And now, an exclusive excerpt from T. T. Monday’s thrilling, rollicking debut mystery, The Setup Man.
“A throwback Southern California mystery in modern pinstripes….A treat for readers of mystery or baseball novels, this debut will be especially enjoyable for fans of both.”
“Monday’s clever debut introduces 35-year-old Johnny Adcock, a Major League Baseball player winding down a 13-year pro career and developing a sideline as an investigator whose clientele consists primarily of fellow ballplayers…. Monday has delivered a rare double—a book that succeeds as both a mystery and a baseball novel.”
Tonight our starting pitcher, Tim Harlingen, scatters six hits over seven innings. The Rockies’ only run comes in the bottom of the seventh, when our centerfielder loses a routine fly ball in the lights. Harlingen is a prideful guy, he wants to finish the game, but the score is tied, 1-1, going into the top of the eighth, and skipper pulls him for a pinch hitter (who strikes out, but that’s how these things go). Bottom of the eighth we send out Mitsu Yushida to face the top of the Rockies’ order. Yushi gets the first two on grounders, but then he loses his concentration and walks the third and fourth guys on something like nine pitches. I have been warming up for exactly this scenario, because the Rockies’ number five hitter, Tom Kelton, is a classic Adcock adversary: a lefty batting thirty-five points lower against left-handed pitching.
As I jog in from the pen, I go over Kelton’s scouting report in my head. You’re supposed to jam him inside to start the count, hope he fouls off one or two, and then put some junk on the outside corner and hope he chases. Kelton and I broke into the league the same year. We have faced each other dozens of times. Like most scouting lines, this one is factual but insufficient. The truth is that if Kelton is feeling good, he will put your best pitch in the cheap seats. Inside, outside—it doesn’t matter. He’s a drinker, though, and it is after ten o’clock. I cross my fingers and hope he’s jonesing.
Skipper puts the ball in my glove. “See you in a few,” he says.
Our starting catcher Modigliani, the third member of our little committee on the mound, goes over the plan: “Let’s start him with fastballs up and in. Got it?” Physically, there are two types of major league catchers. First is the short, stocky guy with a thick skull, the mutant ninja turtle. Frankie Herrera fits this mold, along with greats like Yogi Berra, Mike Scioscia, and the brothers Molina. Most turtles took up the position when they were young because it suited their physique. Growing up, they spent the vast majority of their practice time behind the plate, not beside it, so they tend to be only average hitters. But catching is the most specialized position after pitching—just handling pitchers and their egos takes a degree in psychology—so a guy like Frankie Herrera can expect to enjoy a long career if he stays healthy. Tony Modigliani, is the other kind: tall and lithe, maybe six-four and two-twenty, with the long, strong arms of an outfielder. In fact, Modigliani played outfield until college, when his coaches told him to try catching. Less competition, they told him, more chance to stand out if you can hit. With those long arms he hits for power—forty homers in his rookie season alone—and because he trained as a hitter, his eye is well developed (he led the National League in walks last year). The problem is that these long-limbed guys are not cut out to be squatting four hours a day, two hundred days a year. Eventually their knees give out, and they have to move to first base, or join an American League club where they can DH. There are plenty of examples of this type, too: Mike Piazza, Benny Santiago, Joe Mauer. Everyone loves them—when they’re healthy.
One more thing: for some reason long-limbed catchers tend to be dicks.
“Up and in,” Modigliani repeats, “you got that?”
“Got it,” I say.
He trots back to the plate, flips down the mask. I take my eight warmup pitches while the crowd watches bloopers on the bigscreen. Then the ump gives the signal, and Kelton steps into the box.
I do as I am told, spot a fastball up and in. It has good velocity, a little trailing movement, and it is headed right for Diggy’s waiting mitt when Kelton turns and jacks it over the right field wall.
The runners come home, one two three, and the score is now Rockies 4, Bay Dogs 1.
“One pitch,” skipper says to me as he takes the ball. “I think that’s a record.”
“What can you do?” I say. “Line on Kelton is up and in.”
Skipper taps my ass. “Maybe it’s time we rewrote the line.”
On the flight home, I hide behind my headphones. One of the problems with being on the road with a baseball club is that you’re never alone. There’s always someone around—teammates, coaches, trainers, writers, video crews. If you want the world to disappear after a bad night on the mound, you can’t just put a blanket over your head. The best you can do is crank up the music and shut your eyes. Most people respect that, even if the sulking player is far too old to be wearing a purple headset labeled “EarCanz™ by Weezy.”
Know what I’m really too old for? Late-inning homers. If a kid with a triple-digit heater hangs a slider and loses the game, you forgive him. You take the long view and trust he will work out the kinks by his next outing. After all, he’s still bringing the heat. With me it’s another story. My hard-throwing days are long gone. My game is about location, changing speeds, and outsmarting the hitter. The moment I lose the ability to out-think a drunk like Tom Kelton, I become expendable. No headphones can drown that out.
When we reach San José, Herrera finds me in the players’ parking lot.
“So, hey,” he says, “do you think maybe we could erase the link before I give you the phone?”
“Afraid not, buddy.”
“Do you really have to watch the clip?”
“Lucky me, right?”
“I’m just kidding. I’ll close one eye, how’s that?”
He hands me his iPhone. The case is decorated with children’s drawings. I’m guessing it’s a PTO tchotchke, a fundraiser, with artwork by his boys.
“Great,” I say. “Let’s see what we can find.”
“I’ve got my fingers crossed. Thanks for your help by the way.”
“Don’t thank me yet.”
Frankie laughs and pulls out his keys. “Yeah, I guess that would be smarter.” His black BMW chirps. He flips his suitcase into the trunk, slips behind the tinted glass, and disappears into the night.
My own iPhone starts vibrating around seven the next morning. I am in my apartment on the twenty-first floor of a building in downtown San José. It’s not a glamorous address, but it suits me. The ballpark is walking distance, so I don’t need a car. I keep a motorcycle in the garage for emergencies. The view is a nice bonus. From my living room I can usually see the hills on both sides of Silicon Valley, the little horsetail clouds above the ridges, the windmills in the passes. In front of me, northward, are the backwaters of the Bay, the toxic red sludge in the evaporating ponds, the stinking marshland, the abandoned railroad trestles. On a clear day you can see all the way to San Francisco. This morning, though, I see nothing. We are fogged in.
“This is Adcock.”
“Johnny, it’s Bil Chapman.”
Bil is the Bay Dogs’ clubhouse manager, a middle-aged man trapped in the body of a teenager. Though he must be over forty, his face is ravaged by acne and he sweats through his shirt most days by noon. Bil still lives with his mother, but he claims it is the other way around, that his mother lives with him, in a house he owns. As though that makes any difference: Bil’s life is a series of small, almost unnoticeable rebellions, for example leaving the last L off his first name. He tells me that’s edgy.
“You know what time it is, Bil?”
“Johnny, I have some bad news. Frankie Herrera died in a car accident last night.”
I wind up to tell him it’s too early to be fucking around, and then it occurs to me he’s serious.
“Skipper is asking everyone to report two hours early,” Bil says. “We’re going to have a meeting, and then there will be time with grief counselors—”
“Grief counselors. What happened?”
“It was a car accident.”
“Yeah, you said that. How? Where?”
“We got a call from the Highway Patrol at five this morning. They found Frankie’s car on the road to Half Moon Bay. Highway 92. He went over the edge.”
“Half Moon Bay? Frankie’s apartment is in Santa Clara.”
“Yeah, I know. Maybe he went for a drive? I mean, he went for a drive, obviously.”
“When did it happen?”
“They’re saying around three AM.”
I go back in my head. We landed at SJC at twelve-thirty or one. Back at the stadium parking, one-thirty. It occurs to me that I may have been the last person to see Frankie Herrera alive.
“So there’s a meeting?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there.”
“I’m really sorry, Johnny. I know Frankie liked you a lot.”
By eight-thirty I’m in San Mateo, teasing my bike through the gridlock on 101. The interchange with Highway 92 is a giant flyover weaving between office buildings emblazoned with the names of Internet companies selling electronic real estate. This is the suburb where Barry Bonds grew up, where he was the only black kid in his high school. I bet even today he would be the only one. This is still mostly a white area, but it has been filling up lately with Indians and Chinese pushed north out of the deeper parts of Silicon Valley. I think about Barry’s childhood friend, a white guy, who went on to become his trainer and is currently serving time for refusing to testify in the steroid trial. I wonder if any Indians or Chinese would have done that for him. Not that I approve, of course.
As the road winds uphill into the coast range, I leave suburbia and plunge into the redwoods. The temperature drops ten degrees. It occurs to me that I do not know exactly where along the next ten miles the accident occurred. I don’t even know what I am looking for. I pass a peloton of cyclists in day-glo Lycra—computer geeks and bankers who just remembered they have bodies. Every year at least a dozen of these guys goes over the edge on this road. The county has installed guardrails on all the curves, but nothing like that is going to stop a cyclist careening downhill at sixty miles per hour. Might stop the bike, but not the rider.
I get plenty of nasty looks as I pass the cyclists. It makes me feel better to know that I could strike out any one of them on three pitches. Of course, a couple are probably rich enough to buy my contract. I think it must be better to be a pro ballplayer in Cincinnati or Pittsburgh or Milwaukee, where the league-minimum salary puts you near the top of the local pecking order. Here in the Bay Area a million-five a year makes me solidly middle class.
Three curves after Skyline Drive I find the spot. There’s no mistaking it: a section of the guardrail has been replaced with yellow police tape, and three uniformed cops stand next to their cruisers shooting the shit. Two Highway Patrol and a San Mateo County Sheriff. I ride past them, around the next bend, and hide my bike in the bushes. I lock my helmet in the seat and open up the goodie box, which is what I call the stash of Bay Dogs paraphernalia I take with me everywhere. Because you never know when you might meet a fan.
When the sheriff’s deputy sees me walking towards the yellow tape, he comes over and shakes his head.
“You can’t be here,” he says.
Very politely I ask, “Is this where Frankie Herrera’s car went off the road?”
He looks at me like I just told his five-year-old daughter where babies come from. “No comment,” he says, waving his hand. “You have to leave.”
“Because he was my teammate,” I say. I put out my hand. “Johnny Adcock.”
“No shit.” The deputy loses himself for a minute. I wait while he regains his cop composure. “I’m really sorry about Mr. Herrera,” he says.
“Yeah, he was my wife’s favorite.” I smile like I’m embarrassed. “She liked ’em young.”
“My old lady likes Modigliani. But they all do, right?”
I pull a baseball from the pocket of my leather jacket. “Give her this.”
The cop turns the ball, finds Modigliani’s signature, smiles. “So Mr. Adcock,” he says, “you want to see where it happened?”
He goes over to the two patrolmen, and they chat for a minute. Then he waves to me. “Sorry for your loss,” says the CHP captain, a middle-aged white man with a handlebar mustache and thighs that push the capacity of his golden uniform tights. I’ve always marveled at how much cops look like out-of-shape second basemen—or maybe how much second basemen (Jeff Kent, for example) look like in-shape cops. “Tough luck yesterday,” he says. “One pitch.”
“Scouting report called for a fastball high and tight,” I explain. I shake my head to indicate (hopefully) that I would like to leave it at that.
“That Kelton is a killer,” says the captain.
“You’re telling me.”
“Guess they thought you might get him this time, huh?”
I bite my tongue. “Guess so, yeah.”
I give the captain and his partner autographed balls and they walk me over to the guardrail. On the way, we cross a set of fresh-looking tire tracks cutting across the road from the eastbound lane to a point just a few feet from the rail. Looks like Frankie was on his way home when he died.
“These from Frankie’s car?” I ask the cops.
“Most likely,” the captain says. “Though to be honest, those look a bit wide. What was the deceased driving, Cam?”
“BMW 328,” the partner replies.
“I guess you can get those with wide tires, right? Anyway—” He puts his gloved hand on the mangled steel rail. “Here is where he went over.” This stretch of Highway 92 is set into a hillside that has been encased in concrete to halt erosion. Imagine a miniature Hoover Dam, add fog. The cop nods to a spot downhill a hundred yards, on the next curve, where two more police cruisers are parked with their lights flashing soundlessly. “And that is where he ended up.”
“Can you take me down there?”
The captain rolls the baseball in his hand. “I don’t know, Mr. Adcock. That would be against our procedures.”
“Where are you from?” I say. “You want to see the Giants? I can comp you a pair of tickets.”
He smiles at his partner. “The real question is, will you win?”
“Is this about last night? With all due respect, officer, if you want to try to throw a baseball past a giant with a club, go right ahead. I wish you all the luck in the world.”
The cop retreats from his pose. “I didn’t mean it like that. I know how hard it is. I played ball in high school.”
“And I joined the Highway Patrol the week after graduation.”
To save the guy’s pride, I look away.
As we pick our way down the hill, I hear the captain cursing me under his breath: “Fucking left-handed assholes… One pitch! Fucking jerkoff thinks he’s such hot shit…”
At the lower site, Frankie’s BMW is a mess of twisted, smoking steel. The air smells like gasoline, burning hair, and plastic. I try to breathe through my mouth.
The captain points to a gash in the roof where the metal has been pried open. “See that aperture? That’s where the crew removed the bodies. They sent the jaws of life, but this was no salvation job, I’m afraid. Sorry if that sounds insensitive, Mr. Adcock, but that’s just the truth.”
“Did you say bodies?”
“Two. Your friend Mr. Herrera and an unidentified female.”
I try to act cool, as though this is what I expected to hear.
“Actually, captain,” the partner pipes in, “she had ID.”
The captain fixes him with a withering stare. “We can’t say her name,” he says slowly, “because she was a minor. Seventeen years old.”
“Oh yeah?” I say.
“Mr. Adcock, I could lose my job if I told you her name—”
“—but because you were his friend, I will tell you this much: they weren’t family.”
Before the evening’s game, the stadium honors Frankie with a moment of silence. For us, though, the silence has been going since the early afternoon. The grief counselors, two overweight librarian-looking women in cable knit sweaters, sit for hours in the trainer’s room without any takers. No surprise there. I could have summarized the players’ sentiments like this: Number one, it wasn’t fair, the kid was only twenty-five. Number two, holy shit, it could have been me. And number three—but this is only my concern—who the hell was the girl in the car? Is there a connection with the video? I used to believe in coincidences, but that was before I started doing investigations and realized that “coincidence” is just another way to say “I give up.”
Ironically, our bats choose this somber occasion to explode with an orgy of runs. Fifteen to be exact, on twenty-five hits, the highest totals of the season. Every man in the lineup scores. Modigliani has two homers and a double for six RBIs. Skipper decides to air out the bullpen, giving all of us a little work in this rare glimpse of garbage time. I get the whole eighth inning, and our closer, Big Bob Schneider, pitches a perfect ninth. The closer normally does not pitch unless he has a chance for a save, but we’ve been playing so badly that there haven’t been many games to save. Skipper figures Schneider needs work, so he brings him in anyway. I like a blowout win as much as the next guy, but it takes a long time to score fifteen runs. It is eleven forty-five when Big Bob records the final out. Thanks to the continuing somber mood in the clubhouse, there is no chitchat tonight, and by twelve-thirty I am a free man. Donning a pair of Oakleys and a 49ers hat for cover, I take the light rail to Japantown. There is only one place I want to be, only one man who can help me sort out the events of the last twenty four hours.
Marcus Washington pitched sixteen years in the bigs, the last four in San José when I was new to the league. He comes from a bygone era when all pitchers trained to be starters. The guys in the bullpen—especially the long relievers and setup men—were either failed starters or starters whose prime had come and gone. The pen was a kind of back pasture where old horses were put out to graze. By the time I met Marcus, he had not started a game in eight years. “The game is changing,” he told me. “Soon there will be seventh-inning specialists, eighth-inning specialists, first-out-of-the-ninth specialists.” I told him that had already happened. “Look at me,” I said. “This is my first year, and already I’ve got my slot. I’m destined to pitch the eighth for my entire career.” Marcus leaned back on his folding chair and said if that was so, then he was finished.
Marcus’s retirement plan had always been to open a bar. (The writers of Cheers were right to make Ted Danson a relief pitcher—bartending is a pretty common dream in the bullpen.) But after the Bay Dogs cut him loose, he realized that he was not quite ready to retire and accepted an offer to play in Japan for the Kintetsu Buffaloes. Thus our man Makasu (Japanglish for “Marcus”) enjoyed a second career in Japan, where in addition to several years worth of top-quality Asian trim, he gained an important grain of inspiration: it was not just a bar he was supposed to open, but a sushi bar.
Sushi Makasu opened right after the dot-com bust in a storefront on Jackson Street once occupied by Kozmo.com. Marcus pulled out all the stops in infusing the vibe of his native West Oakland into the neat order of San José’s Japantown. The lighting is subdued, even dark, and the sushi bar is a long zinc-topped number with rotating stools. All the waitresses are African-American: Marcus calls them his “Afro-geishas.” They wear black Lycra tube dresses, platform heels, and cat-eye mascara. Hair pulled tight in a bun. Marcus trains the girls on what he calls “properness.” Properness means no talking back to a customer, no matter what he said, or what you thought he said. It means apologizing if the food takes too long, or if the order was incorrect. Marcus told me these notions of service were foreign to the girls he had grown up with in Oakland—girls whose daughters he now hires. At first Marcus rolled all the sushi himself, but that got to be a bottleneck as the restaurant’s popularity grew. Eventually he hired his brother Rich, a recent parolee, and showed him the ropes. Rich brought in another old boy, and so on. Marcus joked that the state should make him a parole officer. These days, with the restaurant humming along, Marcus mostly sits in his office, a windowless cell next to the restrooms, behind a door marked with a framed, autographed photo of his idol, the pitcher Vida Blue.
I wave to Rich as I walk through the restaurant. He nods, no smile. On the stereo, Bill Withers laments that there ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone. All night I have been thinking of Frankie’s wife, how the problem of the porn film is still unsolved, and how I should be the one to solve it now that Frankie is gone. But when I think of calling her up—especially now that I know Frankie had a secret of his own—I start to smell tar. Maybe I don’t want to touch this baby. (“I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,” wails Withers.)
I rap on the office door. Vida shivers in his Oakland A’s cap and his hard stare. Supposedly he lives in San Francisco. I would love to meet him, but on the other hand, he’s probably pretty old. Nothing’s sadder than the shell of a hero.
Marcus opens the door all smiles, as jocular as his brother is dour. He has the classic pitcher’s physique—tall and lanky, wide shoulders, long legs. Marcus was famous for his herky-jerky delivery on the mound: the extra-high kick, limbs flailing out in all directions before the ball shot forth like a rocket from a cloud. In retirement, he still moves that way. I see his motion as he swivels his desk chair and rises to greet me. His close-cropped natural and Cab Calloway mustache are shot through with silver but his personal gravity is undiminished. He has been retired from baseball ten years, and you would think his appeal would dim, but Marcus’s appeal was never just about baseball. He is one of a handful of players I have known over the years who would have gotten just as much action if he had never touched a baseball. Dark skin, bright eyes, a voice like Lou Rawls: Marcus was the original hound dog. He never married—says he never needed to. Even now his orbit is thick with impossibly young women. When I was new in the league, he showed me the ropes both on and off the field. He partied hard. Like a lot of ballplayers who came of age in the eighties, Marcus developed a weakness for coke, but unlike Doc Gooden (to name just one of his contemporaries), he never let it ruin him. By the time we met, his days of dissipation were largely behind him. He spoke of the late eighties like a veteran recalling combat. And he kept his nose clean, mostly.
Marcus of course has seen the night’s box score.
“Now we know, Johnny Adcock,” he says as he pumps my hand. “Now we know what it takes for you to go a whole inning. A ten run lead. That is your handicap, my friend.”
“I appreciate your confidence, pops.”
“Come on, young man. After that one-pitch thing in Denver, I would have thought you needed at least twenty runs up. But no, it turns out the skipper is a forgiving man, a kind and loving man. Like Jesus Christ.”
“What could I do? Modigliani called it high and tight.”
“And you couldn’t shake him off?”
“My cutter is in drydock. He wanted a fastball. Would you have shaken him off?”
Marcus cranks up the wattage on his smile. “I shook everyone off.”
“Yeah, well. Those were different times.”
“Yes, they were.”
“Marcus, I need a favor.”
“Hold it,” he says, and then he reaches down and pushes a little button on his desk. It looks like a doorbell.
“What’s that for?”
“You want some tea?”
“You come in here, you drink tea. My rules.”
“You’re the boss.”
“You are goddamned right about that.”
Just then there’s a knock on the door and one of Marcus’s waitresses walks in. She is a sister, of course, with tall brown eyes and an ass from here to Hunter’s Point.
“Thank you, Miyako,” Marcus says as he takes the teapot and cups from the tray. The girl bows and leaves without saying a word.
“Miyako?” I say.
“Miyako. That’s her name.”
“You gave it to her?”
“She chose it. I gave her some options, and she chose that one. It means beautiful night child.”
“Don’t you think it’s strange that you make them change their names? I mean who changes their name to work in a restaurant? Besides strippers.”
“Common misconception,” Marcus says. “Geishas are not hoes. Their job is to make the customer comfortable, that’s all.”
He pours steaming tea from the cast-iron tetsubin pot into the two porcelain cups.
“The geisha is there to help her client relax. I don’t doubt some geishas get down. But more often than not, they just serve tea.”
“Isn’t tea a stimulant?”
“My girls ain’t hoes, John. Now tell me what’s on your mind.”
“You heard about Frankie Herrera?”
“I did. Friend of yours?”
“He was a just a kid.”
“Well, you know, Roberto Clemente was taken before his time. Thurman Munson also. Not bad company, come to think of it.”
“Herrera was a good kid. Looked up to me for some reason. He was always coming to me for advice.”
Marcus smiles. “What comes around goes around.”
“I guess so. The night before the accident, he came to me with a problem.”
“Like, a problem problem?”
Marcus knows all about my sidelight. In fact from time to time he has helped me out, serving as my local eyes and ears when I am on the road.
I nod. “A matrimonial problem.”
Marcus sips his tea. “I see.”
“It seems his wife made some videos when she was younger. Herrera thought they had disappeared, but a few weeks ago someone posted one online and sent a link to his phone.”
“That’s what I’m thinking. And one more piece of the puzzle: turns out Herrera wasn’t alone in his car last night. He had a girl with him. Seventeen years old. You won’t read that in the papers.”
“You put the gag on?”
“Baseball fans are everywhere.”
Marcus nods knowingly. “And you got the girl’s name, I assume.”
“I could have, if I hadn’t pitched Kelton high and tight. Bastard patrolman ribbed me worse than you for that.”
“How long are they going to keep it quiet?”
“They said they were going to contact the girl’s family first, and then make a decision.”
“So a day. Two tops.”
“That would be my guess.”
“Have you talked to the wife?”
“Not yet. She’s flying in tonight to claim the body. I expect she’ll turn up.”
“I expect that’s right. So what do you need me for?”
“Are you still in touch with Bam Bam Rodriguez?”
Javier “Bam Bam” Rodriguez had been the Tony Modigliani of the late-nineties Bay Dogs—the team I joined when I came up from the minor leagues. We were not a great team, but Bam Bam, a Puerto Rican import, was the star attraction. His was the face on the car-insurance billboards, the filthy dreadlocks pulled back into a semi-respectable ponytail, the bulging eyes photoshopped to look trustworthy. Like most ballplayers, Bam Bam had plans beyond the baseball diamond. His particular ambition was to move south to the San Fernando Valley and become a pornographer. “I juss love the fucking,” he would explain with a shrug. Because I was new and did not want to be rude, I would let him bend my ear for hours: in the trainer’s room while he was getting his daily massage; in the hotel lobby waiting for the bus to the airport; in the moldy visitors’ clubhouse in Philly, waiting out a rain delay. “Lord Jesus, he want me to have two life, Johnny, the béisbol and the fucking. Two life, ju understand?”
Last I heard, his dreams had come true. Fancy that.
“We’re friends on Facebook,” Marcus says.
“Track him down. Tell him you’re looking for a girl. Don’t tell him it’s Herrera’s wife until you’re sure he’s for real.”
“Oh, he’s for real,” Marcus says. He swivels in his chair, grabs the mouse on the desk and shakes the computer awake. “Take a look at this…”
“That’s okay—just tell me what you learn. I want to know who posted that clip.”
“Am I allowed to pay for this information?”
“He won’t need our money,” I say, “if he’s got any information worth buying.”
I rise to go, but Marcus stops me.
“Do yourself a favor,” he says. “Shake off Modigliani once in a while. Don’t let him think you’re his bitch.”
“What if I am?”
Marcus clicks his tongue. “You young fellas are too conservative. Too damn conservative.”
“Tell that to Frankie Herrera,” I say.
By the time I leave the sushi bar, the light rail has stopped running, so I walk home. I take shit from my teammates for not having a car, but on nights like this I’m glad I don’t, because I have the city to myself. At three AM, even the homeless in St. James Park are bedded down for the night. The only waking soul in sight, a lone hooker on the corner of First and St. James, peers into the white glow of her cell phone. For better or worse, this is San José at full tilt. A hooker texts her pimp, a relief pitcher leaps across the trolley tracks, and in the office parks north of town millions of computers cycle and whir, turning electricity into money.
I touch my keycard to the scanner in front of my building and the door clicks open. In the elevator, I start thinking about Marcus, and whether it was wise to get him involved in this case. He has a tendency to get in too deep, and he usually ends up expanding the mess rather than helping to mop it up. But I love the guy. He is the reason I’m still playing ball. You burn out if you take anything too seriously, baseball included. I never understood that until I met Marcus. Now I worry that I understand it too well.
I am so wrapped up in this line of thinking that I do not even notice that the deadbolt on my apartment door has already been opened. I just turn the knob, flip the lights, head straight for the bedroom. We have a matinee tomorrow; I have to be at the park by ten-thirty in the morning.
“I thought you’d never come home,” says a voice from the bed.
“Oh hi,” I say, too tired to be surprised.
“That’s all I get? I’m nude.”
“You’re always nude.”
“I am not. Today I wore a pantsuit.”
“A Dolce and Gabbana pantsuit. And a silk blouse.”
“And under that?”
“Under that, I was nude.”
“See? You’re always nude.”
I throw my jacket on the back of a chair, start unbuttoning my shirt.
“How was work?” she says.
I love it when she says that. It makes me feel like an honest man.
“A little better than usual,” I say. “Skip gave me more work than I expected, but it went well. Better than the last night in Denver. You?”
“I heard a pitch from a couple of Stanford biochemists who have developed a pill for B.O. They’re calling it ‘medical deodorant.'”
“Are you going to fund it?”
“Not sure yet. I have to see if it works.”
“I know some guys who sweat a lot.”
“Maybe they can help.”
“We have rules against taking drugs not prescribed by a doctor. Are you a doctor?”
“Actually, yes. But not the kind you need.”
“What kind of doctor are you, then?”
“Come here and I’ll show you.”
The conversation goes on like this until she gets tired of talking and stuffs a sock in my mouth. As promised, she is naked. Soon enough, I am too. We do the needful, and the next thing you know it is four thirty.
“Don’t you ever sleep?” I ask.
“You know I’m bionic, Johnny.”
This is the truest statement I have heard all day. Bethany Pham is not only the most intelligent woman I have ever met, she is also the best lay, and it’s not even close. The best part—or worst, if you’ve had a long day—is that she requires zero sleep.
“I’m not complaining,” I say. “It’s just that I may have to work for ten or fifteen minutes this afternoon.”
“Poor baby. Come here and let me make it up to you.”
“Do you have a problem with that?”
“No, I just—”
At five-fifteen, garbage trucks rumble in the alley behind the building. The window pinks and then turns gray. Bethany reaches over and gently squeezes my cock, then swings her legs over the edge of the bed. She stretches her arms above her head, sniffs her pits. Her back is sculpted by the mile she swims every morning, which itself is only a warmup for a ten-mile jog. Her glossy black hair shines with a hundred colors in the angular light.
I push myself up on my elbows.
“Go to sleep,” she says. “You need rest, weakling.”
Bethany is a San José native, the only daughter of Vietnamese immigrants. Officially, she is seismologist with a PhD from Caltech, but she makes her living sniffing out bullshit. As a partner at a venture capital firm in Menlo Park, she hears a thousand business plans a year and invests in less than five. She has never thought it’s strange that I face one batter per game. She understands about making it count.
I watch as she pulls a black Speedo up her lean, muscular legs, writhing like a snake until the straps snap over her shoulders. She keeps a full set of workout clothes in my apartment and little else. Like me, Bethie is divorced and swears she will never marry again. Like me, she supports her ex with generous monthly checks. Also like me, she is secretly glad she has an ex to support, because she does not know what she would do with her money if she were allowed to keep it all. She lives her life at the poles of intellect and physicality: pie-in-the-sky technology and punishing exercise. If Bethany has a problem, it is that she has little patience for anything in between. I don’t know if I love her, but I do feel something for her that I don’t feel for the rest of the women in my life. It might just be proximity. I may never know. Neither of us wants to ruin a good thing with too much scrutiny.
“Will you be around later?” I say.
“Just around. I may need to ask you for something.”
She shrugs. “You know my number. No promises.”
“Of course not,” I say.
I watch her gather her things into a big, expensive-looking handbag with a small gold clasp. She slips a wide cloth band over her head to keep her hair out of her eyes.
“Farewell,” I say.
“You are too sentimental, John. Had I known that when I met you, I might never have…” Her voice trails away. I hear the front door open, and then, quite unexpectedly, another woman’s voice.
“Is this Johnny Adcock’s apartment?” The voice is young and slightly squeaky. It belongs to no one I know.
“It is,” I hear Bethany answer.
“Is he here?”
Bethany yells, “Next!”
I scramble. The jeans are on the floor where I left them last night. This morning. A few hours ago.
Heels click in the hall. The squeaky voice calls out: “Mr. Adcock?”
I have my pants on and half my shirt buttoned up when she appears in the bedroom doorway.
“What time is it?” I say. It is as good as any other first line, considering.
“Six o’clock. I’m sorry it’s so early, but I have a flight. My kids are waiting for me at home.”
I realize I am standing before the widow Herrera.
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