Inside a noisy bar, Haines and McCormick sat sipping beer. Several large, athletic-looking guys were re-hashing the game and what they'd done right and wrong, while a short rotund man waggled his chins dramatically as he crooned “Your Cheatin' Heart” by the piano.
“So this must be the place you guys all come after the games, huh?” Mark looked around. “It's kinda convenient, right next to the ballpark. He jerked a thumb at the singer. “Is he really an umpire?”
“Yep.” Mike Haines grinned and nodded. “He comes here every time he's in town. Sings all night, or until somebody makes him stop.” He took another pull at his beer. “That's quite a car you got. You didn't get that on an amateur's salary.” He held up a hand as McCormick opened his mouth. “It's okay. We know what's going on. We're not stupid, you know. Most of us came out of college, at least a year or two. But if Hank's going along with this, I guess we will, too. But if you level with me, I'll level with you. Deal?” He quirked his eyebrows at Mark.
Mark grinned back at him. “Deal. I tried to tell my, ah . . . partner this wouldn't work, you know. But once he's got a cockamamie idea, it's his way or the highway.” He glanced at the umpire, then back at the pitcher. “So, what can you tell me that I should know?”
“For one thing, you have to understand ballplayers. We're all driven, competitive, you might even say aggressive. We have to be or we wouldn't be here.” The pitcher paused for a swig of beer, then continued. “But we're also teammates. That's the core right there. This is a team sport and you only win as a team, not as individuals. And we're kind of protective about rookies, especially the ones that look like they might carry a franchise at some point. So we knew what was going on with Perry's wife, but we kept it in the clubhouse. And nobody talked about it.” Haines glanced around the crowded bar, nodded to a few men at the bar, then looked back at McCormick. “And nobody did anything about it, either.”
McCormick shrugged and moved his beer glass in a small circle, watching the bubbles that formed. “I never said you did. I'm only trying to find out the truth. I think,” he looked up from under his brows at Haines, “you're telling me the truth. So what else should I know?”
Haines looked at him steadily. “We'll all of us try to help, whatever you want. Just ask. Perry's one of us and we don't want this going on for much longer. Find out who did this, okay? Whatever it takes, do it. And we'll help.” He took a deep breath, then a small smile broke out. “Oh, and something really important. Don't drink from the pot labeled 'decaf'. It's coffee, all right, but it's got a little something extra in it. A kind of pick-me-up.” Haines quirked his eyebrows.
“A pick-me-up?” Mark looked puzzled for a moment. “Oh. You mean amphetamines? Really?”
Haines turned his glass idly and pursed his lips. “Most of the guys don't touch it nowadays. But once a in a while, someone will have a big night out and come in a little . . . out of kilter. You know what I mean?”
McCormick grinned at him. “Hungover is what you mean.”
“Yeah. Or just tired from a 'romantic evening' with a Baseball Annie.” Haines took a gulp of his beer. “Well, you can't just tell the skipper you feel like what the cow left in the pasture, so you take a coupla greenies to get you through the game. Helps you not feel so tired and unfocused. Like I say, most of the team behaves themselves pretty well so they don't need it.”
A silence fell, broken only by the umpire warbling, 'Only Fools Fall in Love', then McCormick, with a wince, asked, “Baseball Annie?”
“You know. The wannabe-wives. They hang around the dugout before games and wait outside the parking lot, hoping to be picked up. That's one of the problems Perry had. Jennifer had been an Annie and he ending up marrying her.” Haines scowled at his beer glass. “She was a cheap little tramp and I think he was starting to realize that.” He looked up at McCormick from under his brows. “Perry's a real religious type, you know. A rebo.”
“Rebo?” Mark looked confused. “I'm guessing that's nothing like a repo.”
The pitcher snorted. “Nah, it's short for 'reborn'. The guys who never miss chapel on Sundays and have Bible verses taped onto their lockers. Perry's one, but Jennifer – it was all an act for her. It fooled Perry, but not the rest of us. The way she acted? Hah. Drunk half the time and coming on to every guy on the team.” He took a handful of the peanuts in the bowl between the two men. “Even me, the little tramp.”
Mark looked at him soberly. “Any of you take her up on her offer?”
“No! What do you think we are? Perry's a rook, he doesn't know the score yet. That kind of thing destroys a team's chemistry anyway. We all turned her down, but she was getting to be a nuisance, I'll tell you that.”
The umpire was now mangling, “Dropkick Me, Jesus, Through the Goalposts of Life”.
McCormick studied his beer, then asked shyly, “So how did I look out there?”
“You looked like an amateur trying to look like a ballplayer.”
“That bad, huh?” McCormick murmured, then sipped his beer.
“Listen, that's not bad; that's pretty good.” Haines turned to look at the sodden ump and grinned. “He's gonna need some of that decaf when he gets to the park tomorrow.”
“Your name's McCormick,” said Perry Ames sadly. “Hank told me you were coming over today to talk about . . . Jennifer.”
Mark looked around at the plainly-decorated apartment. The white walls, with no pictures or ornament, the inexpensive furniture, the personal belongings still in boxes – all spoke of a newly arrived tenant. “I appreciate you seeing me. I know this has got to be really hard on you.”
Perry waved him to one of the chairs belonging to a cheap dinette set. “If I can help, in any way, of course I'd want to. But the police . . .” He trailed off, looking out the glass door to a tiny patio.
“Yeah, I talked to a police lieutenant I know about that. He said you, um, well, that you knew about your wife and her, ah, activities,” McCormick grimaced, but kept gamely on. “That you knew she had a lot of outside interests, I mean --”
Ames smiled at him sadly. “I know what you're trying to say. I have a lot of friends and they've all told me about her 'interests'.” He got up and wandered about the living room aimlessly. “It wasn't exactly a secret, you know. I mean, it was only a few weeks after we were married that I started to suspect she was . . . looking around.”
McCormick regarded him soberly and said nothing.
Ames picked up a plastic container from the veneered dining table. “The ladies from my church keep bringing food. They've been real nice. A very present help, as the Bible says. Mrs. Bunning, she works for the team you know, organized them all so I don't have to cook a single thing.” He set the container down and meandered over to the brand new television set. “But they knew about Jennifer, and they all feel so sorry for me. I knew what she was, after a while. But I loved her anyway.”
“In the police report, you said that you didn't suspect anybody specifically and that you didn't know if she was currently involved with anybody in particular.” Mark watched the other man run his hands over the shelves above the television as if verifying their existence. “Did you ever think about getting a divorce? Did she ever ask for one?”
“Oh, no. We'd never get divorced. My church doesn't believe in divorce, and besides, ballplayers make a lot of money. At least, after the first few years, we do. She liked money, a lot.” Perry Ames finally ended up back beside his chair. He looked at it for a moment, then dropped into it. “She was really beautiful, you know? Have you seen pictures of her?”
“She was funny, too, and smart. She even joined my church before we got married. That was important to me, and she always wanted to go along with what was important to me, at least at first.” Ames stared through the wall across from him. “Then she didn't.” He turned to McCormick. “You want some coffee? I don't drink, so there's no beer or anything, but I can make coffee.”
“Coffee'd be fine. Oh, hey,” McCormick shook his head at himself, “I forgot to tell you that a lot of the players said to say 'hi' and they hope you're back with the club soon. I know Mike Haines has been in touch with you.”
Perry smiled. “They're a great bunch of guys. You tell 'em I'd be happy to see any of them if they wanted to stop by. I miss those guys, you know? You train and work together for months and then don't see any of them, and it's weird. Like a part of you's missing. They don't want to intrude, I know, but you tell them for me. Any of them, they can come over any time and it would be great.”Ames walked into the kitchenette, then stuck his head back out the door. “Hey, you mind sticking around for a while? I'd like to talk to somebody about baseball for a while.”
Mark smiled back at him. “Sounds good to me.”
“That's okay, I was just checking where a coupla things were. Looking for clues, you know, but it's time I was finding my seat in the stands. Thanks for the offer, though,” said Hardcastle to the departing coach, who waved a farewell as he walked down the corridor leading to the field.
The judge looked around the small storeroom for a few moments, then began to walk quietly down the corridor to the manager's office, cogitating, brow wrinkled. A sudden scuff behind him made him turn quickly, but not before the baseball bat landed solidly across his shoulders.
As he fell, Hardcastle hit the door to the manager's office and heard dimly a shouted, “Yeah, come in,” from Brickman.
The bat clattered to the concrete floor and Hardcastle slumped down heavily beside it.