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Authors: Mike Reuther

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Mike Reuther - Return to Dead City

BOOK: Mike Reuther - Return to Dead City
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Mike Reuther - Return to Dead City
Mike Reuther
Mike Reuther (2011)
Tags:
Mystery:Thriller - P.I. - Baseball - Pennsylvania
Mystery:Thriller - P.I. - Baseball - Pennsylvaniattt
Only the drug pushers and scoundrels appear to thrive in Centre Town, Pennsylvania, home to the Class A baseball team Mets and childhood home of Cozzy Crager.
Crager and Centre Town are a perfect fit. Battling booze and his worst nightmares of years spent on the Albuquerque police force, he’s back in this decaying, crime-ridden town for the first time since he was a young man. Crager is barely settled into his gig as a detective when he gets an anonymous call of a murder.
Lance Miller, the Mets’ slugging star with a shadowy past, has been found dead in a downtown hotel. Lance’s time with the team had been brief, his relationship with teammates, lovers and others somewhat vague and mysterious.
And so Crager begins the task of following leads and ferreting out information, a job that takes him from the back alleys of the city to the halls of academia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return to Dead City

 

 

 

By

 

 

 

Mike Reuther

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright© 201
2
by Mike Reuther

 

ISBN-13: 978-1478366287

 

 

 

Return to Dead City
is a work of fiction. Though some actual towns, cities, and locations may be mentioned, they are used in a fictitious manner and the events and occurrences were invented in the mind and imagination of the author. Any similarities of characters or names used within to any person past, present, or future is coincidental.

 

 

All rights reserved
. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author. Brief quotations may be embodied in critical articles or reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

I didn’t know Lance Miller. To me, he was just another faceless ballplayer. And when he swaggered up to the plate for the Centre Town Mets that sweltering August afternoon, I was only vaguely aware that he was the hometown hero. I didn’t have a clue that he’d be the central figure in a case that would stymie me like a bad case of constipation. If I’d have known that I probably would have taken the first bus back to
Albuquerque. The Mets were in the toilet, mired in the second division of a third-rate minor league town. Until recently, Lance’s career had been in the toilet too. But a torrid hitting streak with a healthy dose of home runs had caught the attention of the big club and at thirty-three his dying hopes of reaching the major leagues had once again been revived.

Both of us had landed back in Centre Town that summer of 1992 through different circumstances. Centre Town looked to be Lance’s final stop in a career that had represented a dreary travel itinerary through some of America’s backwater towns. No club had been interested in his services back in May when he’d been cut loose once again by still another organization that had had its fill of his carousing and his unrealized potential.

It wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Upon graduating from high school and signing for a big bonus with the Yankees, the boys in New York with the big cigars had predicted a big career for Lance. This was a kid who would eclipse all the great hitting records, and by the time he was ready to hang up the spikes, be mentioned in reverential tones with other baseball gods such as Ruth and DiMaggio and Aaron. And hell. Why not
?
Lance had it all. He could run like a deer, and with his rifle arm, fire strikes to home plate from the far reaches of the outfield
,
and
of course,
hit homers that left everyone gaga. But except for a couple of cups of coffee with two different major league teams, his sixteen-year playing career had been stuck in third gear with long bus rides to minor league towns. Ironically enough, it looked like his playing days were going to end right here in Centre Town where it had all begun for the golden boy.

Like I said, I didn’t know Lance from the vendor hawking programs at the ball
park. People might have found that curious. After all, we’d both attended the same Catholic school, St. Mary’s over on Memorial Avenue. The same tough old nuns who’d skulled me with textbooks for mouthing off in class and sneaking smokes in the boys room had probably done a number on Lance as well. Beyond that, we’d grown up just a few blocks apart in the First Ward.

Besides the fact that I had a few years on Lance we might as well have been from
different planets. While Lance was off rewriting the sports record books at St. Mary’s and playing the role of the good jock, I was getting acquainted with a police ledger. That I would become a cop after an adolescence spent running from the police was nothing short of ironic. I won’t get into the details of my sorry youth. To make a long story short, I got caught one day stealing a car. A brief stint in reform school turned out to be miserable enough to set me straight. I refused to go back to school though, and at sixteen I ended up at the steel mill.

Then at twenty, I came to the cold realization that the union local couldn’t any longer keep any promises. So when the mill decided to lay off about
two hundred
of us, I packed a bag and walked out to the interstate with my thumb out. I landed in a shithole of a town in New Mexico with no prospects and five bucks in my pocket. Two mornings later, I was arrested for vagrancy after a couple of the town’s finest found me face-up on a sidewalk near the bus station. My only recollection of the previous night was passing a bottle of Thunderbird Red back and forth with a fat Indian. Rousing me from my drunken stupor, the cops brought me before a judge with the heart of a sociopath. The good judge took one look at my sorry ass, shook his head and declared me unfit for a jail cell. He brought down his gavel and sentenced me to fifty hours of community service.

It proved to be my best piece of luck. My service toward the betterment of that miserable and dusty little town amounted to cleaning out the courthouse, the city hall and the jail where I came under the watchful eye of a Sheriff Boney, who I learned, was the sole lawman in this sorry community. Taking a liking to me immediately for God only knows what reason, he offered me a part-time job on his force, handed me a badge, and dangled before me free room and board above his garage. I accepted on the spot.

In those first few months of work my job consisted of little else other than picking up drunken Indians from off the streets and drinking gallons of coffee. My big break came when I walked into the town’s single bank one day to foil a robbery. Had the bandit not been dumber than desert dung I might still be holed up in that crumby town. When I reached the glass doors marking the front entrance he had his back to me and two very nervous hands holding a .38 revolver on a teller. The rest was easy.
Drawing
my pistol and identifying myself as an officer of the law, I ordered the miscreant to drop the gun. Within moments, I had him in handcuffs and in one of Sheriff Boney’s cells down the street.

I felt like the Dirty Harry of the Southwest.

The local paper played it big, and a television station out of Albuquerque saw fit to give it some heavy play. The call from Albuquerque’s finest came soon after, and the next thing I knew I was being sworn in as a member of that city’s police department.

Things were a lot different in New Mexico’s only metropolis. Between drug dealers, illegal aliens and the occasional turf wars among rival Chicano gangs, I had my hands full. I worked the second shift mostly, keeping my nose clean while dodging the occasional bullets and other hazards of a city cop. My goal was to put in my twenty years and then get the hell out. Maybe buy a boat and head for the Gulf Coast.

But when a drug bust went awry, I turned in my badge and called it quits just two years short of my pension. Soon after, I ended up back in the confines of Centre Town where the sun is in shorter supply and the streets don’t bring with them heavy memories. Now, Lance and I and were both back in town

me with a fledgling detective agency and Lance as an aging ballplayer hoping to salvage what was left of a faltering career.

The Mets were a Double A team, two notches below the major league level. The club was staging a late-inning rally to keep the team
in town, or so it appeared

thanks to the heroics of Lance in recent weeks. Slowly, the team had crept out of last place and was edging out of the second division. It didn’t matter. Fans weren’t coming out in droves to see this team. And who could blame th
em? The ball
park was old and crumbling. Parking was bad. And no money was being spent to either upgrade the stadium or to promote the team. For five dollars a pop, Centre Towners could get more bangs for their buck at one of the town’s saloons. Even the presence of Lance on the team hadn’t brought any noticeable change to the team’s sagging box office. Hell. The team did nothing even to sell the fact that Lance was the hometown boy. Later, that would all make sense to me.

So there I was, trying my damnedes
t to get comfortable in my five dollar seat

the only seat around not bearing the heavy artillery of pigeon droppings

when Lance took a fastball for strike one. It was a hot, sweltering Saturday afternoon, and I was using a rolled-up program to fan myself a
nd to slap away the pesky gnats making aerial assaults on my arms and face. The entire two rows in front of me were empty. Most of the other seats closer to the action were vacant too, save for a cluster of seats where a family had taken up some room or a seat here and there occupied by some die-hard fan. On the bottom row at field level sat a couple of groupies. They weren’t hard to miss. Bikini bottoms and halter tops on young attractive flesh never are.

Lance gave the groupies and the rest of the few hundred fans something to cheer about on the next pitch. The pitcher threw up a curve that advertised itself like a porn flick playing on prime time television. A .220
-
hitting utility player couldn’t have missed it. And Lance sure as hell didn’t either. He got all of it, sending it high and far into the hazy August sky. The ball zipped through the air as if launched from a bazooka. It landed well beyond the other side of the left field fence, plinking off a sidewalk in one of the front yards of houses along Penn Avenue where a small gathering of kids awaiting with baseball gloves descended on the ball.

Lance took his time going around the bases as the crowd cheered. Most of his
teammates came out of the dugout and were moving toward home plate to meet him. I could see now that he was a big, strapping ballplayer, the sort of guy who probably took care of himself. He had a little smile on his face as he pointed his finger toward the box seats behind home plate.

I turned to see the recipient of his greeting. Standing there was a woman who would have made any man’s head turn. She was wearing a long yellow dress and her red hair was swept up on her head to better show off her swan-like neck and a necklace of sparkling stones that fell in a loop above some revealing cleavage. She was the goods all right. That was for damn sure. Her seat located smack up against the backstop screen was the first give-away that she was a woman of means. Even in minor league ball
parks, those seats are reserved for the rich, the important, the connected people. My first thought was that she had something to do with the operation of the ball club. Some women do their damnedest to hide their wealth, like that dumpy old lady with the little dog who runs the Cincinnati Reds. There she was, decked out a bit too good for a ball game and giving a little wiggle of her fingers back at Lance. She didn’t seem to be trying to fight the smile on her face either which didn’t seem to sit well with her ball
game companion.

He was a pudgy, bald, middle-aged man, squeezed into a coffee-colored tuxedo. He looked like one of those well-bred, uptight farts who’d gotten the privilege of either marrying or squiring around the beauty queen, thanks to some vast business empire. My guess was that he owned the team. He sat in a huff beside her with his arms crossed.

He said something. She said something back. He continued sitting there with his arms folded glaring out at the field. Finally, she leaned down, said something else to him, and started up the steps leading through the box seats. A few moments later, he got up as well and waddled after her.

I turned back to the game. The batter after Lance singled and the small crowd grew suddenly excited like fight fans watching their boy getting in a flurry of punches. Hell. They wanted blood. But the next two batters were strikeout victims
,
and the home team was resigned to entering the fourth inning behind 4-1. A smattering of boos followed. In a near empty ball
park, the biggest mouths are easy to hear. Some fat guy in a tank top was letting the team have it. He was on his feet, a meaty hand grasping a single cup of beer. “You’re all bums, ya hear me. All of ya. We should get our money back.” He was in the top row along the third base side, far from any remote danger of some player climbing into the stands with a baseball bat and pummeling him silly.

BOOK: Mike Reuther - Return to Dead City
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