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Authors: David Anthony

Something for Nothing (29 page)

BOOK: Something for Nothing
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“How about if you wait here,” Martin said. “I'll just be a minute. You can read your magazine.” He pointed down at the issue of
Sports Illustrated
Peter had brought along, and that was sitting on the seat next to him. It had just come in the mail a week or so before, and Peter was excited because it had a picture of Reggie Jackson on the cover. He was at the end of one of his trademark swings, legs and torso twisted with effort, and above him in big yellow letters it said
SUPERDUPERSTAR
.
No one else had a swing like that, Martin had told Peter. And it was true—the guy really was one of a kind.

“Why can't I come with you?” Peter said. “I'll be quiet.”

“Just wait here,” Martin said. He opened the door and got out of the car.

The house was just a box, basically, but with a little wing up above the garage, on the right. It was a small place. Martin could picture it—a tiny living room and kitchen, a couple of bedrooms, and a bathroom. And that was it.

The door opened before Martin was halfway up the drive, and a big white guy stepped outside. Or not so much big as wide—thick arms and shoulders, big thighs. He had short dark hair, boots, and a black T-shirt with the words
Lynyrd Skynyrd
on it. Martin knew this was a rock band. Ludwig had mentioned them, said they were good. Maybe the two of them got together and listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd records. Maybe they lay on the floor and looked at the album covers and sang the lyrics.

“Can I help you?” The guy stepped over one of the kids' bikes and stopped at the top of the driveway.

“Hi,” Martin said. He gave a little wave, but he stopped where he was, halfway up the driveway. “I'm Martin . . . Michael Ludwig's friend. I'm here for the A's tickets. For the game on the eighth.”

Martin expected his mention of Ludwig's name to break the ice. Okay, yeah, sure—no problem. Come on in, let me get them. But the guy just stood there. No look of recognition or acknowledgment.

“The A's tickets,” he said. Flat—a statement. Not a question.

Martin looked at him. He was pretty sure he had the right place. But maybe not, which would explain why this guy was acting kind of strangely.

“You know,” Martin said, taking a step backward. “I think I might have the wrong house. I'm looking for a guy named George Maddox. Do you maybe know if he lives somewhere along this street?” He looked over at the house next door, to the right, and then back at the house
on the left. Then he glanced back at Peter in the Cadillac. He was still sitting in the front seat, looking out at them.

The guy watched Martin for a second, not really doing anything. Thick arms and hands still hanging at his sides.

“You've got the right place,” the guy said, finally. He had bushy eyebrows (to go with his thick body), and he raised them just a little bit and nodded. “I'm George.”

“Oh,” Martin said. He'd been about to take another step backward and then turn around and walk away. “Okay, well—”

“You were going to come by a few days ago, right?” the guy asked. He cocked his head just a little bit, and folded them across his big chest, covering up the Lynyrd Skynyrd insignia.

“Uh, yeah . . . I guess so,” Martin said. “But I've just been really busy. This is actually the first chance I've had to come by. And I would have called, you know, but I didn't have a number and so . . . I don't know.” He gave the guy what he hoped was a friendly expression of helplessness, hands out and hands palms upward. But then he had a flash of anxiety.

“Do you still have them?” he asked. “The tickets? You haven't sold them, have you?”

The guy raised his eyebrows again. “Oh, I still have them,” he said. “In fact, I've actually got them right here.”

He unfolded his arms, reached back, and pulled out his wallet. Martin noticed that it was connected to a belt loop by one of those little chain things. Jesus, he thought. How does Ludwig know this guy?

But even as he thought this, he was distracted by the green, gold, and white of the tickets as they emerged from the guy's wallet. Yes, he thought. Jackpot. Touchdown. Something had actually worked out.

“Hey,” Martin said, pointing at the tickets and taking a couple of steps forward. “Look at that. There they are. Great.” He looked at the guy and smiled. The guy nodded. Then he smiled—a real smile—and Martin saw to his surprise that he had beautiful teeth, and a handsome smile.

“July eighth, at seven-thirty-five,” the guy said, reading the heading
of the ticket out loud to Martin. “Oakland A's versus Cleveland Indians.” He held the tickets in his left hand and put his wallet back into his back pocket with his right. Martin watched as the chain swung around with the wallet. Then he held the tickets up so that Martin could see them clearly, and waved them a tiny bit. He was still smiling.

Martin took a quick glance over his shoulder, back at Peter in the Cadillac. He'd seen the tickets, too—he was bouncing up and down in the front seat, and when he saw Martin look at him, he gave him a thumbs-up sign. It was something Martin told him pilots started doing in World War II, and Peter had picked up on it, did it all the time. Martin was tempted to return the gesture but resisted, in case it distracted Maddox somehow.

Martin reached back for his own wallet. He'd put $120 in there for this specific transaction—six crisp new $20 bills.

“Okay,” he said. “So Ludwig said that you said eighty dollars, right? For the two? I've gotta admit that I think that's pretty steep, but okay. So—”

“Well,” the guy said, interrupting him again. “That's right. That's what I told Michael last week.” The guy glanced over at Peter, in the Cadillac, and then at Martin. His gaze drifted down to Martin's shiny alligator shoes. Then he folded his arms again, so that the tickets were tucked away under his left armpit and behind his shoulder.

“That's what you told him last week?” Martin asked. He didn't like where this was going. He stood there with his wallet in his hand, ready to open it, but waiting.

The guy nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “But, like I said, I thought you were going to come by here over the weekend. That was the plan, Ludwig said. So in fact, I waited all day for you on Saturday.” He shrugged. “I had some stuff to do over in Oakland, but I didn't want to miss you, and so I sat here in my garage, working on my bike all day long, waiting for you to show up. My wife was pretty pissed off, actually,” he said, gesturing toward his house with a thumb-over-the-shoulder movement.

Martin followed the trajectory of Maddox's thumb toward the
house. He half expected to see the guy's wife standing there in the window, scowling at him. She wasn't there. But—worse, almost—Martin saw that one of Maddox's kids
was
standing in the living room window, watching him. It was a little girl. She looked like she was about six, and he was pretty sure that she belonged to one of the bikes lying on the ground next to Maddox. She'd pushed the curtains aside, and there she was, watching. He didn't know how long she'd been there. Like her dad, she had dark hair, and—at least from his angle—she looked a little creepy. Someone had cut a straight line of bangs across her forehead, and she was wearing a white nightgown even though it was the middle of the day.

Martin looked back at Maddox. Okay, he thought. I get it. He wants a little extra cash for the hassle.

“All right,” he said. “Look, I'm sorry I made you wait around for me. I didn't know you were going to be stuck here. I mean, I wish I'd just gotten your phone number from Ludwig—from Michael. But yeah, I'm sorry.” (Though by the way, he thought, have you ever heard of leaving a note? If you leave a note, then you don't need to wait around. People know you're coming back, because you told them so in your note.)

He paused, looking at the guy, waiting for him to respond. But nothing happened. Just more standing there. This guy is a weirdo, Martin thought—then wondered for a brief, scared second if he'd actually said it out loud. It wouldn't have been the first time recently that he'd spoken the thing he'd been thinking. It was as if his private, inside-my-head voice was getting cocky and starting to assert itself by leaping out into public conversation. But he saw from the guy's blank expression that this wasn't one of those times.

“So,” Martin said. “It sounds like you're saying that they cost more now, or something. But I gotta say, eighty dollars is a lot of money as it is.”

Now the guy nodded, did the whole raised-eyebrows thing again.

“Well,” the guy said. “I mean, I'm not a big baseball fan, necessarily. I actually got these tickets from my father-in-law. He got them from
someone who didn't want them, and . . . whatever . . . now I've got them.” Martin wasn't sure what he was supposed to say. He was pretty sure the guy wasn't done talking, though.

“But, well, yeah, I've been reading about the game,” the guy said. He raised himself up on the balls of his feet and then let himself down again. Martin could tell that it was a nervous gesture, probably one he wasn't aware of, and one he'd been falling back on his whole life. “I've also been listening about it on the radio,” he said. “The whole Gaylord Perry thing. You know. And I'm pretty sure I could have sold these tickets a couple of days ago for the price I quoted to Michael. But now . . . I mean, people have been going kind of crazy. There just aren't any tickets. Every single seat is gonna be filled. And, you know, usually, hardly anyone goes to A's games—which is kind of fucked up, if you think about it, because they're so good. I mean, they're the world champs, right? But they'll play the Royals or the White Sox, and it's a big deal if they get ten thousand people.”

He paused and looked at Martin like he was expecting some sort of response. But Martin didn't know how to respond.

“Okay,” Martin said. “So I guess you're saying that you want to raise the price a little bit.” He was starting to feel like this guy was more than just weird. He actually seemed like he was a bit of a nut job. Maybe Ludwig liked this quality in people, the whole I'm-a-nut-job-from-Berkeley thing. He was dating Jenny, after all.

The guy rose up on his toes again, let himself back down.

“Well,” he said. “After you didn't show up over the weekend, I thought that an extra hundred dollars was fair. You know, for me waiting around and everything.” He gave Martin a look suggesting that this was the most reasonable thing in the world.

Martin was mesmerized. Was this guy for real?

The guy cleared his throat. “But then you didn't come on Monday, either. I mean, I thought that when you didn't make it by Sunday, that you'd try to get here on Monday. So I waited again on Monday. And then again on Tuesday. I was in and out, but yeah, a lot of waiting.”

Martin was about to say something, but then he realized that Peter was standing there next to him. It was like he'd just materialized out of thin air. One minute he was sitting in the Caddy, the next he was standing there next to Martin, a worried look on his face. Jesus Christ, Martin thought.

“So,” Maddox said, glancing down at Peter and hurrying a little bit now. “I'm thinking the original eighty, plus a hundred for the weekend, plus fifty for Monday and fifty for Tuesday. So fifty bucks for each extra day. That makes two eighty. That's what I want—two hundred and eighty dollars.”

Martin looked at the guy, then looked over at the window. The little girl was still there, but she'd been joined now by her sister, or a little girl who must have been her sister. She had the same weirdly haunted appearance, though instead of bangs she had two long pigtails, one draped over each shoulder. She was a little taller, probably a year or so older than her sister. She was obviously the owner of the other bicycle lying at Maddox's feet. He looked down at Peter: he was eyeing Maddox, but he'd noticed the girls, too. Martin wondered what Peter thought of them—if he was going to have nightmares about the strange, pale girls he'd seen staring out the window at him in Berkeley.

Martin zoomed outward in his mind's eye, trying to take in the whole picture. Some shit-bird working-class white guy living below San Pablo in Berkeley, trying to get by. Kind of an ass, but maybe not such a bad guy. Ludwig seemed to like him, at least. Probably a carpenter of some sort. No, a machine-shop guy. A welder, maybe. Whatever he was, he obviously needed the money. His house was probably a stretch for him, even though it was a shoebox. And with two kids . . . forget it, he'd never get ahead. But he figured a guy like Martin had money to burn. Why else would he show up ready to pay eighty bucks for a single baseball game?

But come on. Seriously—who out there was going to pay $280 for two tickets to this game? Martin knew he could put an ad out on both KCBS and KNBR for the tickets, and at that price no one in the whole
Bay Area would take him up on it. Not even Gaylord Perry's parents. Martin figured he could prowl around the Coliseum for half an hour and get tickets for a lot less. One fifty, tops. It was a risk, but come on. Fucking $280?

“Listen,” he said finally. “Two hundred and eighty dollars is a lot of money for a baseball game. I mean, even for a playoff game or a World Series game, that would be some serious cash. But I know I put you out over the weekend. So here's my offer. I'll give you a hundred and twenty for the tickets. Sixty each. Right now. Take it or leave it.”

Martin glanced at Peter again, saw the panic in his eyes, then looked at Maddox—locked eyes with him for a second. Then he pulled out his wallet, and took out six twenties. When he looked back up he saw that Maddox's eyes had lit up at the sight of the money. And then Maddox stepped toward him, and handed him the tickets. Martin took them with his left hand, and gave him his $120 with his right.

And that was it. Maddox was heading back into his house before Martin could even say thanks. But he saw over Maddox's shoulder that he was holding the money up and showing it to someone. At first Martin thought he was showing it to his daughters, which struck him as a little strange (“Look what Daddy got, kids!”). But then he saw that he was showing the money to his wife. She was peeking out the window over the top of the girls. It was hard to see, but Martin could see that she was smiling and holding her fists up in a kind of cheering posture. She was excited—they'd taken that guy for a ride, she was thinking. And, Martin thought, she was pretty much right. But she was in for a surprise, because her husband wasn't going to show her the $280 she'd been hoping for. He'd caved in at the sight of the money and gotten less than half of that. She was going to be pissed off. He could just hear it. Why did you give in so fast? You should have bargained harder. He would've paid. Did you see that guy? Isn't he your friend's boss? Isn't he rich? Jesus, George.

BOOK: Something for Nothing
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