Friday, December 08, 2006

Chapter 11

For a couple of months after his return, while baseball players were tanning themselves in the Sunshine and Cactus States, he felt life was perfect, the happiest he had ever been in his life. He agonized over the time he and Anne were apart while she was away at work, and he toyed with the idea of telling her to quit, but his money was rapidly running out, and he felt more secure having her income. She had moved in with him, and they settled into domestic life quite easily. But he could not bring himself to ask her to marry him.

Everything in his life was warming up, like he had rebooted his hard drive or something. Sidney started to hang around again, flowers began to bloom, and the red caps came out, replacing their fleecy winter counterparts. The gray often gave way to a few sparkles of sunshine, and birds spontaneously generated from tree branches and power lines. The world was reborn, and then, the holy day arrived – the defending World Series Champs floated down Cincinnati streets in the Findlay Market Parade clutching that holy grail of a trophy. Oh, it was positively magical! Baseball had risen again!

Casey did not sit in Sidney’s boxes during the coveted day or for many days after it – he had purchased his own season tickets so he could sit with Anne. The incessant phone calls during the games were quite annoying, but he had only to look at his rejuvenated bank account to wash the annoyance away. Anne was irritated with the phone calls, too, but she knew what they were for and learned to live with them. The world was nearly perfect that spring – even the Middle east seemed weary of violence – but then, something terrible happened. He got a prediction wrong.

Sidney was furious and accused Casey of doing it on purpose. His screaming sent shivers of fear up Casey’s spine. He did not tell Anne, but she saw Sidney’s anger and Casey’s agitation and knew something was up. The tension mounted instead of receding, and Casey’s feelings became less reliable. He lost more money. Sidney could hardly look at him without fuming. There were fights with Anne, too. Even the Reds seemed to make him miserable, playing poorly and dropping to a distant third place by mid June. The stress of it all was taking the enjoyment out of the game, and one particularly clichéd stormy day, Casey realized the true horror of the situation. He had lost his love for the game.

It had probably begun the previous season when he realized that A.J. was a jackass and that many of the players were elitist superficial assholes. Then there was his reduced enthusiasm for what should have been heart attack inducing excitement during the World Series. And he did not follow the winter transactions as devoted fans should. But it just kept getting worse.

One night around 2am, a thunderous, dangerous knock landed on his door. A groggy, confused Casey stumbled to answer it while a worried Anne stayed in bed. Looking through the peephole, he saw a red faced Sidney standing there, and against his better judgment, he opened it. Two large men in black barged in and pushed Casey onto his couch, while Sidney followed them in.

“What the hell is this about?” Casey asked.

“Oh, I think you know,” Sidney responded.

“That I’ve been getting things wrong? I can’t help it.”

“Cut the bullshit, Casey. Who are you working for?”


“You’re obviously involved in some operation to SCREW me!”

“Why would I do that? I thought we were friends.”

“Oh, don’t play that game with me. Do I look like an idiot? You think I don’t notice you buy your own seats, you’re ok for two months, and then you suddenly start to make me lose my money?”

“No, Sidney, I’m serious. I don’t know why I’ve been getting things wrong.”


Sidney, I swear I’m not doing it on purpose.”

The two men, who looked like bears with the heads of dogs, stepped toward Casey.

“Listen to me. I’m gonna give you another chance ‘cause we’re friends, right? But you screw me again, I’m going to make sure you’re screwed in a much more painful way. You got that?”

“Uh, yeah, Sidney.”

Sidney said no more, did not even look at Casey again as he left the apartment. Anne came running out from the bedroom.

“What’s that all about, Casey?” she asked anxiously.

“I’ve been getting the predictions wrong, babe, and Sidney’s been losing money. He just threatened me.”

“Oh, god, Case, that isn’t good at all. I’ve heard rumors about what Sidney has done to people.”

“But what can I do? I can’t help that I’m getting the predictions wrong. The feelings are wrong. I mean, it feels the same as it used to, but it’s not the correct outcome. And now Sidney thinks I’m using another bookie. Why would I do that? And how do I convince him I’m not?”

“Case, this is so fucked up. I mean, the whole thing was so weird in the first place, but now…”

“Let’s just go to sleep now and deal with it in the morning.” He did not sleep until after she had gone to work, and that sleep did not last long. He begrudgedly got out of bed, dressed, and went to Vivatma’s café for some coffee, but he realized he just was not in the mood for Vivatma’s unending enthusiasm. Casey cut him off in mid-sentence as he was talking about A.J.’s home run the previous night, telling him he could have his tickets for the game that night and that he would drop them off later in the day. The encounter put him in a foul mood that the day’s sunshine could not cheer. He called Anne to tell her they were not going to the game that night and he had given the tickets away. She did not mind but worried about him, for Michael had told her awful things about Sidney. If she had been religious, she would have prayed.

When she got home that evening, Casey was nowhere to be found. She tried his phone but got voicemail. She did not start to worry until the clock struck nine. He had not gone off without at least telling her he would be out late since they had gotten back together, and with the early morning visit, the anxiety was nearly more than she could bear. She rung him several more times throughout the evening, each time more frantic than the last. It was not until around eleven when he called.

“Where are you? I’ve been worried sick about you!”

“Relax, I just needed to get away for a few days.”

“Get away? A few days? Without telling me? Where are you?” she said as anger began to rise into her mind.

“I’m on a train to Chicago. I’m going to visit a cousin I’ve never met. Neil gave me his address.”

Chicago?” The anger had taken over. “How can you just up and leave for Chicago without telling me?”

“I’m telling you now. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in a few days.”

“Stay as long as you want,” she replied as she hung up the phone. This was not at all like Casey, and this was not something she liked or could get used to.

He was going to see a distant cousin whose address Neil had given him in. Casey had no intention of visiting at the time, but now he needed a destination for his short term escape, and this was all he could think of. The cousin, Daniel, was happy to hear from him when he called to ask if he could visit – apparently Neil had told him about Casey in a recent phone conversation.

Daniel was dry, dull, and rather grateful for the company. He had not lost his Irish accent though he had lived in Chicago for a decade. His job had landed him in the Windy City, and though he longed to go home, he claimed his work was more important. Though he was a fundraiser for a charity organization that helped disadvantaged Irish Catholics get back on their feet, Daniel did not come across as the do gooder type. His coarse language, grubby hands, and rude treatment of those he encountered was more suited to a coal miner or construction worker, someone who had earned his coarseness with the harsh work and physical brutality of his labor.

During his stay, Casey decided to call all of the Jerome Robinsons in the Chicago area. A substantial number of men with the same name existed, and Casey had made it halfway through the list before he hit on some luck. His Jerome Robinson, the one who had written the bad paper about his great uncle, Sergeant Lincoln T. Robinson, lived in city and agreed to meet Casey after he had mentioned the letter.

The two met in a café after Jerome got off work at his bank. (A bank! No wonder he had such poor writing skills!) He was as excited as Casey to talk about this relative, and he jumped up from his chair, knocking it over when Casey held out his hand to shake.

“Sorry, man, it’s just great to get some information about my great uncle. See, I’ve been trying since college to get him a Medal of Honor for his service during World War II.”

“He’s still alive?”

“Nah, he passed away almost twenty years ago. I’m trying to get it awarded to him post, um, post, um…”

“Humously – posthumously.”

“Yeah, that’s it. They didn’t award many of them to us brothers back then.”

“What’d he do?”

“Guy saved like a whole company of men – white men – from the fucking Nazis. Oh, excuse my language.”

“Oh, it’s no problem. I believe they should permanently add the prefix and refer to them as fucking Nazis. It’s more accurate, anyway.”

“Sure is. Anyway, short story is company commander was a complete moron, just go promoted a week earlier after the old company commander got blown up in another battle. Commander led them right into an ambush, gunner got blown up, bullets raining down on them. Great uncle ran to the gun, mowed down a couple platoons of them Nazis. Commander lost his mind. Dude hadn’t even been in the Army a year. He’s lucky they let men like my great uncle fight on the frontlines in 1943. Like a year earlier, us brothers were picking up garbage and fixing trucks instead of fighting. When they opened it up for combat, my great uncle was one of the first to volunteer. He even had to get demoted to private to do the job, ‘cause they didn’t have any slots for him. He didn’t care, though. He just hated them Nazis so much. It started with the ’36 Olympics and Jesse Owens, may the man rest in peace, and when Hitler invaded in ’39 to start the war, my great uncle enlisted immediately. The man was smart, I tell you. He knew the United States would get into that war. Good thing, too, huh?”

“Yeah, it was.”

“Well, see, he learned how to fix supply trucks and got good at it and kept being promoted real fast. He knew every part of the trucks he worked on, called them his babies. He had a good commander, too. Didn’t believe in segregation and was pissed that he wasn’t allowed to use his troops as he wanted. His commander’s name was Major Egan. He was from Ohio, where I’m from and where my great uncle was from…”

“Where in Ohio?”


“Really? Me, too!” Casey exclaimed, excited to have something in common with the sergeant.

“Small world, isn’t it? So being from Cincinnati, my great uncle and the commander had something in common to talk about, and sometimes the commander would call him into his office and they’d share a Jack Daniels and talk about Cincinnati Reds. He loved baseball.”

“Reds baseball is my life! I have season tickets.” No words could describe how much of an understatement that was.

“Yeah? I’m a fan, too. Every time they come to Chicago, I go to see them. They come a lot, too. My great uncle, he played in the Negro Leagues. He was a catcher, mostly back up. He got to back up Josh Gibson on the Pittsburgh Crawfords for two years.” Casey’s eyes lit up at the mention of the great’s name. “But then he came back to Cincinnati to play for the Tigers and he got to start. He was getting pretty good, worked real hard, and wanted to play in the Majors. A lot of Negro Leaguers just enjoyed playing baseball, like Buck O’Neill, but my great uncle wanted more than that, wanted to make things right, and he really started working at it, practiced every day, took care of his body, and right before the war started, he was really good. But then he joined the Army, and by the time Jackie Robinson had broken through, he was thirty years old and knew he had no chance, so he stayed in the Army. At least he got to experience a integration in the Army. He thought it was the greatest day of his life when he joined the 25th.”

“So what happened in Korea?”

“I don’t know anything about Korea. It’s been hard enough finding out the information I know.”

“Where’d you get your information?”

“Well, the baseball stuff came from my grandfather, who was ten years younger. Some of the war stuff, too. The rest came from digging through documents, talking to and meeting relatives of his company and the company he saved. Believe me, it hasn’t been easy.”

“But it was easy for me to find you.”

“From one letter, too. Let me ask you, why did that letter make you interested in my great uncle?”

“I don’t know, really. I felt a connection to him, I guess because of our war experiences. I mean he fought in TWO wars. That’s incredible. I had enough war after one, enough of the Army.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t have many opportunities being a black man in Cincinnati. No offense, but you had a choice to get out. He really didn’t.”

“I understand. So, do you know who Clare is?”

“No idea. That’s why your letter is so intriguing.” Casey pulled the book with the letter from his jacket pocket and handed the letter to Jerome, who read it with enthusiasm.

“Wow, a secret lover. Cool. I’d love to find out who she was,” he said.

“How about we work together on research?”

“It’d be good for me. A guy who could find me based on a letter has to be an asset for the cause.”

They agreed to alert each other to any new information found and left the meeting convinced it was worth it. Casey felt so productive that he decided to go home, much to Daniel’s chagrin. On the train, he realized the one person who would appreciate the new found knowledge was a woman he had not spoken to in half a year. In his humble apartment in Cincinnati, Ohio was a woman he had loved for nearly all of his adult life, who was angry but waiting for him to return home. But as a train carrying him chugged towards that place he called home, he found himself wondering if maybe that place and the woman waiting inside it were not home at all, that home was waiting somewhere else, somewhere close to his humble apartment but in another world. And then, as the lights rushed by the window in glowing streaks and lines, he thought, maybe, just maybe he was right.

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