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Authors: Bryan Smith

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BOOK: Highways to Hell
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“Bet you need a fuckin’ shovel to find your dick in all that shit, don’t ya, lardbucket?”

One of the girls, a striking blonde, shouted, “How do you jerk off, blubberbutt? I know, you use a bulldozer to get to it and a crane to bop it.”

The blonde’s salvo was apparently the funniest thing the kids had ever heard; they dissolved into uncontrollable laughter, sounding for all the world like asthmatic hyenas.

Once it had subsided they were ready to resume the verbal strafing. Apparently impressed by her previous shot, the others deferred to the blonde. “You know, you’re SOOO sexy, blubberbutt; there’s just SOOO much of you. I bet you have to—”

Enough! There was just so much a guy could take, and he had just reached that point. “Fuck off, cunt.”

This hushed them instantly; they seemed momentarily unable to believe that this thing—this gluttonous pig—had dared to strike back.

It didn’t last.

“Maybe,” one of the guys said, “I should just come over there and kick your fat ass.”

He faced them squarely for the first time. “Why don’t you just go ahead and try, you stupid little prick.”

The one who had made the threat set down his drink, then stood. He was tall and well-conditioned, muscular like a weightlifter. Walter had looked like that once, many years ago. Back then, he wouldn’t have felt fear facing a guy like this; now, though, fear was exactly what he was experiencing, and he didn’t like it one damn bit. Suddenly, he was furioius at himself for having let himself go so badly; mental self-denial blocks he had spent years building unclogged in a matter of seconds. God, it didn’t have to be like this! He
could
have kept himself in shape, and doing so, he could easily have dealt with an asshole like this. He shook with the fury of his self-hatred.

The weightlifter grinned. “Some tough guy, huh?” The others laughed. “You’re scared shitless, aren’t you, fatso?” The blonde giggled.

Walter stood, but not with any intention to fight this guy; it was a fight he couldn’t possibly win, and he knew it. He had decided to cut his losses and leave. He sighed, his heart heavy with sorrow. He instinctively sensed it would be a long time before he would come back. He wouldn’t chance meeting these assholes, or others like them, again.

He turned away from them, and started walking towards the concrete steps that led to the vending area. He descended the steps as quickly as his massive frame allowed, moved rapidly through the vending area—waving off a scantily clad girl who wanted to sell him a program, and finally stepped out into the parking lot.

He scanned the lot for his grey Honda, squinting to see in the rapidly gathering darkness. It was, he knew, somewhere in the third row to his right. He began to move in that direction.

As he neared the car, he sensed the people behind him before actually hearing them. He didn’t have to turn around to know it was the kids from the bleachers. He had no doubt they had some malicious intent in mind. They were like hunting dogs who refused to give up their prey’s scent.
And that’s what they are
, he thought,
animals
. He picked up his pace, knowing full well the effort would be for naught. They were younger and faster than him.

He didn’t stand a chance.

A well aimed kick to the ass sent him sprawling on the pavement. His lungs expelled most of their air-supply upon his belly’s contact with the ground. He breathed heavily, raggedly, desperately pulling in large gulps of air. His eyes watered, forming tears that spilled down each side of his nose.

“Get up.”

It was the weightlifter; he recognized the voice immediately. He remained on the ground, unable to move; he still hadn’t caught his breath.

“I told you to get the fuck up; I know even lardasses like you can hear, so do what I told you.”

A girl laughed. The blonde. The one who had been the most vociferous and cruel of them all. A girl, for Christ’s sake. What had the World come to? “I don’t think he
can
get up,” she said. “He’s so heavy he can’t even lift himself off the ground.”

He heard the soft pad of running shoes on the pavement. Then the blonde was squatting beside him. His eyes looked up at her; she smiled down at him, and his mind reeled, unable to accept the reality of the situation. She was pretty, very nice-looking, a cheerleader type. She was the kind of girl all high school boys—and a lot of older men—fantasized about. But the eyes at the center of that face were filled with unfathomable hate.
Where did it come from?
he wondered.
What could possibly cause it?

Her smiled shifted, the lips puckering; they parted, the mouth opened wide to expel a large wad of saliva. Spit splashed down his face, mingling with the tears. Fresh tears poured down his face. He began to sob.

They all laughed. One of the other girls said, “poor baby.”

The blonde still wore that bland smile. She was like a Barbie doll come to life, emotionless, devoid of any real feeling. Except unadulterated hate. “Yeah,” she said, “poor fat little baby; you deserve to be punished, little baby.”

She stood, and he stared up at those long, sleek, tanned legs; fantasy-worthy legs. Entranced, he watched as one of them reared back, then swung forward, the foot connecting solidly with his chin. His teeth ground together, biting into the tip of his tongue. A tiny amount of blood trickled out the corner of his mouth.

The others joined her. Three stood on each side of him. “Guess you don’t have to get up, after all,” the weightlifter said, then kicked him in the side. He saw the blonde’s pink running shoe swing toward his again, felt it connect, felt the imprint of its sole on his flesh. Soon, the others joined in, delivering a seemingly endless barrage of blows to his beleaguered body.

He began to pray for quick death.

Miraculously, though, they left him alive. Bored with the casual torture of the fat man, they left him—a bloody heap—on the pavement. His mind was numb, his body the same. Through the haze, he heard their soulless laughter, their talk of making a beer run.

Alive.

He couldn’t quite believe it.

But something
did
die in Walter Percy that night; that essential flicker of genuine humanity that had kept him sane, basically good, decent.

It was just gone.

Like it had never existed.

He had been called “Slugger” once, a long time ago, back in his days as the prime prospect in the New York Yankees minor league organization. Scouts had him pegged as the second coming of Mickey Mantle; he hit monstrous home run shots that inspired awe in all who saw them. Aside from his hitting prowess, he was a graceful ball-handler—scooping up grounders and snagging line drives with effortless ease—and he could scorch the base paths. He had been a sure thing, a can’t-miss prospect on a fast track to the majors.

Life had been so simple then, uncomplicated; he knew what he was all about, where he was going, and what he would do when he got there. He saw everything in simple terms, in shades of pure white and pitch black; delineations between concepts of right and wrong were easily discerned, such as his impulsive decision to marry Louise after signing his first minor league contract.

In those days Louise was a pliable woman, and she had accepted his proposal immediately. They honeymooned in New York, visiting Yankee Stadium three straight days, knowing it would one day reverberate with the cheers of his adoring fans.

Those dreams were short-lived, however; two years later—just days after their anniversary—he collided with an opposing team’s second baseman. His right knee was blown out, rendered useless; it would take years of rehabilitation before it would work right again.

His purpose in life taken away, he became a shell of a man, a mere husk. He compensated for the void in his soul by constantly filling his body with food, all manner of snacks and junk. Louise complained, bemoaning the ruination of his once Adonis-like physique. His body swelled, especially his belly; the once washboard-flat stomach now quite effectively hid his feet from view; their marital problems grew exponentially.

He was served with divorce papers on the day of their ninth wedding anniversary. The timing didn’t faze him in the least; he was way past the point of caring. He knew she had been with other men lately, but that didn’t matter. He
wanted
her gone; she was just a symbol of his shattered past, the broken dreams that could never be mended.

That was ten years ago. The intervening time had been uneventful. He worked at a gas station, earning just enough money to pay his rent and keep him well stocked in Twinkies and poptarts. In his free time he watched baseball on the cable superstations. He went to see the Red Wings whenever they were in town. He made a once a year trip to New York to see the Yankees play. During the off season, he kept track of the winter league, subscribing to the newsletters of each team.

Year after year his life followed this monotonous pattern. The monotony comforted him, nurtured him, kept him contented. As long as life followed rigid, set patterns he could deal with it.

Now, though, that was all over; the incident in the parking lot the previous night had changed everything. He was sick of the passivity with which he dealt with things. He wanted to feel
alive
again, strong, the way he had felt when he had been playing The Game. God, that seemed like a lifetime ago; he felt separate from the past, like it was something that had happened to another person entirely. He certainly bore little resemblance to that person; his ball-player incarnation would have kicked the shit out of those kids.

He wanted to be that person again.

He swung the new wooden bat with all the force he could muster, cutting a smooth arc through the still night air. At first, the bat had felt alien in his grip, its potential power untappable, but that didn’t last. He was surprised at how quickly the old instincts returned. His swings were fluid, the uppercuts clean. He pictured himself hitting stinging line drives.

He was in a park, a recreational area with one crude playing field. He had spied it driving by earlier. It was dark, and no one was around; it had been too tempting to resist. He had stood out here at home plate, his new bat in hand, taking cut after cut at imaginary sliders, curveballs, and high velocity fastballs. He had even made one aborted attempt at rounding the bases, giving up midway between first and second. He would have to shed several dozen pounds before being able to accomplish something like that. His resolve to do so was implacable.

But it was getting late; time to go. He sighed, then took one final swing, creaming an imaginary Roger Clemens fastball over Fenway’s Green Monster.

He turned away from the playing field, and began to make his way back toward the car, trudging through tall, unmown grass. As he neared the roadside, he noticed a young man in a jogging suit walking along the sidewalk. The man was short of breath, apparently having worn himself out after a long sprint. The man came to a complete stop, bent over, placed his hands on his knees, and breathed deeply.

He’s definitely winded
, Walter thought, approaching him. He held the bat loosely in his right hand, rocking the handle between thumb and forefinger.

The man looked strong, conditioned. He reminded Walter of the weightlifter at the ballpark. His right hand tightened around the handle as he came up behind the man; the left hand took its place beneath the right, bringing the bat into position.

Sensing danger a moment too late, the man whirled around. His mouth opened, and he gaped at the huge man with the big stick.

Walter smiled. He couldn’t have asked for a better angle. The man’s head was like a hanging curveball, a home run invitation offered up on a silver platter. He brought the bat around, driving the fat end into the man’s astonished face. The crack of bone beneath the force of wood was immensely satisfying; it was as though he had gotten the meat of the bat on a Nolan Ryan heater and had thoroughly demolished it.

It felt good.

Real
good.

Like being reborn.

Later, sitting in the car, he cleaned the blood off the bat with a towel. He whistled “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

He winked at the grinning trophy on the dashboard.

Game Ball.

God, he felt great! After a too lengthy stay on the disabled list, Slugger was back, revitalized and invigorated.

And he had a new game to play.

BOOK: Highways to Hell
9.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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