The crack of the bat was not as crisp as it once had been. The hitter's hand-eye coordination, the pitcher's velocity, the right fielder's hearing: all had diminished to the point that the fielder, Blaine Crockett, heard only a soft 'plunk' as the ball was lifted skyward almost gently off the bat to trace a lazy parabola against the slow drift of the low gray clouds. Blaine could feel the creaking in his knees as he began to give laborious chase toward the first base foul line. What would have been a routine pop fly to anyone under fifty became for Blaine a treacherous athletic endeavor, arthritis and shortness of breath conspiring against his will. But no way was Blaine Crockett going to let this ball drop in for a hit. He'd be damned if that son of a bitch Harold Sonnenfeld was going to reach base on his watch. When the pain in six different joints had subsided, Blaine looked down at the off-white, grass-stained ball in his glove.
As what passed for a sprint turned to a jog, then finally to a few slow steps before stopping completely, Harold Sonnenfeld stared in disbelief and disgust. Blaine Crockett, that bum, had caught what rightfully should have been good for at least two bases. As Harold, amid a smattering of applause, good-natured cat calls, and laughter headed back to the bench along the first base line, he shot another glance back out toward right field at that smug, arrogant bastard. Enjoy it while you can, thought Harold, your turn is coming. Harold plotted his vengeance as the next hitter, Sam Castledown, his self-deprecating grin as big as his swing, struck out to end the inning. Grabbing his glove and trotting out to third base, Harold decided against his first idea, which was to try and talk pitcher Herb Pehrlmann into sticking a fastball in the fat jackass' ear. No, Harold thought, much better to keep one's own counsel in these matters. Maybe slash a couple of Crockett's tires. Throw a mess of chicken bones over the fence to his dogs. Turnabout being fair play, Harold was suddenly sorry that Crockett's wife had passed away the previous year. He doubted his own ex would be brazen enough to make an appearance today. The old saying 'sweating like a whore in church' popped into his mind. He looked at fat, sweaty Blaine Crockett jogging in from right field, and seethed.
Herb Pehrlmann could never be sure when his body might at last betray him. The likelihood of rain had been secretly revealed to him that morning by way of a dull throb in his right shoulder, well before the more threatening clouds began to move in. Of course, a rain-shortened game meant he might be able to go the distance and avoid the embarrassment of having to take himself off the mound. This is a serious consideration when you are married to an attractive woman half your age long enough for the initial stages of passion to have burned out. For her at least. He sneaked a peak into the stands along the third base line. Giao Pehrlmann was indeed a fine figure of a woman, seated perfectly erect beneath a large white floppy hat, her finely chiseled features accentuated by the large, impenetrable sunglasses that rendered her already neutral expression all the more inscrutable. Her long, delicate hands lay folded and still in her lap, below which her sundress revealed, from the knees down, a pair of smooth, unblemished legs. Herb turned back and stared in toward the plate. Blaine Crockett was stepping into the batter's box, digging in with his back foot and tapping the plate with his bat. As he began his windup, Herb recalled the twenty year old rumors about Blaine Crockett and Harold Sonnenfeld's ex-wife. In a complex series of associations that crashed through his mind in less time than it took to deliver a pitch, Herb Pehrlmann suddenly, if only momentarily, saw Blaine Crockett as a threat. Every domestic insecurity of his own helped shape his moral uncertainties regarding Blaine and Harold into a fine, unappeasable outrage at the very notion of infidelity. As soon as the ball left his hand, a look of shock and surprise crossed Herb's face, for he now realized what he had unwittingly done. He watched helplessly, as if events were unfolding in slow motion, as his most ferocious fastball shot plate-ward, directly at the head of Blaine Crockett.
When he awoke in the hospital the next day, Sam Castledown's first thought was that he owed a debt of gratitude to the man who had invented the batting helmet. He looked out the window of his room onto a steady downpour, the occasional clap of thunder the day's only syncopation to accompany the regular beat of the rain against his window. If the rain could have only started earlier.
Everything had happened so quickly and without warning, as Sam, as absent-minded as he was affable, so still wearing his batting helmet, stood at first base lazily kicking at the dirt and, from an angle available only to him, looking directly up the dress of Giao Pehrlmann. He turned back just in time to see Blaine Crockett fall back flat on his butt as Herb Pehrlmann's errant pitch floated harmlessly overhead toward the backstop.
"Son of a bitch!” screamed Blaine, leaping to his feet and charging, not as Sam would have expected, toward the mound, but instead down the third base line. Sam looked toward third and saw Harold Sonnenfeld slam his glove to the ground.
“Fucking bastard!” Harold shrieked, red-faced with a rage of which Sam had thought him incapable. As they collided like a pair of geriatric bulls halfway down the line, Herb Pehrlmann joined the fray, though on which side Sam was at that point unclear. As fists, feet, and curses flew, Sam noticed that somehow Herb had obtained Blaine's bat. Momentarily stunned by the unexpected eruption of violence, members of both teams finally began trotting, hobbling, limping, and strolling toward the combatants. Sam, who wished only to get in a friendly ball game before the rain and socializing started, rushed forward, hoping to restore peace and, if possible, continue playing. He was quite unprepared, when he reached them, for wild-eyed Herb Pehrlmann to wheel around suddenly and, without apparent reason, forethought, or even awareness, bring the bat squarely down on his head, ending his day in the field, and ending for everyone else there the dream of innocent afternoons spent playing beneath a lazy sun.
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