FanPost

The Padded Cell, Episode 3: "Hot and Cold"

Mark Buehrle awakes to his spaniels lying close to him, calm but still panting from the chase. Face up on the ground, milky beams of light break through the trees to the bottom of the ravine, and he winces in the brightness. Consciously, he is not in pain. He props himself up on an elbow, breaking a twig and upsetting the wet leaves in the process. The woods are still but for the dogs. No wind, not a bird to coo. Just the panting and something else.

A soft smack; a familiar sound.

Hard leather on calloused palm, it turns out. A figure behind a tree, and Buehrle leaps up, rushed again, heart wrenched. Above and to his right, behind a massive oak, a striking white ball floats for a split second, eternity. Gravity takes hold and it slaps back into the palm of the holder, wrist only slightly flicking, and up it goes again. That left wrist connects to thin, pale forearm, in turn leading toward sheathed elbow. Just the arm, just the flicking and the pat—pat—pat—pat. Mark is transfixed, stone-legged, gape-mouthed. The dogs have not yet reacted, and Buehrle glances back. They're still there with heads raised, relaxed tongues hanging loose. Calm, and now the woods is dead again. Looking to the great oak, it's only the tree. Underbrush. Leaves, fallen timber, outcroppings sloping up all around. No sign of anything. Cautiously, Mark's brain begins to work again. The hell was that? He climbs deliberately, quietly towards the oak, but there is no trail, nothing out of place but a faint dusting of white. It can only be rosin powder.

 

Alexis Rios' rented manservant brings him yet another Captain and Diet, and it's cold and sweating, the perfect answer to Cabo's hot, dry sand. The garnish of fresh lime is a necessary touch; less than perfection is unacceptable. The drink is, again, well-mixed and wholly unsatisfying. As expected. The manservant backs away, tediously remaining on the fringe while Rios lets his drawn eyes gaze over the lapping surf, past the breakers, beyond the horizon to the mind-bending complexity that hovers over the sea, the idea of infinity. This spinning, non-chaotic Universe, all matter and all being, total significance in a simplified word, an easy term with a background that rests beyond the limits of human comprehension. We're all just a speck, but we can only begin to appreciate this speck alone, our own movie versions of what this existence can and should be, and what it has been. For the past is both dead and alive, stark and haunting, controlled only in selected memory but not in fact. Everything matters, and yet the only thing that really matters is that which we willfully attach utterly subjective meaning. This constant illumination of all things great and small is really getting to Rios. Filtered through brown polarized lenses, of course. Can't be too careful.

Or stylish.

And it's really the sunglasses that get the pussy, which does, or did, matter. A lady last night, late night, at the club. "Nice Ray Bans," she had said. He hasn't done any chasing in years, since he signed on the dotted line and the money started flowing. With money comes sunglasses and with sunglasses comes tail. She was nice, though. A good girl; he liked her more than most. "Nice Ray Bans," though, and it's off to the races. So simple, so utterly lamentable. There's always the what comes next, and the why, and Alexis can only draw a blank. On top of this, for $500, these sunglasses are sliding down the bridge of his nose. What's the point, he wonders.

 


"Two hard lemonades, please," Morel states dryly as Lillibridge saddles up next to him. The recent warm spell has made trench coats and wide-brimmed fedoras nearly unbearable, and yet the precautions must continue. The kids meet at Bacardi at the Park occasionally, discreetly, this time to discuss the playoffs and their new management. Hell, possibly the only place that will serve them, and besides, they're pretty sure it's not bugged. To be safe and inconspicuous, they diligently take on the look of 1930's private dicks.

"I'm just saying, if Ozzie let me play full-time, that's over 30 home runs right there. Maybe this new guy has a head on his shoulders."

"Yeah, well. I showed some real strides in September. If we get rid of some dead weight, maybe we can both power this fuggin' team to the post season. We could use some life here. We should loosen up."

"I know where you're going with this, and..."

"I'm saying we need to be more like them Brewers. We need a DH that understands pressure. We need a center fielder that can hit, that provides spark. And they're both available after this year. I'm telling you."

"Fielder would be great, but Nyjer? Please. Guy's a clown. It would never be tolerated by this manag... Oh, I see. So you're telling me there's a chance."

The old movie reference is lost on the younger youngster. Morel stirs his glass-poured lemonade, pausing before taking the next step. "You know what, Brent? Even if we don't sign Fielder or Morgan, I don't think you can argue that we don't need more excitement on our team. Excitement will spawn wins. I can feel it. I'm pulling for the Brew Crew; I hope they win it all."

"Oh, grow up."

 

Kenny Williams has slept in the past week, but not well. Focused inward, his thoughts and his body have remained firmly entrenched in the confines of the front office; for humanity's sake there is an attached bathroom. The musty stench of old booze also remains, a fitting reminder of Ozzie's absence. Though the office has been swept of party supplies, the oppressive gloom remains. It surprises the occasional visitor not in the least.

There was Jerry, who told him to clean up. Get out the paper towels and also get your act together. There was Konerko, who provided a much needed laugh, asking to be a manager while holding on to first base. Good one. A world-renowned Pulitzer-winner, Sir Joesph Cowley, made an appearance, providing much needed solace in a time of desperation. "It gets easier," he had commented heavily, warm hand on Kenny's shoulder, generic words oddly comforting. Then there was a former player, a third baseman, trim and bright-eyed, asking for a job. Sure, Williams had said. Kenny had been, and still was, too exhausted to deal with any sort of process. Screw it. It ought to please Jer. Things will work out in the end. They always do. Take the reins, Robin.

Finally, today, a visit from the mailman; just one letter delivered.

The return address, written in red crayon, seems more hostile than playful. A. Dunn. Anniston Metropolitan Airport, Anniston, AL. The childish writing, pressed hard into the paper, portends hostility rather than playfulness. After some forlorn deliberation, Kenny goes for it, violently tearing the end open.

Large block letters read "SORRY, KENNY."

It continues in smaller print, as intricate as a crayon can force: During his recent air tour of the south, he had neglected to look at the weather bulletins before what looked like a great day to be aloft. In the end it was not. While being tossed around in his little plane, the storm nearly overwhelming his senses, he had a number of revelations: He's not afraid anymore, of flying, of fans, of opinions in one direction or another. Sometimes he thinks the newspaper guys are right, that he just doesn't enjoy playing baseball. Sometimes he dreams of giving it up, even before this past season. Of giving the money back, even, in hopes of forgiveness and personal tranquility. He needs to disappear for a while; indefinitely. Life is short, he has concluded. A simple thought from an admittedly simple man.

Kenny can't help but understand completely.

 


A shop at the resort sells sunglasses, a real boon to the distraught Rios. Heading back to the beach, new shades on, these a touch darker than the last, a touch more expensive, he sees the girl from last night. He heads toward her, ready to be the one asking this time.

It's not to be; she ducks his approach, leaving Rios alone on the broad bright sands of paradise.

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