline that the doctor couldn’t risk cutting him off. If he did, he ran the risk that Mahaney would turn around and report what he knew to the authorities.”
“Yeah, but in the end the blackmailer became the blackmailed,” said Tipper.
“That’s right,” Jessica said, nodding. “It may have started out as a way for Huston to buy Mahaney’s silence, but in time the tables were turned – Mahaney came to need the drugs so badly that he’d do anything to get them, which gave Dr. Huston a tremendous amount of power over him.”
“I think the man as a pretty good case for a temporary insanity plea,” Seth said. “I’m no expert in psychiatry, but it seems to me that between the sudden fit of violent rage he had and the fact that he was probably under the influence of those hefty pain killers Matt was feeding him, a good lawyer could argue that at the time of the killing he wasn’t right in the head.”
“And if he can give testimony to help break up the rest of Matt’s drug ring that will help him out too,” added Morgan. “We still don’t know who was supplying Huston with the raw steroids, or how many people were on his customer list, so if Mr. Mahaney can help fill in some of those gaps, so much the better for everyone.”
Torantino was half-listening, splitting his attention between the conversation at hand and watching Derek nervously pass a baseball back and forth from hand to hand. The investigative sports writer appeared to be doing some calculations in his head as he considered what Derek had done with that ball.
“Hmm,” he said. “Son, how far away from Coach Mahaney were you when you threw that ball at his head?”
Derek shrugged. “Dunno. About ninety feet, I guess.”
“Ninety feet … and you threw it with enough accuracy to hit a small target with enough force to knock a man out …” His eyes fell upon Derek’s large hands. “Have you ever considered a career as a pitcher?”
For a moment Derek didn’t know what to say. “Well, uh … yes. I mean, I wanted to be a pitcher ever since I was a little kid, but I never knew what you have to do to become one. I guess I just thought you had to be lucky.”
Torantino put his arm around Derek’s shoulders. “Well, I know all about how to become a professional baseball pitcher. It takes skill, and strength, and sometimes knowing someone who can get you started on the path,” he said. “Luck does have something to do with it too, I suppose – but if that’s the case, then Derek, today is your lucky day.”
As Torantino and Derek walked off to discuss the ballboy’s future, Seth said, “Keep your eye on that young man, Tipper – in five years, he may very well be pitching in the Big Leagues.”
“That means in three years or so he’ll be pitching double-A ball for the Portland Sea-dogs,” Tipper said. “I can’t wait!”