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About the Book
A slugger struggles with an empty ballpark and a murdered teammate.
The Providence Jewels, an American League expansion team, have been taking a beating all season. Worse, relief pitcher Rudy Furth has just suffered a beating of a more lethal kind - and been left to die in the clubhouse whirlpool among whispers of mob corruption and violently lovesick fans. When the police investigation stalls, veteran Providence center fielder Harvey Blissberg, who knew Furth as well as anyone, decides to play detective.
While trying to keep his eye on the ball, and his head above water with the spunky, beautiful sports newscaster Mickey Slavin, Blissberg quietly stalks Furth’s killer through major-league locker rooms and the dark streets of Rhode Island’s capital city. Lots of ballplayers keep their batting averages above .300 - but how many have chased a murderer at the same time?
Winner of the 1985 Edgar Award for Best First Novel
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.”
In memory of Ann Hall
Owner and President: Marshall Levy
Manager: Felix Shalhoub
Public Relations Director: Buzzy Stanfill
Stadium: Rankle Park (seating capacity—37,000)
Colors: Emerald green, black, and white
Timothy Bayman, pitching coach
Anthony Cantalupa, third base coach
Campy Strulowitz, first base coach and batting instructor
Arky Bentz, trainer
Duncan Frye, clubhouse manager
No. Name, Position, Age, Birthplace
14 BATTLE, Cleavon IF 29 Bakersfield, CA
49 BLISSBERG, Harvey OF 30 Boston, MA
6 BYERS, Lester IF 33 Syracuse, NY
15 CHARNESS, David C-OF 23 Cloquet, MN
10 EPPICH, Randall C 26 Allentown, PA
22 HOSMER, Robert OF 21 Spanish Fork, UT
12 LUGO, Luis IF 22 Fajardo, P.R.
9 MANOMAITIS, Charles IF 24 Fairlee, VT
7 PENZENIK, Charles IF 24 Sacramento, CA
3 RAPP, John OF 29 Pueblo, CO
11 SALTA, Rodney IF 25 Cali, Colombia
19 SMITH, Clyde C 34 Belleville, IL
25 STILES, Richard OF 29 Lima, OH
8 VEDRINE, Angel IF 23 Barquisimeto, Venezuela
24 WILTON, Steven OF 27 Bessemer, AL
17 VAN AUKEN, Daniel LHP 26 New Britain, CT
39 CROP, Stanley RHP 25 Rosenberg, TX
29 FURTH, Rudolph LHP 28 Palmyra, WI
40 MARLETTE, Marcus RHP 25 Lumpkin, GA
48 O’DONNELL, John RHP 24 Cambridge, MD
32 OTHER, Donald LHP 31 Moline, IL
55 POTTER-LAWN, Andrew LHP 26 Bishop’s Stortford, England
50 STORELLA, Edward RHP 22 Manhattan, KA
52 WAGNER, Robert RHP 27 Roanoke, VA
34 WEATHERHEAD, James LHP 22 Los Angeles, CA
IT’S WHEN YOU’RE GOING good that they throw at your head.
Harvey Blissberg had been starting center fielder for the Boston Red Sox for five seasons, had two years left on a new three-year contract, and had just engaged the services of an interior decorator for his recently acquired Back Bay condominium when the team abruptly left him unprotected in the expansion draft over the winter. As a direct result of this insult, he became the property of the Providence Jewels, the latest addition to the American League Eastern Division. At an age when most of his contemporaries were winning their first big promotions, Harvey was obliged to pick himself up and start over with a team composed largely of cast-offs, players of proven mediocrity, and a few arrogant rookies thrown in just to remind him that, as far as baseball was concerned, he was no longer a young man.
Last year, with the Red Sox, he had considered himself in his prime. Now he felt like someone detained at the border before being allowed to pass over into the rest of his life.
Providence, Rhode Island, looked like a place you ended up when they kicked you out of everywhere else. It was too small and not nervous enough to be a city, as Harvey understood the term, but it was too big to be anything else. It seemed to consist entirely of outskirts—a sad city where a Mercedes or a tuxedo was as incongruous as a camellia bush in a vacant lot. At night, the streets of Providence were as empty as Rankle Park’s upper deck on any game day.
Actually, the lower grandstands were never that crowded either. The Jewels’ aging brick and concrete home, built in the twenties and enlarged a few times for a succession of short-lived minor league teams, dominated a drab neighborhood that discouraged traffic, let alone baseball fans. With its odd assortment of gray facades, turrets, and archways, Rankle Park resembled a rusting battleship docked among shoe factories, textile mills, and warehouses whose tenants had migrated in the seventies to the more congenial Sun Belt.
The fans weren’t the only ones who thought they deserved better. When visiting clubs first saw the park, the players tended to react with the polite dismay of people invited to dinner at a house that hadn’t been cleaned in weeks. The proposed new stadium outside town didn’t look as though it would materialize for another two years, if at all. That the team playing in so tarnished a setting was called the Jewels was an irony seldom lost on the sports-writers who fought for elbow room in the battered press box over home plate. Still, there was logic to the name: the team’s owner and president, Marshall Levy, was the founder of Pro-Gem, the biggest costume jewelry concern in a state that had the biggest costume jewelry industry in the country. Levy had ignored the argument that “Jewels” was an unfortunate name for the team of a town where most of the gems were phony.
Even though you had to wonder—and Harvey Blissberg was among those who did—what the baseball commissioner and team owners had been thinking when they awarded a franchise to Providence, the Jewels had exceeded expectations. It was August 28, and with their 63-and-66 record, the Jewels could glance down in the Eastern Division standings and see Detroit and Toronto.
As for Harvey, at the age of thirty he was somehow enjoying his best season ever. His .309 batting average was more than 40 points above his modest career average, and he led Providence in batting, doubles, and—his legs felt five years younger than the rest of him—stolen bases. He was throwing around a lot of leather in center field. And as a bonus, he and Mickey Slavin—some said she was the best and most attractive television sportscaster in Providence—were finally an item.
These unexpected blessings made Harvey slightly uncomfortable. Having been burned once, he had the distinct feeling that someone was bound to start throwing at his head again. But as he stood with bat in hand behind the batting cage an hour before Tuesday night’s game with Chicago, the only threat to his well-being came in the form of a vaguely familiar voice.
“Hey, Ha’vey, whaddya say, guy? Come ova heah a sec.” It was one of those New England accents that produces r’s when they aren’t called for, and drops them when they are.
Harvey turned toward the box seats. Ronnie Mateo stood in his usual pre-game spot in the first row by the Jewels’ dugout, one spindly leg poised on top of the low wall separating the seats from the field. He was a thin man in his thirties with tightly curled black hair, a long face that looked like a blanched Brazil nut, and a taste for colorful double-knits and two-tone imitation snakeskin casuals. He was well known to many of the Jewels, to whom he tried to sell dubious merchandise from time to time. Occasionally he succeeded, which was why Chuck Manomaitis, the Providence shortstop, had shown up in the clubhouse a month before with a dozen digital traveling alarm clocks—still in their boxes next to the Desenex on the shelf of his locker.
Ronnie had never approached Harvey before. Harvey liked to think of himself as the kind of person who didn’t look as if he needed a lot of cheap traveling alarm clocks.
“Professah! Hey, Professah,” Ronnie shouted. “Come ova heah.”
Harvey, who owned five Harris tweed sports jackets and read hardcover books on road trips, had been slapped with the nickname in his rookie year. It amused him because his older brother Norman was a real professor—of English, at Northwestern. “Professor” implied a clubhouse intimacy that Harvey was not aware Ronnie Mateo enjoyed with him. He finally ambled over to the box seats, not looking at Ronnie until he was standing in front of him.
“Whaddya want?” Harvey said. “You’re a little too old for autographs.”
“It’s not what you can do me, Professor. It’s what I can do you.” Ronnie bent over the leg up on the wall and smoothed a tan sock with both palms. “You interested in a gross of necklaces, real nice merch, the kind that every month’s got a different stone?”
Harvey narrowed his eyes. “Have we met?”
“We need an introduction? I’m pretty friendly with a lot of the ball players.”
“All the same. Harvey Blissberg,” he said, extending his hand.
Ronnie shook hands, pronouncing his name so it sounded like “raw knee,” then flicked something that wasn’t there off a brown and gold shoe. “A hundred forty-four necklaces, twelve of each month, each month a different stone. This is a very nice item.” He pulled a handful of necklaces out of his jacket pocket and held them in Harvey’s face.
Harvey rubbed some pine tar on the shaft of his bat with the rag. “What the hell would I do with them?”
“Now that all depends. If I was you, Professor, I’d give ’em to your lady friends.” His smile showed a fringe of tiny teeth.
“Yeah, well, I’m about a hundred and forty-three-and-a-half girlfriends short. Besides, all the women I know were born in February or October.”
“So give ’em to your fans. Look, this is quality merch.” Ronnie ran a thumbnail coated with clear polish over a red stone. “I wouldn’t make this offer to anybody.”
“And I don’t blame you,” Harvey said, starting to turn. “See you around.”
“I wouldn’t make this offer to anybody but you, Professor,” Ronnie said again. In the row behind him, an elderly usher in a jacket with torn epaulets was showing a couple to their box seats.
“Where’d you come up with a gross of necklaces, anyway?”
“Here and there,” Ronnie said.
“That wouldn’t be the kind of junk Marshall Levy makes, would it?”
Ronnie’s face dimmed at the mention of the Jewels’ owner, and he carefully put the necklaces back in his pocket. His little black eyes wandered off behind Harvey toward the batting cage. “Gee, that kid Wilton can sure hit,” he said. “You’re hitting good, too, this year, Professor.”
Harvey pivoted away from him again. “I’ll see you around.”
“They warned me you was a standoffish guy,” Ronnie said to his back.
Harvey kept walking, but the voice stopped him after a few yards.
“Hey, Professor. What month your mother born in?”
Harvey turned to him. “February,” he said.
Ronnie produced a glittering tangle of necklaces, extricated one, and lobbed it at Harvey. “That’s an ametist, Professor,” he called out. “For February. Tell your mother it’s from Ronnie Mateo, who’s a big fan of her son.”
Harvey walked back toward the cage. When you wore a major league baseball uniform, sooner or later everyone wanted a piece of you. It was a matter of pride to Harvey that after six years of being approached by hustlers, hot-shot investment counselors, and all the shades of manipulators in between, there weren’t any pieces of him missing.
When Rudy Furth, the Jewels’ relief pitcher and Harvey’s roommate on the road, came up to him at the batting cage, Harvey was idly running the necklace through his fingers.
“I’ve jerked off in front of more people than this,” Rudy said. He was twenty-eight, but he looked like a senior in high school.
Harvey scanned the stands. The gate this evening would be lucky to hit the dismal average. “Yeah,” he said, “and here I am playing the best ball of my career.”
“At least someone on the team is.” Rudy blew a pink bubble with his gum and sucked it back noisily into his mouth. “A gift from Ronnie Mateo?”
Harvey looked at the necklace in his fingers as if surprised to find it there. “Yeah, he tried to sell me some. What’s his story?”
“He tried to sell me some color TVs once.”
“What is he—some kind of low-grade fence?”
Rudy shrugged. “Who knows? I told him to buzz off. Even I know enough to stay away from him.”
“Normally you don’t have such good judgment.”
“Thanks, roomie,” Rudy said, pulling on his ear a few times. He was always moving, pulling his ear, snapping his fingers, thrusting out his lower lip. Harvey kidded him about belonging to the Tic-of-the-Month Club.
Harvey bobbed his head in the direction of a paperback book poking out of Rudy’s back pocket. “I see you picked up the novel finally.” In the Kansas City airport on their last road trip, Harvey had bought him the book with the intention of improving a mind whose severest tests came in the form of Sporting News and People magazine.
Rudy patted his pocket and jiggled his hand. “Well, it’s kind of rough going for a farmboy like me. No pictures.” He grinned boyishly. “But I like this guy Gatsby. Had a damned nice life-style, didn’t he?”
“I can see you haven’t read very far.”
Rudy rotated his head a couple of times, like someone with a stiff neck. “If Wagner doesn’t need any help from me on the mound tonight, I’ll promise to get some reading done in the bull pen. That is, if the other guys don’t mind me moving my lips.”
Harvey returned Rudy’s smirk. “Believe it or not, Rude, when you’re through with baseball and out there in the big bad world, you’re going to have to know how to read and write.” Harvey wondered who the hell he was to pontificate about the big bad world out there.
“Yessir, Professor.” Rudy flipped him a military salute.
“Yo-yos,” Harvey said. “Nothing but yo-yos on this club.”
“You worry too much.” He tugged down on the bill of Harvey’s cap and jogged out toward right field.
At the batting cage, Steve Wilton, the Jewels’ right fielder, and Roger Kokis of the White Sox were discussing a woman who was sitting in the boxes behind third base.
“I’m telling you,” Wilton was saying, “it’s a law of nature. The bigger their tits, the closer they sit to the field.”
Harvey stepped into the cage against Stan Crop, who was pitching batting practice. He popped up the first two pitches, cursing the little hitch that had lately developed in his swing.
“Hum babe, Harv babe, come to the pitch, you’re the one,” chanted Campy Strulowitz, who was leaning against the cage. Campy was the Jewels’ bowlegged, sixty-year-old first base coach who did double duty as the team’s batting instructor. A weak hitter in his own distant playing days, Campy had devoted long hours on the bench to studying his superiors at the plate. Harvey credited Campy with at least 20 points of his .309 batting average.
“You’re the hum babe, Harv,” he said. “Glide it and ride it, bring those wrists, babe, bring ’em and fling ’em, settle down, hum-a-now, you’re the kid.” He hunkered down in an imitation of Harvey’s batting stance, his fists raised to grasp an imaginary bat.
Steve Wilton stood next to Campy, peeling off a batting glove. “Shut up already, will you, Campy?” he said. “The Professor’s already hitting three-something. Stop hum-babing him.”
Campy fired a thick brown stream of tobacco juice close to Steve’s left spike. “I don’t see you hitting top ten, Steve kid, don’t see you ripping off the big hits.”
“Whyn’t you just choke on your chaw and die,” Steve said, stalking off.
“Hum kid, hum kid, hum-a-now,” Campy said.
Harvey sent Stan Crop’s next pitch through the humid dusk of August into Rankle Park’s utterly empty left field upper deck.
By game time, there were only six thousand people in the park, and the Jewels ran out on the field to thin applause. In center, Harvey adjusted the bill of his cap with a tailor’s curt flourish and winged the warm-up ball back and forth with John Rapp, in left field. He snapped off his throws with a deliberate motion, glancing down to make sure his stirrup socks were pulled tightly over his calves. Being alone with all that grass calmed him. Even as a kid, when other Little Leaguers wanted to play only shortstop, or pitch, Harvey had played center field. Green, spacious, removed from the crowded, dusty infield, center had all the virtues of a desirable suburb.
When Chicago’s Scott Dykes sent Bobby Wagner’s first pitch high over Harvey’s head toward the 447 FT sign in right center, Harvey surrendered to familiar instinct. He registered the trajectory of the ball, then turned and put his head down and sprinted toward the wall. Thirty feet from the dirt warning track, he looked up to see that he had beaten the ball to its destination by a split second, allowing him to catch it with an effortless twitch of his glove. Over his head, Rankle Park’s new electronic scoreboard commended the play by flashing “A GEM” in rapidly increasing sizes.
On the mound, Bobby Wagner, who had been struggling for most of the season, heaved a sigh. The flamethrower from Virginia had been one of the American League’s premier right-handers when the Baltimore Orioles left him for dead in the off-season because of alleged calcium deposits in his arm. The Jewels, who needed a big name on their pitching staff, had traded four players for him even though he was now playing out the last year of his old Baltimore contract and would be eligible to become a free agent in the fall. His record stood at 8 and 14, the worst showing of an otherwise brilliant career.
Harvey’s catch seemed to have settled him down, and the White Sox were scoreless after seven innings. Providence picked up two runs along the way, one of them on Harvey’s fifth inning double. But in the top of the eighth, Chicago’s right fielder, Dave Shingle, lined a home run off the auxiliary scoreboard on the facing of the right field pavilion, cutting Bobby’s lead to 2-1. When Bobby proceeded to walk Abbler, and Dykes followed with a single to left, Felix Shalhoub, the Providence manager, walked slowly to the mound, his body bent forward slightly at the waist. He lifted his left arm desultorily to signal the bull pen for Rudy Furth. Bobby Wagner slapped the ball into Felix’s extended right hand and headed for the showers.
In deep center, the bull pen gate opened in the fence, and a compact figure with long, blond hair emerged, sliding his emerald green nylon warm-up jacket over his left arm. He walked across center field toward the mound, pulling abreast of Harvey, who accompanied him part of the way.
“How’s the arm?” Harvey said.
Rudy jutted out his lower lip. “It’s been better. I can’t get my fastball to lay down where I want it tonight.” He stroked his sheathed left arm nervously with his glove, as if to encourage it.
“Then go with the slider. It’s been looking pretty good to me.”
“You think so?” Rudy said with his way of giving too much credit to obvious comments. “But this guy creamed the slider last time I showed it to him.”
“That one was up in his wheelhouse, Rude. Keep this one down.”
“Yeah, okay,” Rudy said, a little glumly.
“Now you’re the one who’s worrying too much. Just go out there and get ’em.”
“Sure,” Rudy said, and they walked a few more yards before he squinted up at the press box and asked, “Seen Slavin tonight?”
“I don’t think she’s here. I think she’s out covering women’s soccer or something.”
Rudy spat. “When’re the three of us going to get together again? I have fun with you guys.”
Harvey looked straight ahead.
“I tried to call you last night,” Rudy said. “Were you at Mickey’s?”
“She’s pretty good in bed, huh, Professor?”
Harvey turned to look his roommate in the eye. “You tell me.”
Rudy pulled twice on his ear. “Did I say something wrong or something?”
They walked a few more yards without speaking. Then Harvey said, “Go get ’em, and keep the goddamn slider down, will ya?”
Rudy warmed up on the mound. Dean Levine of Chicago promptly stroked his first pitch deep in the hole at second. Rodney Salta couldn’t make a play on it, and the bases were loaded for Mac Bodish, who swung and missed on a slider, then picked on a fastball at the knees. From Harvey’s perspective in center, the pitch didn’t tail, it didn’t rise, it didn’t sink; all it did was jump off Bodish’s bat and rattle off the wall in left. By the time Rapp chased it down on the warning track, three runs had scored and Bodish was standing on third. The White Sox now led 4-2, and it stayed that way.
In the clubhouse, the Jewels stripped off their white double-knit uniforms with the depressing black and green trim. Chuck Manomaitis, the shortstop, was once again trying to sell Steve Wilton his digital alarm clocks at a small margin over what he had paid to get them from Ronnie Mateo. Wilton once again suggested to Chuck an unsavory use for the clocks that quickly ended the negotiations.
Half a dozen reporters trying to corner a few quotes scurried underfoot. The dean of the local baseball writers, Bob Lassiter, of the Providence Journal-Bulletin, accosted Les Byers, the Jewels’ third baseman.
“Les,” Lassiter said, wagging his pencil. “I make twenty-nine thousand a year. You make one forty-five, and I’m not even going to mention the bonus on signing and deferred annuity. Now, if you ask me, you’re getting paid enough to swing at that called third strike in the ninth.”
Les stepped gingerly out of his jockstrap, held it for a moment in front of Lassiter’s nose, and let it fall to the floor like a coquette releasing her handkerchief. “Man,” he bellowed, “you expect me to do ever l’il thing? The game’s hard work. Shucks, sometimes we put in six, seven hours a day.”
Lassiter, who did not excel at getting jokes, stammered, “Well—well, that’s not exactly slave labor.” But Les was already showing him his back.
“Hey, Furth,” Steve Wilton yelled across the locker room. “Way to handle Bodish. Next time, why don’t you throw it to him underhanded?”
It was one thing to ride a teammate like that when reporters were not around. “Shove it, A-hole,” Rudy yelled back.
Harvey caught up with him at the long table in the middle of the locker room where the post-game meal was laid out—hamburgers, fried chicken, french fries, and tossed salad provided by the owner’s, Marshall Levy’s, sister, who operated a catering outfit in nearby Attleboro, Massachusetts.
“I hear the fried chicken’s good here,” Harvey said.
Rudy was wearing nothing but shower clogs. He picked up a hamburger, tossed his hair off his face, and said, almost carelessly, “He’s right, you know. I couldn’t have done any worse throwing underhanded.” He took a bite out of the hamburger, handed the rest to Harvey, and shuffled toward the showers.
Harvey pushed a few french fries into his mouth and followed Rudy, passing the open door to Felix’s tiled office on the way.
“Gentlemen,” the manager was explaining to a trio of reporters, “we stopped hitting after the fifth inning, the bull pen was not in a positive posture tonight, and at the end of nine we were behind by two runs. And that’s the whole six flavors.”
OF THE FIVE MOST popular topics of locker room conversation among ball players—hunting, fishing, cars, real estate, and women—only the last interested Harvey, and even then he found there was little to be gained by subjecting his views to clubhouse scrutiny. Yet clubhouses were the closest thing he had known to an office in his life, and he felt protected by their walls. It was with a feeling of returning to his natural habitat that the next morning, on Wednesday, August 29, after dropping off his Chevy Citation for a tune-up, he had a taxi leave him in the players’ parking lot at Rankle Park. Nine-thirty was early to show up for the afternoon game against Chicago that would close out the series, but Harvey felt he needed some extra work against the pitching machine under the left field stands. He liked the ball park early in the morning. Only Dunc would be in the clubhouse. When Harvey swung open the door, Dunc was standing just inside.
Contrary to the unwritten law that all major league clubhouse managers had to be seriously lacking in human qualities, Dunc was better-natured than twenty years of catering to the whims of young athletes would seem to warrant. He was short, amiable, and had a taste for apricot brandy. Harvey, who occasionally supplied him with a pint, found that in exchange Dunc was more than willing to load baseballs into the pitching machine.
At the moment, however, Dunc was wearing the distorted expression of someone who had inadvertently swallowed his chewing tobacco. His jaw hung open—revealing that in fact his tobacco was still there, in a mouth full of brownish kernels that had once been his teeth. He stood there in his white duck uniform staring somewhere to the right of Harvey’s face.
“What gives, Dunc?”
Dunc said nothing, but raised a stubby arm and pointed behind him toward the center of the locker room.
“Well, what is it?”
Dunc didn’t speak, or wasn’t able to, and Harvey went past him into the empty clubhouse.
The Providence Jewels’ clubhouse was a collection of unattractive rooms beneath the stands along the right field line. Nauseating green indoor-outdoor carpeting had been laid down over the original cement floors; given a choice, however, Harvey would much rather get dressed on an artificial surface than play on one. The lockers, open cubicles, took up three of the locker room’s four walls, and in front of each was an orange or powder blue molded plastic chair like the ones found in Greyhound bus stations; given the team’s operating budget, there was no reason to believe the management hadn’t found them in an abandoned Greyhound bus station. The fourth wall, a stretch of gray plaster, featured various calendars, schedules, bulletin boards, equipment lockers, and a large blackboard for personal messages such as “Stan—call your wife” and “You suck, Rodney,” as well as for inspirational memoranda like “Winners Are People Who Never Learned How to Lose,” usually scrawled by Felix Shalhoub in palsied capital letters.
By the door to the trainer’s room was a bat rack and next to it stacked cases of soft drinks and beer, which were fed regularly into an ice chest against a pillar in the middle of the room. A long wooden table supported a Cory coffee machine. Elsewhere, a canvas clothes hamper, piles of newspapers, and a portable television set on a folding table gave the locker room a tenement feel that Dunc and his crew of teenage assistants were unable to reform.
To the left as you entered was a door to the runway that connected the clubhouse to the dugout. It was a badly lit corridor with exposed steam pipes, and it was littered with balls of used tape, discarded Red Man foil pouches, and generations of tobacco juice. Halfway down the runway on the left was a metal door leading to a system of dark tunnels that ran under the grandstands to several storage areas and the visitors’ clubhouse. The catacombs, as they were called, were home to a colony of brown rats. Impervious to the poisons used by the occasional exterminator, they had lived in the bowels of Rankle Park for as long as anyone could remember, surviving on unfinished hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn, and old lineup cards. The rats rarely ventured into the seats, at least not during games, and only once since the Jewels had moved in had one of the grayish brown creatures wandered into the clubhouse during working hours. The reserve catcher, Happy Smith, had clubbed it to death.
Harvey saw nothing unusual in the locker room and turned impatiently to Dunc, who was still at the door.
“C’mon, Dunc,” he said. “What’s going on?”
Except for a barely perceptible jerk of his head in the direction of the trainer’s room, Dunc did not move.
The noise was like that made by a motorboat on the other side of a lake.
“Why’s the whirlpool on?” Harvey said, walking in the direction of the noise. Then he stopped.
Over the rim of the stainless steel tub, a man’s hand was draped, palm down, as if waiting to be kissed. Harvey took two steps toward it and reached out to grab a corner of one of the trainer’s tables.
The churning water was the color of rosé wine. Harvey went to the whirlpool and stooped to switch off the motor. As the water settled, it revealed the form crammed into a fetal position at the bottom of the tub. The head was bent over between the knees; its blond hair fanned out and swam along the surface, mingling with flecks of blood and mucus.
Harvey closed his eyes. He did not have to see the face to know who it was. He lurched to one of the sinks and vomited, clutching the faucets with both hands. When he was through, his face wet with tears, he vomited again.
Dunc now stood behind him in the doorway to the trainer’s room. He hid his mouth behind the crook of his upraised elbow.
“It’s Rudy,” Harvey said. “Call the cops.”
Dunc disappeared, and Harvey plunged his hands into the hot red water and hooked them under Rudy’s arms.
“Oh, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” he said, and with all his strength hoisted Rudy’s naked body out of the tub and laid him on his back on the floor. His pale knees would not go down.
His half-open eyes seemed to watch Harvey warily. Harvey closed them. Straddling Rudy’s stomach, he began pumping his chest furiously. Thick bloody water bubbled out of Rudy’s mouth and ran in trails down his cheek.
“C’mon, you bastard!” he shouted. He pried Rudy’s jaws apart and breathed into his mouth. “Oh, Jesus,” he said and moved his left hand around to the back of Rudy’s head to steady it.
He immediately jerked his hand away. Above Rudy’s ear, the skull was sticky and soft, not like a skull at all.
“He’s gone, Harvey,” Dunc was saying over him, holding a sheet. He was crying, too.
The next hour passed in a haze. Two uniformed cops arrived first, then two more, then a plainclothes detective in an ill-fitting seersucker suit. He snapped back the sheet as if he meant to surprise the body, examined it with a few efficient movements, and asked Harvey to make an identification. Then he asked Dunc and him to wait outside in the locker room. The cop who ushered them out remained there, thumbs hooked importantly on his belt. Harvey and Dunc slumped in two chairs. A lanky young man with a doctor’s bag passed through the locker room, followed by two more cops with a stretcher, a red-faced man in a brown suit, and after him, two mobile lab technicians with black cases.
Through the open door to the trainer’s room, Harvey saw the man from the medical examiner’s office touching Rudy’s body here and there and conferring with the detective. Flashbulbs went off, and one of the mobile lab men scraped away at the indoor-outdoor carpeting while the other used large tweezers to pick up rolls of adhesive tape and a pair of snub-nose scissors and drop them into manila envelopes. The cop chaperoning Harvey and Dunc went over and closed the door.
“I take it you guys found him in the whirlpool, huh?” the cop said. When neither of them acknowledged the question, the cop smacked his lips, said, “Rudy Furth—my kid brother played against him in the minors,” and resumed his post near the bat rack.
By the time the two ambulance men brought Rudy out on a stretcher in a green zippered body bag and carried him out to the players’ parking lot, the locker room had filled up with members of the team. They stood around in their street clothes with shocked faces, like worshipers discovering the desecration of their shrine. The clubhouse no longer belonged to them. The place was silent except for the crackling of walkie-talkies.
Felix Shalhoub came in with his wife, Frances. She tried to force her way past the cops into the trainer’s room, where the detective was holed up with the M.E.’s man and the technicians.
“Officer, would you mind explaining—” she began.
A cop interrupted her in a voice louder than necessary, “Lady, I don’t know what you’re doing here in the first place, but you’ll have to wait with the others.”
The door opened at last, and the man in the seersucker suit lumbered out to introduce himself in a bored, gravelly voice as Detective Sergeant Linderman of the Providence Police. He had a graying crew cut and a heavily stubbled face. Under his jacket, he wore a yellow and maroon paisley shirt. He wiped his hands on a handkerchief and stuffed it in a pants pocket, from which he pulled out a small notebook.
At this gesture, several voices erupted. The detective held up both hands in front of his face, as though protecting himself from flying objects.
“The way I understand it,” he began, “Rudy Furth’s body was found in the whirlpool by”—he consulted the notebook—“Duncan Frye and Harvey Blissbaum.” Those latecomers to whom it was news gasped in unison, then produced a trickle of Oh-Jesus’s.
“Blissberg,” Harvey heard himself say. “Harvey Blissberg.” They were the first words he had spoken in an hour.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Blissberg,” the detective said. “You found him in the whirlpool?”
“Dunc found him first.”
“Please, Detective,” Frances Shalhoub blurted, “will you just tell us what you know?”
“Patience,” Linderman said. “Where’s Duncan?”
Dunc rose, the front of his white duck shirt splotched with pink stains from the whirlpool water. He steadied himself against the ice chest. “I saw somebody in the whirlpool when I opened up the clubhouse at nine. That’s what happened. Then Harvey came.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, so who took him out of the whirlpool?”
“I did,” Harvey said.
“Why?” Linderman said.
“I thought he might be alive, I guess.”
“My guess,” said Linderman, “is that he’d been soaking in there since last night. Who saw him last, alive?”
Apparently Dunc had been the last—or next-to-last—person to see Rudy alive the night before. After the rest of the team had cleared out, Dunc explained to Linderman, Rudy remained in the whirlpool. He liked to soak for a long time after he’d pitched; he had a bad back, and Felix had authorized him to have his own key to the clubhouse. At eleven-thirty, Dunc had turned off the lights in the locker room, poked his head in the trainer’s room to remind Rudy to lock up, and fetched him a beer from the ice chest. Dunc remembered nothing strange. He locked the clubhouse door behind him and told Jack Fera, the uniformed guard in the players’ parking lot, to knock off; Rudy would let himself out. The only cars left in the lot were Dunc’s, Rudy’s, and right fielder Steve Wilton’s, which had been there for days with a dead battery.
“Who’s in charge here?” Linderman finally asked.
“Me,” Felix said, running his hand through his strands of silver hair.
Linderman was pacing a little, biting on his pen. “You let all the players have their own keys to the clubhouse?”
“Maybe two or three,” Felix said. “I’d have to think about it. It’s not a common policy, but—”
“That’s all right; it can wait.” Linderman closed his notebook. “You gentlemen have a game today?”
When Felix nodded, Linderman added, “You plan on playing it?”
Felix looked around at the faces in the locker room. “That would probably be a bad idea,” he said.
The M.E.’s man came out of the trainer’s room, spoke briefly in the detective’s ear, and left. “Then maybe you should put in a call to the commissioner’s office, or whatever you’re supposed to do, and explain that there’s been an accident,” Linderman said.
“You think this was an accident?” Felix said.
“Not unless the man just happened to club himself over the head with a blunt object, knocking himself unconscious, and then drowned.” He stroked the plane of his crew cut. “What about his next of kin? Does he have a wife?”
“He’s single,” Felix said. “But he’s got foster parents somewhere in Wisconsin, I think.”
Felix’s wife, dressed in a skirt and blue blazer, hopped off the ice chest. “I’ll take care of it,” she said.
“Okay, then,” Linderman resumed. “Now, as long as I’ve got most of the team here, I’d like to ask you to bear with me and stay here until me and Detective Bragalone’ve had a chance to talk to each of you. Briefly. Just routine.” He ran his hand over the butt ends of a few bats in the rack. “That is”—he threw a thumb over his shoulder—“unless someone already knows what went on in there and is just keeping us all in suspense.”
Linderman clapped his hands and disappeared with Felix into Shalhoub’s office off the locker room. Harvey sat in front of his cubicle and watched one of the mobile lab men clear everything out of Rudy’s locker, a few down from his. The man gingerly placed the garments, Rudy’s glove, a bottle of Selsun Blue, and a package of sugarless bubble gum in bags and envelopes. When he was through, the only thing left was a strip of adhesive tape on the metal frame above the locker that read, “FURTH #29.”
Before long, Tim Bayman, the Jewels’ pitching coach, came out of Felix’s office, where Linderman was conducting his interviews. The detective stood in the doorway looking at the team roster in one of the official programs. “Blissberg,” he called out and showed Harvey in. Linderman perched on the edge of Felix’s desk and waited until Harvey settled into a chair.
“I’ve got a shirt like that,” Linderman said, pointing at the dark green Chemise Lacoste from which Harvey had painstakingly removed the alligator. “Mine’s red.”
Harvey surveyed the detective. One of his legs was hooked over the desk corner, baring a pale patch of hairless shin above a thin white sock. He wore a big Timex. An extensive collection of Bic pens was jammed in the breast pocket of the seersucker jacket. Harvey was blearily staring at the pens when Linderman spoke again.
“I know this is tough,” he said. “You feel like talking?”
Harvey wondered what it was like to be a guy who was about to spend an afternoon telling thirty people how tough it was.
“So,” Linderman said. “You got any ideas about Rudy Furth?”
“Okay,” Harvey said in a daze.
“Okay? Yeah, I like that. But it’s not much of an answer.”
“We were roommates.”
“Yeah, I guess I knew him pretty well.”
“Do you know anybody who would want to kill him?”
Harvey shook his head. “No, no,” he said.