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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Deserve Doesn’t Have Anything To Do With It

Place: first place in The Steve Hockensmith Mystery Contest

At 3AM, when they pulled the sheet over Baron’s head, the cause of death looked obvious. Drugs. Had to be. A wealthy young black athlete, shot through the head twice. Couldn’t be the bullets that killed him. Money, a street background, and two slugs. If 2 plus 2 is 4, a dead rich black man at 3 in the morning had to have been killed in a drug dispute. Baron was a fucked up equation, and like many, he ended up wasted, a story with a predictable ending. An urban myth, born to unfold, like the sheet that covered his lifeless body. Flat, agreeable, made for one purpose, used once and tossed away in a garbage can termed toxic, then hauled off to an eternal dump.

But Baron wasn’t your typical man, or your typical black man. He was a stud baseball player. A blue chip prospect on the fast track to the Major Leagues. A millionaire kid.

“He has ‘Nigga’ Pleez’ tattooed on one bicep and ‘24 K arm’ tattooed on the other.” Clyde, the cadaver lover, better known as the Hagerstown Coroner, said.

“So?”

“Jake,” Clyde continued without looking up from the body, “He has gang tattoos on the nape of his neck and lower back.” Clyde glanced up at Jake and shrugged. “You can take the banger out of the streets, but you can’t take the streets out of the cadaver.”

“So your professional opinion as a coroner with your many years of street detective experience is that it has to be gang related?”

Clyde shot the Detective the bird, then turned back to the body. “No, assclown, I was telling you that the deceased has had some gang affiliations. Likely deep ones. I thought that might be important.”

“Great,” Jake massaged his temples, “but I think I’ll talk to some live witnesses now, ones that were around the deceased before he assumed his present status. This guy has said as much as he’s going to say in this world.”

———————————————————————-

“Great ballplayer. Great teammate.” Joe Divens spat, along with a disgusting dribble of tobacco spittle. “Not much more to say. He was a good kid, a pleasure to manage. It’s a damned shame. You talk to his mother?”

“No. Not my job. I track clues. You managed this kid for over a year, right?”

“He came up last June, after he signed and had a short stint in A ball, so that’s about right, yeah.”

“And all you can say is great ballplayer? This isn’t a press conference and he’s not going to be promoted and help make your career as some Minor League Svengali. The man is dead.”

“What do you want me to say? I live baseball, 18 hours a day, here, on the road, in the film room. I didn’t spoon with the guy or take long romantic showers with him. I coached him.”

“But you spent a lot of time together, right?”

“Yes, on the diamond. All I know is what I see. The kid played hard. Yesterday, he spiked the second baseman from Norfolk to break up a double play, the kind of shit you don’t see in the stat sheets. The kind of hard nosed play that baseball players used to make all of the time, but because it isn’t flashy, kids don’t work hard at that type of thing. Takes commitment, brains, respect and love of the game. That’s what Baron had and was. He was going to be something special, and now he’s going to be in a box in a field somewhere, just another tombstone. What I knew, what I saw, was a great kid who played ball the right way and who was a great teammate, so fuck you if you don’t like my answer, because that’s all I can say about the boy.”

“Okay. Let’s try this from another angle, was he close to anyone on the team, did they go out after games, do you know where he was headed last night?”

The old manager and career baseball man sighed, spit into his cup, and wiped what might have been a small tear from his eye. “Talk to Davis, his roommate. They were pretty tight. When the game ends, I break down film, talk to the big club and plan the next day. I don’t pay attention to much else unless I have to, like now, and you can see why I focus on the game so much. This bullshit sucks.”

“Okay,” Jake switched off his digital recorder, “thanks, and I’m sorry for your loss. If you remember anything, anything at all…”

“Baron was like family, Detective Benson. I must have a thousand kids I adopted over the years, spent time with, learned about, loved and taught the game of baseball and the game of life. He was very special. Just find the sunsabitches that did this and make sure they pay.”

The old manager, trembling a bit, spit again, missing the cup this time.

———————————————————————-

“Steve Davis, center fielder, been in the minor leagues for 8 years. 200 career minor league home runs, from Oklahoma City, no criminal record, I miss anything?”

Davis stared at his beer and nodded his head no, then paused. “I made The Show one time, for a week.”

His face brightened. He was obviously shaken, and didn’t appear to be faking. He had bags under his eyes, and looked as if he had done some serious crying, but talking about his stint in the Major Leagues seemed to perk him up.

“What was it like?” Jake asked, searching the man’s face for answers to questions he hadn’t yet asked.

“It was fricking awesome. They had tubs of gum and snacks, your gear laid out for you. Great hotels. You could even walk down in the hole and watch video of your last at bat between innings. Unbelievable.”

“Yeah… I guess what I want to know, Steve, is what the hell you had in common with Baron Franklin? A country boy and a gang banger? A career Minor Leaguer and a stud with a nickname like La Machine, already, in the Minors?”

“B wasn’t a gang banger, Mister. He was a great young man. A phenomenal ball player.”

“The gang markings on his corpse disagree with you.”

Davis frowned and took a long pull off of his beer.

“We all make mistakes when we’re kids, didn’t you, Detective?”

Jake shrugged and stared intently at the young but aging center fielder.

“Well, B did. He grew up in Lakeland in Florida, no father. It’s a rough area. He did what many young boys do there, he joined a gang. I think it was for protection more than anything else. But he outgrew that shit. They put us together as roomies because I’ve been around pro ball, been through the grinder. He was a great kid who loved his brother and sisters, sent his money home and stayed out of trouble. He consumed the game, like a sponge. Wanted to learn. Wanted to be the best right fielder the game has ever seen, and he was on his way.”

“Right now he’s on his way to a funeral home, so a mortician can fix him up enough so his family can see him one last time. He’s not going to make the show.”

“No, and that’s a goddamned tragedy, but if what you’re asking is, did his gang background cause his death, you’re wrong. He’s been out of that nightmare for years.”

“You don’t think his old gang could have wanted to make an example of him, or maybe he still had dealings with them?”

“NO. They weren’t the bloods or the crips. They were some small time local gang, he hadn’t heard from them for years. I’m telling you, he lived family and baseball.”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“Here, right before…. Right before it happened. We were talking about the game. He was going to go home and get some sleep and I wanted a few more beers. There were some girls at the bar. Cute. He wanted to get some sleep because we had the rubber match with Norfolk the next day. He was pissed because he went 1 for 3 and he thought he needed to rest up and have a better day at the plate. When I got home, he wasn’t there. Wasn’t there the next morning either. I thought maybe he went to watch some film or for a walk when I went to bed. But he never, in a year and 6 weeks, didn’t come home. When I woke up and saw his bed still made, I called you guys. I knew something was wrong.”

“And what did you two talk about? He wasn’t interested in the girls?”

“He was straight, man. He liked girls. I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”

“I don’t care about his sexual orientation. I’m not trying to malign your friend. I just want to find out his state of mind, if anything was unusual. He had cash and cards on him, he wasn’t robbed. This was something else, he was killed for a different reason. I need to find SOME clues, SOMETHING that might help me find who did this and why.”

Davis shook his head sadly and his eyes sunk back into his beer. “I don’t know, man. I wish there was something I could tell you. We talked about the game just like we always did. He was aggravated because he only had one hit. I told him 1 hit a day gets you in The Show. I told him the double play he broke up was one of the grittiest plays I ever saw. It made me safe at first, and I ended up scoring the wining run. If he hadn’t taken out the second baseman, Berg, and broken it up, we might have lost. Plus he made a fabulous diving catch to end the seventh. He was something special.”

“Is that all you guys do, think, eat, sleep? Baseball?”

“B did. I do. Skip does. It’s all I’ve done since I was 6 years old. Baseball saved B from the streets. And there’s magic in this game, and harsh reality when it’s played the right way. B took out the second baseman so hard on that grounder, he hurt the boy’s leg. I heard Norfolk cut him after the game. This business is shitty, but it’s real, and it’s all or nothing when you get this close to the top.”

———————————————————————-

Jake finished typing his report and signed it.

“Is that the Franklin homicide, the ballplayer?” the LT asked when Jake dropped the file on his desk.

“Yep, weirdest damned case I ever saw. Killed by the opposing team’s second baseman, David Berg, because he played the game too hard, maybe ruined Berg’s career. Must have destroyed his dreams, because he got mad enough to track Baron down outside his hotel room and plug him twice. Crazy. A man murdered over a game.”

“There’s big money in pro ball, if you’re good enough.”

“That’s what’s screwed. Baron obviously was. Probably would have been called up in September and likely would not have come back. Berg was a long shot at best.”

“Yeah, Jake, but the competitiveness in those people, to get that far, all the work they put in, they all believe that they can make it. They all believe they are the one.”

“Well,” Jake sighed, “neither of them are going to make it now. One will be in prison for 20 years and the other is gone, for good. No legacy to leave, no more games to play, nothing.”

“It’s a shame,” the LT said as he opened the file, ” because that kid was a ballplayer.”

Posted by deminizer on 07/09 at 06:39 PM | Permalink
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