It had infiltrated his REM sleep, a hideous and pitiful noise hijacking Buehrle's lucid dreams. Eventually the sound continued long enough to be unveiled, and to rouse the rested lefty in his makeshift sleeping area, team blankets sprawled out on the floor of the archives room. A night walking through Comiskey alone, remembering his career to date, it was exactly the night Mark needed to maintain sanity after this nauseous season. The old photos, the names, dates, victories, whole careers of countless others that gave their time to the Organization before him; the hot sentimentality of his place in the matter is clear. Mark belongs here, no other place, to finish his pitching days. Wandering the halls and the concourses, inspecting his stadium, his workplace, there cannot be a substitute. Such history and respect, sepia sentimentality oozing from photos and trophy cases and the field itself. Eventually he ended up in this room, hardly used by the dusty coating. With a 2005 yearbook and gushing gratitude, Buehrle slipped into sober and peaceful sleep. That peace has been disturbed by the misery on the other side of the wall, and Mark rises to investigate.
Kenny Williams hasn't slept yet. Pena had a good send-off, to be sure, but afterward things spiralled downward. He retired from the party early enough, but continued drinking in his office, mostly alone save for a couple visitors. The tears started before dawn, and though the storm and the wailing has passed, the snot-thickened whimpers and tight-chested heaves have continued. Now the sun pours through off-kilter curtains and the room is warming uncomfortably. Spilled vodka and tequila stain the carpet, burn the nostrils, stir the stomach and induce an animal reaction of disgust towards everything, wholesome hatred born of booze. Scattered red plastic cups adorn the floor and the desk. A vomit-drenched wastebasket sits beside the patent leather couch; much of the intended contents are puddled next to it. Why, Kenny asks himself. Idiot. Ugh. Caveman thoughts drool out of this top-five general manager as he stands on wobbled legs, eyes intent on his desk calendar.
With two soft knocks on polished oak, the hallway door slowly opens, revealing his favorite pitcher looking slightly embarrassed.
The simple innocence of a wide-open question with plain touches of caring and compassion is enough to send Kenny, already on wasted edge, back into the spiral. Fresh tears somehow. It all spills out:
"We had a fight. Ozzie moved out. It may have been in the news, I don't know. He is not coming back, but we both love you very, very much. This has nothing to do with you or your teammates. Your manager, he humiliated me in public. He beat me in private. I had nowhere to go, no one to turn to. Even if I tried, and I did, I simply could not leave. I am stuck; I have few options and no recourse. I tried and I tried with Ozzie, I did. I placated him. I gave him tough love. Your manager, he doesn't listen to reason. Former manager."
The tears won't stop coming, and neither the raw emotions.
"Mark... he... he cheated on me and now he's gone. Found a new family. It just got so tense here. Please believe me that I tried. I lost him and now I might lose you... you're so good, I love you, but you're expensive. Losing you would be too much!" The hard reality of this last statement sucks the air out of the putrid office. After a few more quivering sobs, Kenny collapses on the sofa with tired relief, the backwaters of his broken levee finally stable.
Panic hits Mark, though. This is new to him, all of it. No, if it was on the news he didn't see it. Ozzie gone? That's where he's been? Just gone? This is how he himself finds out? Mark himself gone from his team? This is just about too much for him, too. He's a pitcher, he pitches, he likes to involve himself in pitching. Not money or contracts or office relationships. The grown ups are supposed to handle this, but here it is in Mark's lap, thrown upon his shoulders. This is not pitching, and that's the only concern he wants. Okay, maybe hunting, too. And his truck. Oh, the family. The whole awakening, in both respects, is disturbing. Mark cringes, thinking about things he takes pains to avoid thinking about. He likes Chicago. And pitching in Chicago. And, yes, hunting, fuck. He is fully awake now, and completely lost. Kenny watches him back out of the room, desolate eyes giving no assurances.
There's nothing to believe here, nothing. After his service, his bounded loyalty, how could they do this? The strain has been showing for a while, but a separation? Untenable. They always work it out, he thought. Through the halls he begins to run, his athleticism clearly showing. A reason they pay me, he can't help but think. Paid me? Despite last night's affair with romanticism, today's ballpark is cold, bleak, almost unrecognized. Again, no other bodies huddle in the stands, no employees roam the vast concrete ramps, pounding footsteps allowed to echo. He's alone, outside now, headed for the chain-linked parking lot, mind and feet racing like few other times in memory. Memorabilia turns to lost dreams turns to reality. Offices turn to hallways turn to asphalt lots and shedding yellowed trees. The Dan Ryan becomes the Stevenson. Illinois changes to Mizzourah; gone are the broken stalks and fallow, replaced comfortably by wooded hillsides and home, booming footsteps quickly forgotten by the warm, throaty roar of the V-10.
The receptionist has just told Lillibridge five minutes. Waiting rooms are so clean, the magazines arranged as if they go untouched all day, the carpets look shampooed every night. The remains of his cast and the ensuing sawdust, he pictures them in dusty array on the doctor's linoleum, a temporary blip of disorder disturbing the antiseptic peace. He likes the official term, "medical waste." Biohazardous by necessity, deserving of a universal symbol and all. He was part of that; he helped make that mess. He likes leaving his little mark here and there, a contrail of his activities. Today is the day his right wrist is free. At his side, Brent is strangely excited, too, and eyes him with suspicion.
"So. You're pretty excited, huh?," Morel asks, voice barely above a whisper. They sit in one of those hushed areas of the world, quiet for no reason. "It's been five weeks. Must be hurtin'."
Lillibridge is jolted. Suddenly they aren't talking about the wrist itself. They sit silently. Four minutes.
Three minutes. "You know, I am married, Brent," Lillibridge blurts, cracked silence irreparable. "Me and my wife, we..."
"It's okay, Brent. I do it, too. We all do." The barren truth is not at comforting, and is unduly loud despite the continued policy of hush. Brent and Brent are the only ones in the waiting room, but to speak of such acts, even vaguely, seems sinful. The Face (of the franchise) would not approve. The Hair has been tailing them, they can both feel it. At the very least He knows about the increased time they spend together, and the increased possibility of mischief. Boys will be boys and even the kids know this. The ever-present Hair and lurking spirit of The Face is becoming more burdensome by the day, and the off-season has barely begun. Furtive oppression is in the walls, in the hallways, following the kids, dominating the cityscape.
"We can talk about it."
"No, we can't. At least not here."
"We'll never know true freedom."
Ozzie Guillen is confused. Sitting in his new office adjoining the clubhouse, he can be alone with his disjointed thoughts. Feet propped on the desk and sweaty chin in clammy hand, Ozzie fingers the Newton's cradle, his World Series gift from Kenny. It's a good one, too. He gently lifts an end ball, he lets it drop. How does it do that, Ozzie wonders as the opposite ball takes flight. I thought we were on good terms. I thought Kenny had my back at every turn; why is he doing this? I did my part; I'm a good manager, and he pushes me away. The shit roster comment was a joke. C'mon, Kenny should know that. I'm Mister Hyperbole, Captain Idlethreat. The players liked me, and all of the fans liked me. Maybe it was the media. It's must have been the media. They always distort what I say.
The steel pendulums continue their reassuring clicks as Ozzie tilts his head back, offensively colored ‘M' hat shielding his eyes from the bright fluorescence. In minutes he'll be snoring, the myriad doubts and points of confusion exhausting him as almost nothing else. It was a long, tiring season, but that's always expected and prepared for accordingly. This is different though and it's not exactly sinking in quite yet. A nap will help.
The leaves, curled, yellow but not yet red, are falling faster. They upend and crunch underfoot, moist decay revealed. Walking is a noisy and aromatic event for Buehrle as he trails his two Springer Spaniels. The hills of Mizzourah, especially now, offer such peace compared to the city. It's only been a few days since his escape, but already he is in full off-season relaxation, and the woods on his property offer everything: quiet, remoteness, beauty. Mark's family understands his need to unwind; he is left mostly alone for the first days home, as requisite tradition. It's turkey season, too, and that's darn good huntin'. The trail curves over a ridge, and in the dimming light the dogs lurch forward, strong scent in their noses, legs responding instinctually.
Buehrle, annoyed, turns it on, crests the ridge, runs haphazardly over jutting roots and hidden holes. He's lost sight of the dogs but can still hear the rustle. Down the hill, head following every noise. To the right, and three strong barks, and Buehrle, head up with heart pumping, trips, bends, ass and legs down, he's rolling, sliding all the way, into the gulch.