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Authors: Alison Gordon

Striking Out

BOOK: Striking Out
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STRIKING OUT
A Kate Henry Mystery
Alison Gordon
Dedication

For Lois and Fee, with love.

Chapter 1

The players walked out at 11:59 on the second Friday in August, turning the diamonds to dust and dreams to ashes for all the hard-working people who put their dollars down at ticket windows across North America. All the fans ask for back is a bit of summertime diversion, some vicarious winning or losing and a place in the tradition that holds baseball together, in the stands as well as on the field.

But the boneheads in the executive offices and the greedheads in the stirrup socks had other plans. They took their bats and balls and went home, locked up the diamonds, and left the rest of us without a hub to turn our summer around. Not to mention leaving me, Kate Henry, a baseball writer without a beat.

I had been on the road for a couple of weeks and had taken the day off, so I got the news on the phone from my friend Jeff Glebe, who’d covered for me at the game. I wasn’t surprised. There had been no signs of movement on either side for weeks.

I hung up the phone and went back to the kitchen table, where Sally Parkes, my downstairs tenant and best friend, and Andy Munro, my significant whatsit, were into the evening’s third bottle of rosé and arguing about the police. Andy, being a homicide detective, was on the defensive. I tipped Elwy, the ancient fat black-and-white tom cat, out of my chair and rejoined them at the table. They didn’t even notice I was back.

At issue this time was a demonstration earlier that day in front of police headquarters on College Street downtown. The Committee Against Racist Policing—an unfortunate acronym—were protesting the shooting of Dwight Hughson, a fifteen-year-old black honour student who was hanging with the wrong crowd.

“What is it with you guys?” Sally was saying. “Do you think everybody with black skin is automatically a criminal? Are those cops that stupid?”

“Sally, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Andy said, uncharacteristically angry. “You’ve never been on the street. You’ve never had to deal with some strung-out punk waving a gun. Sweet reason doesn’t work.”

“Come on, Andy, this wasn’t a punk,” Sally said. “This kid’s only crime was being a passenger in a car the cops pulled over because the kids in it were black.”

“A stolen car,” Andy said.

“They only found that out after.”

“They pulled the car over because, first, it was going eighty in a forty-click zone and, second, because the driver looked under age.”

“And because the six boys in the car were black,” Sally insisted.

“They ran the licence, they found the car was stolen,” Andy continued.

“And car theft is punishable by death?” Sally shouted, putting her glass down so hard the wine splashed on the table.

“I’m just saying that you have to try to see this from our point of view,” Andy said, calmly. “The situation was tense. It was dark. The officer thought the suspect was going for a gun.”

“How can you defend those cops, Andy?” Sally asked, showing the wine in the flush on her cheeks and the intensity of her argument. “You know what they did was wrong. My God, in this country we don’t even have capital punishment for convicted serial killers. But some twenty-two-year-old with a badge who thinks all black people are guilty of something can just execute a child for joyriding? Your motto is ‘To Serve and Protect,’ right? Who was that cop serving? More to the point, who was he protecting?”

“There’s an investigation going on,” Andy said. “Can’t we wait for their report to come down before we start throwing around charges?”

“Oh, yeah. Great! A
police
investigation into racist cops,” Sally said, reaching for the wine bottle.

“The police, and the Special Investigations Unit,” Andy said. “Which, I don’t have to remind you, is an independent organization that takes great delight in trashing the police force. Who would you have doing it? The Coalition Against Racist Policing? I’ll have some more of that, too.”

He pushed his glass towards her. She poured. The tension dropped. Sally and Andy are very fond of each other, after all.

“I don’t know,” Sally admitted. “But it stinks. The people at CARP are angry and upset, and I don’t blame them.”

“I don’t either,” Andy said. “I’m upset too. And, by the way, so are a lot of the people I work with.”

“I didn’t mean to imply that you’re like those other guys.”

“They might not be as different from me as you’d like to think,” Andy said. “Most of them are decent people. But sometimes they panic, too.”

“It just seems that every time there’s a mistake, or panic, it’s black people who suffer. It’s black people who die, people who don’t deserve to die. My God, Dwight Hughson was the pride of his family.”

“So was Bill Cooper,” Andy said.

“Who?”

“The officer who shot him,” Andy said. “You don’t think he’s suffering?”

“It’s just a tragedy all around,” I said.

“Madam diplomat,” Sally said, raising her glass.

I just smiled. With Sally around, I never need to confront Andy directly about his job. She does it for me.

“Who was on the phone?” Andy asked.

“Jeff. The strike is on. Talks start Monday in New York.”

“Bingo,” Sally said. “You win an all-expenses-paid trip to fabulous New York, the city that never sleeps. Do you need an assistant to carry your briefcase? I’ll take a week off work.”

“I’m not going, of course,” I said.

“Why not?” Andy said.

“They can send someone from the business section. Or the labour beat. This has nothing to do with baseball.”

“But it’s a trip to New York,” Sally said. “The theatres, the restaurants, the shopping. On an expense account.”

“Wrong. On a tiny expense account, which doesn’t cover the price of Broadway tickets or fancy restaurants. I’ll spend all my time in a depressing media room at whatever hotel they’re holding the talks, held captive with dozens of other sportswriters, most of them men, drinking endless cups of bad coffee and smoking too many cigarettes while we wait for representatives to come out and lie to us. Besides, the whole thing just makes me cranky.”

“Thanks for the scoop,” Andy said. “We’d have never figured that one out for ourselves.”

“It’s a stupid strike, and completely unnecessary. It’s all stupid macho posturing. They’ve got testosterone overload on both sides. That’s the drug that should really be banned in sports.”

Andy leaned over to look under the table.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Looking for your soapbox,” he said, head still under the table.

“Well, I may be ranting, but I’m right, as usual. It’s the same in your business. Too much testosterone.”

Andy got up and began clearing the table.

“I’m going to bed before she gets out her nail scissors.”

“It just makes me so damn mad,” I said. “The only people who are really going to suffer are the fans. Who’s thinking of them?”

“T.C.’s sure going to be upset,” Sally said. Her son, who is about to turn thirteen, devotes most waking hours to baseball, playing it, watching it, or talking about it, endlessly, to anyone with ears.

“So am I,” I said. “So are the forty thousand fans who have tickets for each of the cancelled games. So are the ushers who will be laid off, and the hot dog vendors outside the park, and the busker who plays the bagpipes for people on the way in. So will the scalpers, for that matter, but on them, it looks good.”

“I think I can hear a column coming on,” Sally laughed.

“And knowing her, she’ll write it tonight, until about three,” Andy said. He leaned over and kissed Sally on the cheek, then me.

“Don’t wake me when you come to bed,” he said.

“Sleep well, Andy,” Sally said. “Sorry for giving you a hard time.”

He shrugged.

“I’m used to it with you two.”

“Hey, I didn’t say a word,” I called.

“You didn’t have to,” he said, on his way down the hall.

Chapter 2

Andy was wrong. It only took me until two in the morning to write my strike column. I didn’t wake him when I came to bed, but he showed no such consideration in the morning. He had me up and on the way to the St. Lawrence Market by 9:00, grumbling all the way.

Andy is what is known as a morning person. I’m not. Most days, it doesn’t matter, because he’s showered, shaved, dressed, and is on his way out the door by the time I get up. But on weekend mornings, the lark and the owl clash something fierce.

The market was crowded. I stumbled along in Andy’s wake, still half-asleep, trying to avoid being bumped by shopping baskets or run over by kiddy strollers. And it seemed like half the people there were baseball fans who recognized me from the teensy head-and-shoulders shot the
Planet
occasionally runs with my column. They kept stopping me to ask for some sort of reassurance or to vent rage at the owners, the players, or both.

“They’re grieving,” I explained to Andy while we stood and grazed some goat cheese at the Woolrich Dairy stand. “They’ve had their summer stolen from them. I think it’s sad.”

“I think they should get a life,” Andy said. He is a hockey guy. “Do you want garlic or hot pepper on the cheese?”

“One of each,” I said.

We cruised the north market, which was heaped with produce: new potatoes with transparent skins; bundles of pungent herbs; bursting cloves of garlic with a blush of purple; peppers, shiny red, green, and yellow. There were both brown and white eggs stacked in crates, delectable pies, jars of jams and jellies in jewel tones; tempting sausages—pork with garlic, lamb with mint, tinted with flaming spices; earnest breads in multi-grain loaves; free-range chicken corpses; perennials in pots. By the time we’d filled our shopping bags, the sights and smells and sounds of the morning had smoothed out all my crankiness.

“Want to split a bacon-on-a-bun?” I asked Andy.

“No, I want a whole one for myself,” he said. “Let’s go.”

We went out the big doors at the south end of the building and crossed Front Street, which is closed to traffic on Saturday mornings. There were jugglers for the children, craft stands, and masses of flowers for sale. A Chilean band was at its usual spot outside the south market, and a bunch of people with leaflets. I took one automatically, glanced at it, and wished I hadn’t.

It was from CARP, announcing another rally to be held at police headquarters on Sunday. There was a school picture of Dwight Hughson and a poignant quote from his mother. I folded it quickly and put it in my pocket.

“What’s that?” Andy asked.

“Nothing. Let’s go eat,” I said, heading towards the west aisle.

We stood in line for crispy back bacon on kaiser rolls, doctored them with sweet mustard and mayo, then went and stood on the terrace looking down at Market Street while we ate them.

“Heaven,” I said, around a full mouth. “This is what I miss most when I’m on the road.”

“Thanks,” he said, one eyebrow raised.

“Other than you. And Elwy. This is what I miss in edible commodities. Other than you.”

Andy reached over and wiped a smear of mustard off my cheek with his napkin.

“What do you want to do tonight? Have we got any plans?”

“Not a one,” I said. “I’m in your hands.”

“We could rent some videos.”

“If that’s the best you can come up with.”

“What did you have in mind?” Andy laughed. “The opera?”

“No, I guess not. It’s just that we’re getting so boring and predictable we might as well be married.”

“Is that a proposal?”

“Not on your life.”

“Just asking. I was hoping you were going to make an honest man out of me.”

“I like you better crooked.”

“Bent, is more like it.”

He picked up the bags.

“Ready to go?”

I threw my sandwich wrapper into the trash can and followed him. On the way to the car, I stopped to spend a loonie on
The Outrider,
a paper published and sold by the homeless. It’s not very good, but the idea is worth supporting. The guy who sold it to me told me to have a nice day.

My own awareness of the homeless has increased in recent months, since one of them moved in down the laneway behind our house, through an informal arrangement with one of our neighbours. Her name is Maggie. T.C., Sally’s son, knows her better than I do. He and his friends make a point of watching out for her. Their chivalry is appealing.

“If you don’t want to rent a video, we can do something else,” Andy said. “We can go out to dinner.”

“Why bother? We’ve just bought all this good stuff to eat.”

“True.”

“But I get to help choose. None of your guy flicks.”

“I watched them all last week when you were in Kansas City,” he said. “T.C. and I had an Arnold Schwarzenegger festival.”

“Better him than me.”

“But I’m not going to watch old musicals all night.”

“We’ll get something we both like,” I said. “
I Left My Heart at the OK Corral
.
Or
The Dirty Dozen Go Dancing
.”

BOOK: Striking Out
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