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Authors: Annette Blair,Geri Buckley,Julia London,Deirdre Martin

Hot Ticket

BOOK: Hot Ticket
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Lucky Charm
Julia London
CHAPTER
01

Parker Price hadn’t had a hit in two weeks.

It wouldn’t be a big deal if he was playing in a church league in Hoboken, but he was playing for the New York Mets, who had inked a deal to pay him one hundred ten million over seven years, plus bonuses, because they thought he
could
hit, among other things. And furthermore, it probably wouldn’t have been
that
big of a deal if the Mets had at least won a game in the last two weeks.

They hadn’t.

Even worse, with the humiliating end to last night’s game—in which they had been swept by the team nemesis, the New York Yankees—they were on a downhill slide, picking up steam for a spectacular crash at rock bottom. And for some reason, all of New York seemed to think it was Parker Price’s fault.

Okay, so he’d had a couple bad weeks, but he wasn’t the only one swinging at air out there. Their big hitter, bought from the Angels for almost as much as Parker, hadn’t been able to hit a damn
thing, either. But did they boo him? No. Yell at him to get back on his mule and ride for Texas? Hell no. Just Parker.

Maybe these people just hated Texans in general—there had been some press to that effect when the Mets had lured him away from the Houston Astros. And maybe he really just sucked. God knew he was wondering of late—no one was more surprised than him by the base-running error he’d made last night. No wait, that didn’t do it justice—what he’d done last night had to be the most incredibly boneheaded base-running error in the history of the sport.

It was bad enough that he couldn’t get out of the parking lot without hot dogs and beer bottles being thrown at his car. It was bad enough that his neighbor, Mrs. Frankel, who had to be ninety if she was a day, was waiting for him at the bottom of the drive when he arrived home. The old bat was standing in his drive, wearing her Mets jacket and Mets hat perched atop of her cotton-ball head, carrying a bat that had the words
New York Mets Swing for the Fences!
emblazoned down the side.

He knew right then it was trouble.

Parker eased himself out of his Hummer and tried to smile. “Evening, Mrs. Frankel.”

“Don’t
evening
me!” she shrieked and came at him with the bat raised, blubbering something about how no one was paying
her
one hundred million dollars to hit a baseball, but she could damn sure hit a head as swollen as his.

Parker gently but firmly took the bat from her, at which point Mrs. Frankel dissolved into huge crocodile tears and sobbed how much she loved the Mets and just couldn’t stand to see what was happening to them.

“Neither can I, Mrs. Frankel,” he sighed, and pointed her in the direction of her house. As she teetered down the drive, he called out, “You’re sure you’ll be all right, Mrs. Frankel?”

“Don’t talk to me!” she screeched then paused and turned partially around to look at him. “May I have my bat? I got that in 1972.”

Parker winced and eased the bat around behind his back. “I don’t think so, Mrs. Frankel. Think I better hold on to it until you’re feeling better.”

That prompted her to make a derogatory remark that he heard quite clearly, but she continued her waddle down the drive, muttering to himself.

And still, that wasn’t the worst of it.

This morning, he was awakened by his radio alarm just like he was every morning, and surprise, surprise; it was Kelly O’Shay of
Sports Day with Kelly O’Shay
startling him from a fitful sleep. Just like she did every freakin’ morning.

“Wait, wait, wait, Guido,” she was saying to her sidekick, who was, ironically, actually named Guido, “Are you trying to say the coach
didn’t
signal him?”

“No, no, he
signaled
him. The Priceman either didn’t see it or didn’t read it right—but in either case, it’s inexcusable for a topflight professional ball player.”

Parker bolted upright, furious. Like some punk named
Guido
could possibly understand the split-second decision-making skills baseball required.

“You’re right, it’s inexcusable,” Kelly cheerfully agreed in that drop-dead sexy voice of hers, and someone played a tape of people booing loudly. “You expect base-running errors like that in Little League, but not the majors. The Mets can’t afford to pay some bozo from Texas that kind of scratch and then let him get away with those sorts of errors, right? I’ll tell you straight up, Guido—losing that game on the error last night was compounded by the fact that Price obviously can’t hit, has no glove, and is just wasting an otherwise perfectly good uniform.”

“I agree,” Guido said, and the sound of a loud cheering section filled the room for a moment.

“I have a suggestion for the Mets, however,” Kelly chirped, like she was about to impart a decorating tip, which frankly, to Parker’s way of thinking, she ought to be doing.

“Oh yeah?” Guido asked, already laughing. “What’s that?”

“Get some giant cue cards that say something like ‘Hey, Parker, run this way and run now!’ ”

Guido howled.

Parker groaned, sank back into the pillows, and threw an arm over his eyes.

She did this every morning, using that sexy voice that she once used to lull him to sleep with the sports scores every night. But then they moved her to mornings with her own radio talk show, and dammit, he was convinced that if she’d just
stop,
he’d probably play like he used to. That woman had
jinxed
him. He was firmly convinced that his slump was
her
fault. Her constant ridicule was killing him, because every day she rubbed it in, the worse his slump got.

“Hey, let’s go to the phones and see what New York has to say about the worst Mets ball player in the last one hundred years!” she cried like a cheerleader with pom-poms. “Okay, we’ve got Paul from Jersey. Hello, Paul! You’re on the air at
Sports Day with Kelly O’Shay
. What’s up?”

“Yo, Kelly, I first want to say that I love your show,” a guy with a thick Jersey accent said.

“Thanks!”

“And second, I saw that base-running error in the seventh last night, and I gotta say, that was the sorriest excuse for baseball I have ever seen in my fifty-two years of following the Mets,” Paul shouted over the cheering section the show was playing behind him.

“Oh yeah, it was bad,” Kelly readily agreed.

“I mean, he looked like a damn freak. He can’t even
run
, you know what I’m saying? Dude,
I
could run faster than that, and I’m pushing three bills!”

“Paul, I hear
exactly
what you’re saying,” Kelly said.

“That piece of
bleep
ain’t worth no ten million!”

“No, he’s not worth ten million, so it’s like a
double
insult that
the Mets paid him
one hundred and ten million
,” Kelly gleefully corrected him.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s what I meant. One hundred ten million. It’s
bleep
obscene.”

“But, Paul . . . I know Parker Price is slow as Christmas, but frankly, I thought that was the most artistic steal I’ve ever seen.”

Parker uncovered his eyes and looked at the radio.

“Kelly, whaddaya saying?” Guido cried.

“I’m saying that attempted steal was poetry in motion. Beautifully executed,” she continued over Guido’s groans. “Really, if you think about it, the only thing missing?”

“Yeah?”

“A tutu and the final pirouette when he hit the bag.”

Guido and Paul with the Jersey accent howled with laughter along with the stadium of cheers as Parker shouted at the ceiling and sank deeper into the pillows. He had to
stop
it. He
had
to stop it.

“Hey, Guido, did we get our game count of how many balls disappeared in his magic glove last night?” Kelly asked, dragging up a little stunt they did sometimes, which was to count how many errors he’d made—and count them with a giant gong, which they seemed to think was hilarious. They never cut him any slack, never counted how many spectacular, leaping grabs he had. Oooh no. That was because Kelly O’Shay had it in for him.

“Let’s see, Guido, there was the line drive up the middle that nearly took his hat off, right?”

Parker didn’t hear the rest because he had grabbed the radio, yanked it from the wall, and hurled it across the room. It hit the wall and fell, cracking in the center. He sat up, swung his legs over the side of the bed, grabbed his phone, punched a number, stood up, and stalked across the room to pick up the pieces of the radio.

“Sportsdaywithkellyoshay,”
a young man answered rapidly.

“This is Parker Price, and I want to talk to Kelly,” he said gruffly as he dumped the radio into a trash can.

“Right, and I’m Tinkerbell,” the guy snorted.

Parker stilled. “Look, you little ass, I
am
Parker Price, and I want a word with Kelly O’Shay right this
minute
!”

“Hey, pal, you know how many goofs call every single day claiming to be someone? And like Parker Price would have the ’nads to call this show!” He snorted again. “Save it for your girlfriend, pal,” he said, and hung up before Parker could get another word out.

Parker yanked the receiver from his ear and stared at it. The kid had just hung up on him! With a roar, he hurled the phone onto his bed, but in the next instant, he pounced on it, punching in another number.

“Frank,” he said when the call was answered. “Did you hear the show this morning?”

“Still hearing it,” Frank, his agent, said jovially.

“It’s gotta stop. I can’t take that constant needling. She is single-handedly ruining my career.”

“Park, Park! Calm down, now! Why don’t you just listen to another station?” Frank asked as Parker padded into a massive walk-in closet.

“I can’t! You
know
I can’t! Frank, I have to
talk
to her. I have to explain baseball to her so she will stop jinxing me. You have to get me on that show.”

He could almost hear Frank gulp. “No, Park. That is not a good idea—”

“Did you hear anything I said?” Parker shouted as he reached for a box containing a new radio alarm from a stack of boxes that contained radios identical to the one he’d broken moments ago. And yesterday. And four days ago after the San Francisco game. “I’m telling you, Frankie, if she’d just back off, I’d start hitting again!”

“Listen to me, Parker,” Frank said, sounding a little frantic. “You are putting too much stock into what this chick says. She’s nobody! She’s just a morning trash jockey trying to keep her measly little share of the market! Look, look, look, take a walk, go
out with a girl, maybe take in a movie, something like that. But don’t let her get under your skin. She’s not worth it.”

“Frank,” Parker said, stuffing the box with the new radio under his arm. “I want on that show. If you don’t get me on that show, I will fire your ass and find an agent who will. Do you understand what I am saying?”

“You don’t mean that.”

“Like hell I don’t!” Parker roared into the phone so hard that he dropped the box with the radio.
“You get me on that damn show, or I will get an agent who will!”

“Fine, fine, fine,” Frank said. “I’ll call you later,” he said and clicked off.

Parker tossed his phone onto the bed, then stooped to pick up the box with the new radio alarm. Frank would get him on that show. He better. The whole season was riding on it.

CHAPTER
02

The guy Kelly O’Shay had hired to do her makeup stood back and looked at his handiwork and nodded. “Mm-
mmm
, girl, you
definitely
got it going on.”

“You did a great job,” Kelly said and grinned at her reflection. Her shoulder-length hair was actually a new, luminous shade of blond, thanks to the great salon she found on the corner of Broadway and 93rd. The makeup took five years off her face, and the simple black turtleneck she was wearing made her green eyes pop.

She looked good.

She looked like an ESPN talk show host.

Yes!
With any luck, after they had taped this fifteen-minute audition tape, she’d
be
an ESPN talk show host. The word was out that they were looking for a young new talent to do a new, humorous sports talk show. Kelly had practiced and practiced, called in a favor from a friend with access to a studio, and shelled out a good chunk of her savings for hair and makeup. But it was worth
it. She was so excited she could hardly sit still. “Let’s go,” she said, popping up from the chair. “I’m ready.”

She smoothed the skin-tight black pencil skirt she wore, and with a bright smile, she strode to the set she’d created, her high-heeled, knee-length black boots clicking authoritatively across the tiled floor.

She took her place behind the desk she and Chuck, the guy helping her make the tape, had set up, and spread her hands across the wood veneer as Chuck fit her with a microphone and then switched gears to being the light guy, adjusting those on her.

On the desk in front of Kelly was the script she’d written. The director—okay, Chuck again—had gone over it with her and told her where to look. And now he stepped in the shadows behind the camera, prepared to fill the role of cameraman. “Whenever you’re ready, Kelly,” he said.

BOOK: Hot Ticket
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