- About the Book
- About the Author
- Title Page
- Copyright Page
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Chapter 29
- Chapter 30
- Chapter 31
- Chapter 32
- Chapter 33
- Looking for more suspense?
- Begin Reading
About the Book
Now a private investigator, Blissberg scours locker rooms and back alleys for two missing basketball stars.
After retiring from baseball, Harvey Blissberg hung out a shingle in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as a private detective with a taste for the less savory side of sports. When key players from the Boston Celtics and the Washington Bullets go AWOL, Blissberg quickly becomes the two teams’ number-one draft choice to find them. What can a born-again black forward and a white point guard whose nickname is “Toot ’n’ Shoot” have in common?
When both of the missing players turn up dead, Harvey searches desperately for the link between them. The hunt leads him back to the city he thought he’d left behind - Providence, Rhode Island - and an unholy deal struck years ago between two of the city’s most powerful figures. If he doesn’t work quickly, Blissberg may be stuck holding the ball when the final buzzer sounds.
About the Author
R. D. Rosen’s career as a writer has spanned mystery novels, narrative nonfiction, humor books, and television. Strike Three You’re Dead, the first in Rosen’s series featuring major league baseball player Harvey Blissberg, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel in 1985. Blissberg’s adventures continued in four sequels, including Fadeaway and Saturday Night Dead, which drew on Rosen’s stint as a writer for “Saturday Night Live.”
A Harvey Blissberg Mystery
R. D. Rosen
To my mother and father
ALTHOUGH THIS NOVEL IS set in Boston and Providence, none of its characters represents or is based upon persons living there, or indeed anywhere. With the exception of matters of public record and public figures mentioned incidentally, all events and characters are products of the author’s imagination. None of the characters is based upon any actual player or employee of the basketball teams named in this book.
IN THE BEGINNING OF February, four months after announcing his retirement from major-league baseball, Harvey Blissberg found himself in the thirty-second-floor midtown Manhattan office of a young agent—toothy, trim, preoccupied—who handled athlete endorsement contracts. Harvey couldn’t quite say what had possessed a man who never even talked to sportswriters suddenly to entertain the idea of addressing millions on behalf of household products.
“What team did you say you played for?” the agent said.
This was a bad sign. “Five years with Boston, one with the Providence Jewels.”
“The who?” He plucked an M&M Peanut from a ceramic bowl on his desk.
“Providence Jewels,” Harvey said. “The expansion team.”
“I see,” the agent said. He placed both feet on his desk and admired his Italian saddle shoes. Behind him, the shelves were filled with framed magazine and newspaper advertisements featuring players Harvey knew. They were dressed in nicely pressed underpants, held cans of something or other in front of their faces. In one of the ads, a ballplayer who was widely known among American League personnel to consider anything less potent than Wild Turkey to be a soft drink peeked coquettishly from behind a can of low-calorie beer. “What did you have in mind?” the agent said.
“I had an idea I could make a little money doing endorsements.”
“My clients don’t make a little money; they make a lot.”
“Well, it’s not so much the money as—as having a new career.”
“But nobody knows who you are.”
“Excuse me?” Harvey had been busy devising an elaborate rationalization for this new career, one that might safely pass the lovely Mickey Slavin’s puritanical inspection.
“I said nobody knows who you are.”
Something sizzled in the circuitry of Harvey’s reptile brain. He’d had this same unpleasant sensation a couple of years before on being informed that the Boston Red Sox were banishing him to Providence. When the neurological event passed, Harvey inhaled deeply and said with great false calm, “I don’t know if I’d say that nobody knows who I am. If you give me a moment, I’ll come up with a few names.”
“Nobody I know knows who you are.”
“All right, I may not be a Reggie Jackson,” he began, “but…” His voice withered.
The agent offered Harvey a patronizing smile, then the bowl of M&M’s Peanuts. “If you don’t mind, leave me the yellows—they’re my favorite.”
“They’re all yours.”
“Look, I know who you are. I saw you play a couple of times at Yankee Stadium. Wonderful ballplayer in your time, Harvey.”
“In my time?” Harvey erupted. “I just retired a few months ago! After the best year of my career.”
“Certainly. But does this mean that you can sell insect repellent? You’re just not a household name, guy.” The agent crunched a yellow M&M between his molars. “I hate to say it, but I don’t think you’re much of a name even in condominiums.” He chuckled moronically at his joke.
Harvey stood up. “I don’t think you’re the agent I’m looking for.”
“Sit down.” For some reason, Harvey did. “The agent you’re looking for doesn’t exist. Look, let’s say you were a Johnny Hazelwood—”
“Hazelwood! What’re you talking about? I’ve got a higher lifetime batting average than Johnny Hazelwood. I won the Gold Glove, which is not something he can say. I came in—”
“Hazelwood plays in New York.” He spoke patiently, rotating another yellow M&M between thumb and forefinger. “You played in Providence, for God’s sake. Bubkesville.”
“Oh, I get it,” Harvey said.
“Of course you do. Look, I can’t get you a national endorsement contract, and that’s all there is to it. But”—he pointed double-barreled index fingers at Harvey—“a face like yours has options.”
“Forget it,” Harvey said.
“I’m thinking of soap operas.”
“Well, I’m not.”
“You know, I like this face. It’s the face of a young doctor, a young lawyer, an unfaithful lover, maybe the one who’s sleeping with his girlfriend’s sister. How old are you?”
“You could say you’re twenty-seven.”
“But I’m thirty-one.”
“That’s what you say; but your face says twenty-seven. Harvey, the more I look at you, the more I get ideas.”
Harvey stood and started for the door. The agent rose to follow him. “The soaps, I’m talking. In fact, CBS is casting this week. Now that’s the way to become a household name. Are you listening?”
Harvey walked down the agency’s long hall.
“The soaps,” the agent called after him. “NBC’s got a new one in development. And there’s a baseball movie shooting right now in South Carolina and they’ve got parts for ballplayers. Sign with me and I’ll sell you as a baseball consultant…”
“Good-bye,” Harvey said over his shoulder. “And thank you.”
“… for this made-for about a young Soviet refusenik who gets an exit visa, comes to this country, learns how to play baseball, and makes the majors….”
HARVEY UNSCREWED THE CAP on the blue jar of Vicks VapoRub, dipped his pinkie into the jelly, and anointed each nostril. The vapors rose rapidly into his brain; Harvey could not imagine that a bigger kick was to be had from cocaine.
From the office’s lone window, he caught a sliver of Mount Auburn Street. Harvard Square was slushy with undergraduates. A thick pane of ten years, all of them spent in a baseball uniform, separated him from the world of college students trudging to their somber classes and cute ethnic bistros. Harvey judged the odds of throwing a late-February snowball, scooped from his windowsill, into the air and hitting a Harvard comp. lit. major to be about five to one in his favor. Congestion, he thought, was the better part of Harvard Square’s squalor. He leaned back in his chair, eyes closed, and inhaled a cloud of menthol.
He heard the door of his office open, releasing the sound of squealing videotape being played fast forward in one of the editing suites down the hall. His search for cheap space the month before had landed him in a third-story warren of offices otherwise occupied by independent film producers and editors. One of these officemates, Gary Greschak, was addressing him from the doorway.
Harvey opened his eyes. “Coming along.” One arm shot out spasmodically toward a blank legal pad on his desk.
Greschak smiled benignly. “Can’t wait for it to come to you, you know.”
“I’ll definitely keep that in mind.” Harvey in fact could wait for it to come to him; that is what he had been doing for several weeks despite the classified he had taken in the Boston Globe.
“Just a friendly piece of advice from an independent filmmaker to an independent investigator,” Greschak said.
“And, as you know, it’s much appreciated.”
“No pain, no gain.”
“I believe I get the picture, Gary.”
“Chance favors a prepared mind, not to mention that there’s no time like the present. By the way, there’s a call for you on line three.”
“A call?” The third light on his phone was indeed pulsing.
“For you,” Greschak said. “It’s one of those things where somebody’s trying to get hold of you by telephone.” He closed Harvey’s door with a fatuous wink.
Harvey punched the third button and said, “Harvey Blissberg.”
“Please hold for Mr. Goody,” a woman replied.
Goody… Goody. That would have to be Goody of the Todd Goody variety. Fraternity brother at the University of Massachusetts a dozen years ago. Chiefly remembered for an ingenious apparatus he designed in his junior year which, when strapped to his back under his sports jacket, allowed him to dispense draft beer at frat parties through a hose that ran down his sleeve. After graduating, Goody had entered sports management, undergone a general sobering of character, and risen to the position of assistant general manager of the Boston Celtics. During Harvey’s five years as center fielder with the Boston Red Sox, their paths had crossed at sports banquets and charity dinners.
“Well, well,” Goody’s voice burst on the line. “How are you?”
Harvey pictured Todd’s fat, boisterous face. “Fine, Todd. You?”
“I could be better. As it happens, I’ve got a little problem, Harvey.”
“This isn’t a social call?”
“I’m steering you a little business. You know who Tyrone Terrell is, don’t you?”
“I’m not that out of it,” Harvey said. Tyrone Terrell was one of the five reasons, along with the rest of the Celtics’ starting lineup, that Boston was six games up on Philadelphia.
“I thought he went home, had an illness in the family.”
“That’s what you read in the papers yesterday.”
“True,” Harvey said. The Sunday Globe had explained why Terrell had missed yesterday’s game against the Knicks in New York. His aunt was sick.
“False,” Goody said. “It’s what we fed the press. As far as we know, all of Tyrone’s relatives are in perfect health.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“Look, Harvey, Terrell disappeared at Logan Airport on Saturday afternoon. The team was waiting to board the Eastern shuttle to New York for the game yesterday. Tyrone was there. Then he wasn’t there.”
“One of the players was with him at a magazine rack at the newsstand. But he left Tyrone there, to return to the gate. Tyrone never showed for the flight. We had to leave without him, and we haven’t heard from him since.”
“Are the cops looking?”
“Now they are. They found a guy who works at the newsstand at the Eastern terminal, a basketball fan. He said he thought he saw Tyrone walk off with a bearded man. A bearded man in a short leather jacket. And that’s all he remembered. But we haven’t officially reported him missing yet, and we hope we won’t have to.”
Harvey doodled a basketball rim and net on his legal pad. “Has Terrell ever pulled anything like this before?”
“No. Late for practice once in a while, but we’re not dealing with a major discipline problem here. His first couple of years with us, he was prone to, shall we say, episodes of oversleeping, but he straightened out. Tyrone’s been in the league for six years now. He’s a grownup.”
“Have you checked with his family?” Harvey asked.
“He’s not married. We did call his mother in Connecticut and she hadn’t heard from him. Now we’ve got her worried too. But we don’t want to worry anybody else.”
“What do you need me for?”
“Spend a little quality time looking into this and see where it goes. And keep it away from the media. Weren’t you always pretty good at that, Harvey—avoiding the media?”
Yes, he was. For six years in the majors, he had repelled sportswriters’ efforts to cast him in the collective fantasy life of the American baseball public. For six years, he had uttered “No comment” on the average of twice a day. For six years, he had behaved toward the press as if he would rather have been doing exactly what he had been doing for the past month: sitting quietly in a rented office, nursing big, cheap emotions. Lately he had been obsessed with the question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” He had come across it in a philosophy course in college, and it had stuck. The question, he thought, had great merit. Maybe one of the graduate students down on Mount Auburn Street knew the answer. He didn’t.
“Let me think about this,” Harvey told Goody as he sketched in a backboard.
“Harvey, don’t tell me you’re booked up.”
Harvey consulted his desk calendar. The only obligation he had incurred for the week was to take his camera in for servicing. “No, Todd, you can be squeezed in.”
“We’ve never had to hire a, uh, private investigator before.” Goody said “private investigator” as if he were holding the phrase at arm’s length. “I figure we can pay you three bills a day.”
The mention of a figure roused Harvey slightly. It was not the money itself. He had the spending habits of an Amish; between his pension and what he had saved from his big-league salary, he could cruise for a few years. No, what stirred him was the prospect of a game, any game.
“I’m sorry, Todd—what’d you say?”
“I said three bills a day. Now I know it’s probably not much, compared to what you used to make.”
“Hey.” Harvey laughed. “No one told me I had a right to that kind of dough for the rest of my life.”
Goody laughed as well. “You can say that again.”
“Make it three-fifty,” Harvey said.
Goody breathed on the line. “All right, Harvey. Three-fifty.”
“All right. But check with me first before you fly off to the south of France on my money.”
“Is that where NBA players escape to when they don’t feel like facing the Knicks?”
“Harvey, why don’t you come by my office at the Garden at six-thirty? We’ll talk some more and watch the game.” Goody paused. “You know, this could be nothing.”
“That’s one thing it could be.”
“It’s just that Tyrone’s not the kind of kid to disappear like this.”
“Tell me what kind of kid does, Todd.”
“Harvey, that’s what I’m paying you to find out.”
When Harvey hung up, he walked over to the door and opened it. The sound of more videotape playing in fast forward drifted in from the adjacent room. He hadn’t had to go out and get it. If it didn’t amount to anything, he could always say he had never wanted it in the first place. It had come to him, like all those countless line drives to center field he had never had to move a step for. But a baseball he knew what to do with once it was in his glove.
On his way to the bathroom, he passed the office of an anorexic industrial film producer named Janice. She was on the phone, saying, “We’re going to need to spruce up those product shots with some DVE, but there’s no money for it in post.”
Harvey had no idea what she was talking about. Every profession had its precious little verbal universe, and Harvey was not part of hers. He thought of Campy Strulowitz, his old Providence batting coach. Hum babe, Harv, hum-a-now, you the one, babe, unloose that juice. Harvey would like to see Janice make sense of that. Be a stick, kid, have an idea, you the kid.
TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR A private investigator’s license in the state of Massachusetts, you needed to have three years of experience with a private investigative agency, with a reputable criminal attorney, or as a plainclothes police detective. By these standards, Harvey was as qualified as a German shepherd. But he knew Jerry Bellaggio.
In Harvey’s third year with the Boston Red Sox, Bellaggio had been retained by one of his teammates to determine what his wife was doing when he was playing ball on the road. Bellaggio’s several-month investigation—which eventually established that what the wife was doing was enjoying a liaison with a suburban contractor—occasionally brought the detective to the Fenway Park clubhouse to present his client with the fruits of his surveillance. On one of these visits, Harvey and Jerry struck up a conversation that became a friendship that survived the resolution of the Case of the Dallying Baseball Widow.
Harvey traded stories about the peccadilloes of American League players with Jerry’s tales of nocturnal voyeurism, adopted children’s tearful reunions with their natural parents, and the nuances of criminal defense investigations. Harvey had the distinct sensation of getting the better of the deal; his confidences regarding the sexual and pharmaceutical preferences of certain professional athletes did not seem like adequate compensation for stories that Bellaggio began by saying, “Stop me if I’ve told you about the time a nun hired me to find the man she’d had an affair with thirty years before on the California Zephyr.” But like countless men who had discovered by the age of thirteen that they would never be able to hit the curve, Bellaggio had a huge appetite for informed baseball trivia, and Harvey told him everything he kept from the reporters who were dying for it.
Back in the Boston area the November after his year with the Providence Jewels, Harvey had bumped into Bellaggio in the paperbacks section of the Harvard Coop.
“Well,” Bellaggio had said, “if you’re not doing anything with yourself, whyn’t you work under my license?”
“I’m not a detective, Jerry.”
“It’s just a five-dollar word for someone who finds the truth when it’s been mislaid. Isn’t that what you did down there in Rhode Island last summer?” Bellaggio was referring to Harvey’s successful search for the murderer of his Jewels roommate, Rudy Furth. “Not too shabby for an amateur.” Bellaggio followed the progress of a statuesque Radcliffe student down their aisle. “Do it for a living now. You can work under my license as long as you don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“What can I do that you would do?”
“For God’s sake, Harvey—I’m a detective, not a fucking heart specialist. Are we talking about a science? No, we’re not talking about a science. You ask questions. Get on the horn. Get a hunch. Put two and two together. Sometimes two and three. Multiply by two, divide by three. Lie low. Impersonate a lawyer, a doctor, a priest. The rest of the stuff, if you want to trace a plate or something, I’ll help you out.”
“Forget it. I think the Talmud strictly prohibits Jews from impersonating a priest or wearing a shoulder holster.”
The ’Cliffie came back their way. Bellaggio performed some discreet surveillance on her legs. He said nothing to Harvey. Waiting was what he was good at.
“Okay, who’s going to hire me?” Harvey asked.
“I’ll throw you some work. Since I got my write-up in the Globe last month—”
“I saw it—‘Boston’s Super Sleuth.’”
“Yeah, well, I’ve got a little more work than I can handle.”
“I don’t know, Jerry.”
“What the fuck you going to do with yourself? Make fucking potholders for the next forty years?”
Harvey didn’t let on that this held a certain appeal.
He had finally said yes to Bellaggio in early February, less than twenty-four hours after his encounter with the New York agent, but Bellaggio hadn’t thrown anything his way. The personal-misery market had taken a downturn after perennially bullish January. No matter now; Harvey had his own case. He called Jerry’s office to let him know and got his answering service.
“Hi, Marge, it’s Harvey Blissberg.”
“Hi, deah. How’s business?”
“I called to tell Jerry I’ve got a job.”
“Where is he?”
“Oh, the usual, deah. A local police chief with a wife who thinks he’s not really playing pokah on Monday and Thursday nights. And you know what, deah?”
“I think she’s right.”
“Lay you three to one he’s got some poozle on the side. You on?”
“I don’t bet, Marge. You know that.”
“What do you do for fun, deah?”
“Vicks VapoRub. And when I’m really depressed, I’ll pop a few Sudafed.”
Harvey called Al Mallory at the Boston Herald.
“It’s Harvey Blissberg, Al.”
“The late great center fielder for the Providence Jewels?”
“Don’t rag me, Al.”
“Shut up, Harvey. In five years with the Red Sox, you maybe gave me three quotes, and only one of them was printable.”
“Now wait a second, Al. Who was it told you—not for attribution, I’ll admit—that it wasn’t tendonitis that kept Gene Fronduto out of the lineup for two weeks? Who told you the real reason when no one else was talking? And you went with it.”
“Gee, thanks. It was the hottest story of the year. I won the Pulitzer.” Mallory snorted into the phone. “It’s time you face it, Harvey, you turd. I’m probably the only sports-writer in town you ever had even a semblance of a relationship with. What do you want?”
“I want you to tell me about Tyrone Terrell.”
“Tell you about Tyrone Terrell? Oh, yeah, right, sure. I spend five years of my life trying to get you to answer a question, and I draw goose eggs. Then suddenly you’re out of baseball, where I can’t touch you and you can’t do me any good, and the phone rings and it’s Sphincter Mouth himself, and will you please tell me everything you know about Tyrone Terrell? Jesus. All right, what do you want to know about him?”
“Anything,” Harvey said.
“You got a blind date with him or something?”
“No, I just need to know what he’s like.”
“Well, what’s in it for me if I tell you?”
“A trip for two to Coral Gables. Now tell me about Terrell.”
“His aunt’s sick.”
“Tell me more.”
“Look, Harvey, I wrote a profile of the guy last November. Why don’t you look it up?”
“I believe everything except what I read in the newspapers. Especially yours. Now what’s he like?”
“Okay,” Mallory sighed. “He’s the best basketball player to ever come out of the University of Connecticut. He’s got a jump hook I’ve seen blocked only once in his career. His hang time, when rebounding, is about an hour and a half. He still has trouble going to the left on the baseline. He drives a green Buick LeSabre and he likes white women.”
“Does he like drugs—cocaine?”
“Does the Pope have lips?”
“You mean there isn’t a clean player in the NBA?”
“What’s it to you?” Mallory said. “You dealing?”
“When I’m not running guns to the Salvadoran rebels. Does Terrell have a problem keeping foreign substances out of his system?”
“Well, right now he’s sure trying to convince the world he doesn’t have that problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“Aren’t you reading the sports pages anymore, Harvey?”
“Who said I read them in the first place?”
“Look, Terrell was born again two weeks ago. UPI picked up the story. Terrell got religion, called a press conference to announce that he had sworn off drugs, alcohol, and everything evil, including double dribbling. To hear him tell it, he’s a clean machine. Filled with divine light.”
“You think he’s telling the truth, Al? You think he’s off drugs?”
“Sometimes getting religion’s easy compared to getting off drugs. Let me ask you a question, Harvey: Why do some people suddenly get religion?”
Harvey thought back to the handful of teammates who’d gotten it over the years. “Because they’ve been bad boys and girls,” he said. “Maybe Terrell got religion to get off drugs.”
“A cynic would take a different point of view. That he pretended to get religion to hide the fact he was doing even more drugs.”
“And that’s what you think?” Harvey said.
“Now when have you ever known me to be cynical? Why did you say you wanted to know about Terrell?”
“I didn’t,” Harvey said.
“Well, whyn’t you start now?”
“I’m just asking. Off the record.”
“And I’m just thinking. Maybe his aunt isn’t so sick.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You think I’m stupid?”
“Now that you bring it up.”
“If I were stupid, Harvey, I’d either be writing hard news here, or a syndicated column. But I’m not stupid, so when Tyrone Terrell leaves the team suddenly on a Saturday, and the Celtics tell us on Sunday it’s because his aunt is sick, and then I get a call from possibly my least favorite ex-major leaguer on Monday asking me if said basketball player, the recent recipient of a new birth, indulges in the recreational use and/or professional business of rock candy, then I think two things. First I think, the aunt isn’t sick. Then I think, if the aunt isn’t sick, what business is it of Harvey Blissberg’s? And there I’m stumped, Harvey, because to tell you the truth, when a ballplayer like you, who gave me maybe one quote in five years, retires from baseball, he ceases to exist for me, and so I have no idea what you’re doing with yourself these days, but it’s insulting to my profound lack of stupidity that you would think that I would think that your queries about Tyrone Terrell were strictly of an idle nature.”
“As far as I know, Al, the aunt is sick,” Harvey said.
“As I said, what business is it of yours?”
“You really want to know?”
“Let me ask around,” Mallory said. Harvey heard Mallory turn away from the phone and call out to the sports department, “Hey, Mike, Charlie, do I really want to know?” Harvey waited. “Harvey,” Mallory said into the phone, “the guys here say it’s true. I really want to know. So tell.”
“Okay, I’m doing a story for Sports Illustrated on Terrell.”
“I’m not kidding.”
“Harvey, I’m going to kill you. I’ve been writing sports for thirteen years and I can’t crack Sports Illustrated. You never wrote a goddamn sports story in your life, you never even made it easier for me to write one, and you waltz right in there and they give you an assignment? I don’t believe it.”
“Call Larry Levitz at the magazine,” Harvey said, naming the one person he knew on the staff. “He’ll tell you.”
“If it’s true, Harvey, you’ve got a hell of a lot to learn about professional courtesy. If one sportswriter wants some help from another sportswriter on a story he’s doing, the first thing the first sportswriter does is tell the second sportswriter that he’s doing a story and for whom. You understand? Because if the first sportswriter doesn’t do that for the second, the first thing the second sportswriter does is hang up on the first sportswriter. Have a nice day.” There was a clatter on Al Mallory’s end, then silence.
Harvey dialed Sports Illustrated in New York and got Larry Levitz on his way out to lunch. After pleasantries, Harvey explained his predicament: He needed to use—in fact, already had used—an assignment from Sports Illustrated to do a story on Tyrone Terrell as a cover for some other business that, regrettably, Harvey was unable to disclose.
“Harvey,” Levitz said, “if I wasn’t on my way out to lunch, I’d sit here and chew you out for ten minutes for having the gall to use me and my employer in this shameless manner, and then I’d tell you, okay, I’ll cover for you this once and ask questions later. But since I’m on my way out to lunch, I’ll forgo the chewing out and just tell you, okay, but don’t you ever do this again.”
“You won’t regret it, Levitz,” Harvey said.
“Of course I’ll regret it. But I’ll regret it a little less if, whatever you’re really up to and whatever you find out about Tyrone Terrell, if it’s got some news value, you bring it directly to me, and only to me. Do I have your promise?”
“You have my promise.”
“Have a nice lunch,” Harvey said.
He threw on his mountain parka and started downstairs. On the second-floor landing, he paused on the cauliflower-colored carpeting and peeked through the hallway window of the pen hospital. The young proprietor, who specialized in bladder operations on Mont Blanc fountain pens, was at his bench tending to an ailing Papermate. Harvey quickly moved on, afraid that the owner, who also specialized in a chronic shortage of customers, would invite him in again for a discourse on why writing instruments using erasable ink could never be marketed successfully in this country.
Out on the street, the odor of baba ghannouj from the Middle Eastern place downstairs cut a wide swath through the VapoRub. He had five hours to kill before his meeting with Todd Goody, and few weapons with which to do the job. For years, organized baseball had robbed him of the need to make all the small decisions of which ordinary lives were assembled. Having to arrange, manage, and fill time was a strange and irritating burden.
He headed across Harvard Square for the Cambridge Public Library and hunted down the UPI story on Tyrone Terrell in the February 11 edition of the Boston Globe.
TYRONE TERRELL: ‘FROM NOW ON, I’M PLAYING ACCORDING TO JESUS’ GAME PLAN’
Boston, February 10 (UPI)—At a press conference today at the Boards and Blades Club at Boston Garden, Boston Celtic forward Tyrone Terrell announced that he had finally found a way to rise above the pressures of a professional basketball career. “I’ve taken Jesus into my heart,” Terrell told a group of reporters. “I’ve found the right relationship with Him. Drugs isn’t the answer in this life, and neither is alcohol or pretty women or putting points up on the board. I’m through putting chemicals into my body. I’m beginning to put Jesus’ love into my heart. Only Jesus has the perfect game plan, and that’s the one I’m playing according to.”
Although drug and alcohol abuse has become a growing problem among professional athletes of all kinds, the graceful 6’ 8”, 26-year-old Terrell does not have a reputation for drug or alcohol abuse, nor has he undergone any drug or alcohol rehabilitation treatment in his five-year career with the Celtics. Nonetheless, he stressed the destructive influence of drugs on the lives of “many NBA players.” “I’m tired of keeping it all inside,” he said. “Like most people, I’ve done some bad things in my time, and I want to make amends. I want to live at peace with myself. I’ve spoken to Jesus about it, and now I want the world to know: Mr. Tyrone Antoine Terrell is coming clean.”
Terrell is having his best season ever as a Boston Celtic. His 16.0 point-per-game average has helped the first-place team to a five-game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers in the Atlantic Division of the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
Harvey walked back to the square. Lunch and a check on the new paperback releases at Wordsworth bookstore would get him to two-thirty; beyond that lay a forbidding idle expanse.
He passed a frosty store window and caught sight of himself. He stared back at his pale reflection. A haircut would get him safely past three.
AT SIX-FTFTEEN THAT EVENING, Harvey inserted his Toyota Corona in a metered parking place in front of the faceless Registry of Motor Vehicles on Nashua Street. In the brittle cold, he began the three-block walk to Boston Garden. Fifteen, twenty years ago, he had made the same walk with his father and brother Norm for Sunday-night Bruins hockey games.
“I want you to watch Gordie Howe’s elbows tonight,” Al Blissberg would say, leading his two sons through stalled traffic on Causeway Street. “Not the puck, but the elbows. He’s one of the dirtiest players in the league, okay? But he does his dirty work when no one’s looking, and with all that innocent-looking blinking he does out there on the ice, he keeps getting away with it, okay? But Gordie’s dirtier than Shack. You watch.” Al Blissberg’s attention to the nuances of the game helped distract them from the fact that the Bruins were pitiful in those days, the pre-Bobby Orr era. Perennial cellar-dwellers. Tickets—even box seats—were easy to get.
At the time, Harvey’s father was doing much better than the Bruins. The Italian restaurant in Natick that he had bought a few years earlier was prospering. He had moved his family into a modified Cape in West Newton. He was at the top of his own game. He was such an indomitable figure in those years that when he was robbed at knifepoint one Sunday night as the three of them walked from the Garden to their car after a game, Harvey was more frightened by the revelation that his father was at anyone’s mercy than he was by the muggers themselves. There were four white toughs, and they had surrounded the three of them suddenly under the Route 93 overpass in Charlestown. One, locking his arm around Al’s neck from behind, wagged a five-inch blade in front of his nose. The transaction was brief. One of the others plucked the billfold from Al’s pants pocket, examined its contents, pronounced them satisfactory, and then all four disappeared, running, into the night. The incident had made an indelible impression on Harvey, although he did not formulate its lesson for several years: Power didn’t care who possessed it.
Harvey never saw his father holding the shit end of the stick again until he was dying of cancer when Harvey was finishing high school. Like the thugs under the expressway in Charlestown, death surrounded him suddenly, robbed him of all his strength, and fled, this time taking Al along.
In the cold, Harvey smelled the mixture of tobacco and clams casino that had clung to his father; olfactory memories died no death at all. He steered his thoughts back to the present. A huge construction site in his path at the corner of Nashua and Causeway surprised him. He knew that the grim Madison Hotel, which used to abut the Garden, had been demolished one Sunday morning a year or two before in a spectacular and well-attended display of dynamiting finesse, but not that a new federal office building was now taking its place. The building’s steel bones rose above him as he moved along the tarpaulin-covered cyclone fence.
Boston Garden was a mammoth, squat yellow-brick chunk of building tucked in the crook of the Central Artery overpass and the MBTA elevated. More than an hour before game time, and the wide sidewalk in front was already cramped with ticket scalpers. “Need some tickets?” they muttered, hands pocketed, avoiding eye contact. “Loge seats. Need some tickets? Right here.” Face-value Celtics tickets were as hard to find in Boston as good barbecue.
Harvey presented himself to the guard at the administrative offices of the Celtics. The guard quickly punched out a number on his phone, verified Harvey’s appointment, and motioned him toward the elevator. When Harvey finally found Todd Goody’s office in a yellowing recess of the Garden, his secretary asked him to wait while Goody disposed of a New York Times reporter. Harvey sat in a vinyl chair and studied an enlarged framed photo of Bill Russell aloft with a rebound in 1969. He empathized with Russell—up in the air, unable to come down. Harvey had been waiting to come down since leaving baseball five months before.
It was not as easy as it looked. The sports pages were plastered with grief-filled stories of former athletes who did not want to come down, who used drugs, alcohol, gambling, teenage girls, you name it, to prolong the illusion of grace that sports had given them. Among those still playing the game, even at the college level, there was too much trouble. Within the past week, Tulane’s president had vowed to abandon the university’s basketball program in the wake of the indictment of three varsity players and five others in a point-shaving scheme that was dusted with cocaine. Arizona State varsity baseball players had been taking antidepressants prescribed by a consulting psychiatrist “to increase their performance.” The day before yesterday, Harvey had received in the mail a plea from a former teammate to help another teammate, who, less than two years after earning $200,000 a year, was drying out, penniless, in a California rehab center. And so on. Something was amiss.
Technically, Harvey’s worst vice may have been Vicks VapoRub, but in his heart he felt touched by some larger illness. During his baseball career, he may not have played the game—drugs, celebrity, the whole giddy bit—but in subtler ways the game had played him. Now he just wanted to come down gently, to land, with both feet, somewhere in life.
It was twenty minutes before the Times reporter came out, followed by Goody in a gray suit and Celtic green tie.
“Sorry to keep you,” Goody said. He placed one hand lightly on the small of Harvey’s back and directed him into his memento-strewn office.
“You look well,” Harvey said when they were seated. It was the truth; the trim little Ivy League cut atop Goody’s fat collegiate face looked painted on, yet the effect was youthful. There was even a spray of vestigial acne across his chin.
“You too,” Goody said. He exhaled, deflating slowly behind his desk. “Well, Terrell did not turn up tonight with a legitimate alibi. He didn’t even turn up without one. So I guess you’re in business.”
“Not a peep?”
“Is that Times reporter onto it?” Harvey asked.
“No, he’s just doing another drug story. How the National Basketball Association is waging war against the hedonists in its midst. We’re considered fairly enlightened about drug abuse.” He removed a Garcia y Vega panatela from a five-pack on his desk. “The league and the Players Association share the cost of an around-the-clock telephone counseling service for the players. Now we’ve got a new program—a player with a drug jones gets two chances to voluntarily seek treatment and come back to his club. Third time, he’s out of the league for good.”
“What if a player doesn’t come forward?”
“Any abuser who’s suspected, but doesn’t come forward, is subject to a test if an independent expert thinks it’s warranted. If he fails that, he’s out on his ass.” Goody lit the panatela with soft smacking sounds. “The league, of course, would like to routinely test players—you know, urinalysis. There’s a device, costs a quarter of a million bucks, that’s virtually infallible—detects any substance in your urine. I think it can tell if you had a joint back in 1967. It’d be worth the expense to keep the league clean, and I don’t mean just protect the”—Goody raised both hands to give the “quote” sign—“integrity of the league, but also help these guys to face up to their problem. I mean, we’re talking about young guys, most of them from poor backgrounds, making an average of two hundred grand a year, and they’re under a lot of pressure, afraid to fail, afraid to succeed, endless time on their hands—”
“I don’t think you need to tell me what it’s like, Todd. And we play twice as many games a season as you guys.”
“But there’s an added little factor you didn’t have to deal with in baseball, Harvey—the pace. When we travel, we’re only playing a single game in each city. At least you guys play two-, three-, four-game series, have a chance to unwind a little, settle in.”
“Never stopped baseball players from running amuck,” Harvey said. “I just read that the Dodgers added a mandatory-urine-test clause to their player contracts. You know, if the team owners really cared about the problem, they’d cap player salaries at twenty-five grand. The only drug they’d be able to afford is NyQuil.”
Goody smiled through his cigar smoke. “No one’d play basketball for that money.”
“Of course not. Even at eight times the money, a lot of them don’t look like they’re trying.”
“I know someone who tried it once or twice,” Goody said.
Harvey leaned back in his chair. “So that’s what we’re calling it.”
Goody was embarrassed—a kid with his mother, trying to casually rehearse a swear word he’d picked up in the playground. “Well, you know, he wanted to find out for himself what, you know, what the big fuss is about.”
“He was hoping it would help him dunk a basketball. But he still couldn’t even touch the rim, so he gave it up. You ever try it, Harvey?”
“It gave me an overpowering desire to rearrange the living room. I spent the whole night moving furniture. Todd, why do you think we’ve been talking about drugs?”
Goody eyed his ash. “I don’t know. Why?”
“Because Tyrone Terrell was mixed up with them?”
“Well,” Goody said, “that’s what the police think. They think Tyrone’s disappearance has something to do with a bad coke deal. They think that the bearded man in the short leather jacket that the guy at the Logan Airport newsstand said he saw walking off with Tyrone was a very bad man.”
“No evidence. But they can’t think of anything else.”
“And you? What do you think?”
“I don’t think the cops are right.”
“Because Terrell’s got religion now?”
“Oh, that,” Goody said. “Well, yes, that born-again stuff of his—you may think it’s hokey, Harvey, but Terrell’s a serious kid. I think his finding Jesus just emphasizes that.”
“On the other hand, it could emphasize the fact that he was in some serious drug trouble, and needed to turn himself over to some higher authority.”
Goody puffed on that one for a few seconds. “Well, anything’s possible, but Terrell was not a big user.”
“How about a small one?”
“I don’t know that I’d even go that far. You can usually tell if a ballplayer’s got some invisible help out there on the court.”
“All right,” Harvey said. “But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t pushing the stuff around. That’s the dangerous part of the game, anyway.”
“I don’t buy it, Harv.”
“What do you buy?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m sure it’s occurred to you, Todd, that if Terrell was involved in major-league drugs and he, say, owed people some money, and suddenly, instead of paying up, he decides to go evangelical, then he’s going to have some serious enemies.”
Goody ran his thumb along the edge of some scouting reports on his desk. “Won’t buy it,” he said. “Not yet, at any rate. Maybe the cops’ll sell it to me, I don’t know.”
“Terrell’s never sought treatment for drug problems?”
Goody shook his head while looking at his watch.
“There’s gambling,” Harvey said.
“Well, in theory there’s always the possibility, I guess, even with guys who already make half a million a year. But you know, no one’s ever uncovered a point-shaving scandal in pro basketball. And Terrell’d be far down on my list of candidates to take a dive. But to put our mind at ease, we’ve been put in touch with a lieutenant on the police gaming squad. Evidently, he’s got a mutually respectful relationship with Boston’s biggest bookies, and is in a position to find out within a day or two if Terrell’s for sale. And the league’s own director of internal security—they keep a close eye on players who have been seen with drug or gambling types—gave us a clean bill of health for Terrell this afternoon.” Goody paused. “I wouldn’t hold my breath about gambling, Harvey. Wouldn’t hold it too long about drugs, either. Almost game time. We’ll talk in the seats.”
“Whatever,” Harvey said.
Goody led Harvey along a trail of bleak corridors. Harvey did his best to stay out of the foul wake of Goody’s cigar. Finally, Goody opened an anonymous door halfway down a hallway and pushed Harvey ahead of him into a noisy lobby. The vivid suddenness of the lobby made Harvey think of Dorothy’s entrance into a Technicolor Munchkin-land.
Goody crushed the panatela under his shoe on the lobby’s linoleum and they entered the Garden and made their way to two empty box seats at half-court. Goody introduced Harvey to the man already seated on Goody’s left.
“Hoppy Steele,” Goody said. “Harvey Blissberg.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Harvey said.
“Pleasumph,” Steele mumbled, and reached across Goody to take Harvey’s hand lightly without removing his attention from the court. Consistent with his reputation, he wasted no time on pleasantries. Steele had been wooed to the Celtics as general manager several years before, after holding the same post with Denver for a decade. He was known for his skill at the trading table and his warm but efficient handling of personnel. Twenty-five years ago, in his thirties, Steele had taught sociology at the University of Michigan. Harvey watched him watching the court. Late middle age had been nice to him.
The starting fives of the Celtics and the Washington Bullets were shaking hands at center court before the opening tap. Tyrone Terrell had been replaced in the lineup by Jeff Ryder, a second-year man out of Oregon. Even without Terrell, it was among the best Celtic teams in ten years.
“Harvey’s looking for Tyrone,” Goody said.
“He’s with his sick aunt,” Steele said, watching the Bullets break off the tap and score an easy basket. “Gibbly looks like his ankle’s still bothering him,” he added, referring to the Celtics’ point guard.
“Harvey’s the investigator we hired, Mr. Steele. I told you about it.”
“Rumph,” Steele said, and the three of them watched the game in silence.